Today, in South Africa, we celebrate Freedom Day. On this day 20 years ago our first democratic elections were held. Contrary to the fear of many, it went peacefully. People queued for hours and hours, the most iconic photo of that day is an aerial shot of a snaking queue of patient voters in a dusty field. Of course people were patient – they had waited so long for this day to come, a few more hours would not hurt.
What many white people don’t realise, refuse to see in fact because it would force them to admit their role and how they benefitted, is that the gross injustices of the past cannot be undone in such a short space of time as 20 years. When your entire community, family, self-pride, dignity, culture and heritage have been destroyed and oppressed for generation after generation – how can you, overnight, fix yourself? I’m ashamed to admit I have friends who don’t get this.
It started 350 years ago when western settlers arrived here and treated the existing inhabitants like animals.
It continued when there were more slaves living here than slave owners.
It was entrenched when Cecil John Rhodes said the mines could be worked cheaply because there was a ‘forever renewable source of cheap labour’.
It came into law, and slowly the world began to see the truth, when black people were not even allowed to sit on the same benches as white people.
But it took a bit longer to play itself out.
And it’ll be longer still before complete freedom is attained. Economic freedom, for all, especially those who deserve it the most – the ones who do the real hard work.
We’re a little disenchanted with the state of the nation today – perhaps because we expected too much of mere humans, but the freedom to deal with it exists.
Poverty is still too high and the gap between haves and have-nots is widening. If your entertaining budget is higher than the country’s average take-home pay, don’t be surprised at crime levels.
Corruption in government is horrific but what goes on in big corporations is even worse. The media is so obsessed with politicians that they are not showing us anything else, but it’s happening under our very noses.
When I stood in my queue on election day in 1994, I was proud of having become a South African citizen in order to vote for a democracy. It was time to give back to the country that had welcomed me, gave me my education (as limited as it was, god forbid we should be taught enough to see the wrongs around us), the ability to work (all jobs were mine for the asking as a result of my white skin), and to roam around freely in the splendour of our landscapes (no ‘pass’ required, see white skin above).
But it’s taken me these 20 years to fully appreciate the atrocities I ignored, to really understand how black people felt (and feel), to catch up on that education full of gaps, and to truly love this country, warts and all.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ~ Nelson Mandela.