27 Reasons to Disagree

democracy Hunger freedom constitution
Wednesday, 25 April, 2012 - 16:22

In this article, the author takes a closer look at South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy, the challenges that came with freedom and what we as a country could do to address some of these challenges

Freedom! There is still little to match Mel Gibson on his pony in phoney war paint trying to coax a bunch of underwear-less Scots to freedom from English tyranny…Martin Luther King comes close with his visionary dreams, but Mel has got his number with the flowing locks and big sword[1] – not to mention the adoration of the lovely princess of France, played in that movie by Sophie Marceau…ahh, indeed, that is maybe a blog for another day. Today, I must remain serious for what is our freedom if it is not serious? Tedious? Odious? Doesn’t really matter I guess for everyone I asked about 27 April, waxed lyrical about hard-fought freedom and not slipping back to oppression and the big stage managed and government official drenched public events to celebrate and commemorate and whatever-ate the day…so I am a bit lost, which is not too difficult for someone who is dyslexic…

Well, freedom and I am not going to give you an Oxford dictionary definition here because, a): I don’t have a hard copy version of the famed dictionary and b) if I did have one, it is probably in a box with a hundred other books that I have not yet unpacked. What I can unpack though is what is swimming around in my mind about Freedom Day and why it matters, to me, to you and to people everywhere who are having their heads banged by some heavy hitting politicos and life-long monarchs with more wives than sense…

In South Africa (SA), we often look back to know where we come from, some of us lucky enough know that we come from along line of activists or freedom fighters, or bureaucrats or farmers or lazy louts, it matters not, what matters more, is where we are headed to and after 18 years, it is clear, we are on the right path – we have as a nation made the most incredible (or maybe that should be credible?) transition from an oppressed majority to a free democracy and we have done so almost peacefully (even if some of my Sandton friends behind their high walls moan that they can never be free until they can drive their Ferraris past street lights with no sense of guilt at the sight of young and old begging for a meal). That itself is a remarkable transition. The ongoing social experiment that is SA, is a blueprint for the world - it may not be a perfectly formed one, but it is one that is forming and that means we have a role to play in building that.

Going forward means looking back and now, as far forward as we are in this democracy, we must be able to look back – not just at apartheid but also upon our own governments of Madiba, Mbeki and now Zuma – if we are to know where we are not getting it right and what we need to do to make a better life for all, then our looking back must include robust assessments of what we have stuffed up and what we need to sort out. A few of the socialists I know, bemoan the death of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and how the free and global friendly market economy of SA has meant that our monks cannot even buy Ferraris, let alone sell them and as admirable as such an aspiration is, it is only a small part of where we may be missing the freedom plot. Sadly, in SA, everyone is free to buy a Ferrari and pay the same taxes to drive it on the road as the idiot on the other side of the spectrum who bought a Chana Chery…that is the free market economy for you and it is held up as an expression of freedom...

Which is thankfully not the end of freedom, for freedom is about being able to make choices for yourself about yourself and in a space where your sense of freedom is rooted not in a world class Constitution[2] but in your very being…and where are we on that journey? With an alarmingly high adult illiteracy rate and functionally illiterate school leavers, how can we even hope to build a nation of informed people who are free to make informed choices about their lives, their communities and their country?

The process of government in SA has taken the form of officials acting for the people and people in turn being left out of the decision making process. While we have a great model of local government, the actual process for people to participate is lacking not just because officials do not always use it or people are not always aware of it but because, in this transition to democracy, we have not rid government of the fear of listening to people and acknowledging that they might have ideas too. Such a process of people and their government working together to build communities is a marker of real freedom. It means, that, we as people count, that our ideas, however malformed and lacking in the wider policy nuances matter, that they are heard, that we are heard, that we can be a part of the process and not just mere passive recipients of a good day in government.[3]. This is pretty much one of our bigger ideological hurdles to climb in the process of ensuring that SA is not just free from apartheid, but that it is a nation that is ensuring and promoting the freedom of the people who live here.

Our world class Constitution was a start a long time ago (and now the subject of a book with a most stirring launch advert on Kaya FM[4]), but relying on that piece of paper to fight every battle is missing the point – we should be using our Constitution not just to guard our freedoms, but to extend them to all – to that fabled better life for all.

All I want for Freedom Day, this year, is a firm commitment and serious action on matching our world class constitution with a world class education system for every child in SA – and let’s not forget adult literacy as well…for if our monks are going to be getting into their Ferraris, then let them at least be able to read the signs that people are holding up at the traffic lights…

- Rajesh Latchman is the Coordinator of the National Welfare Forum, Volunteer Convenor of GCAP South Africa, guerrilla gardener, cyclist and an unreformed recycler. He writes in his personal capacity.

Below are some of Latchman's previous articles and blogs:

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