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South Africans Want Freedom, Not Democracy For The Sake Of Democracy

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South Africans Want Freedom, Not Democracy For The Sake Of Democracy

Imagine if democracy had brought freedom instead of corruption to South Africa.

This is now the somewhat wistful (and wishful) thinking that has tragically replaced the Dream of 1994.

Back then, in the heady few weeks and months after our reborn “Rainbow Nation’s” first democratic elections, South Africa was a country of hope.

A country of joy and optimism, bursting with possibility.

I’m sure I’m not the only one with amazing memories of standing in line for hours on April 27, 1994.

I waited, shoulder to shoulder for the first time in my life with people of all races and cultures who were beyond thrilled and excited to finally be able to exercise their hard-won constitutional right to vote.

I remember chatting and laughing with the people around me, feeling buoyed by the direction in which our beautiful country was headed.

And for a few years, under the inspirational leadership of the truly great Nelson Mandela, that wonderful feeling continued.

But then slowly, like a torch with ageing batteries, South Africa’s light began to dim.

I remember reading an article in The Guardian, back in 2012, that spoke of the utter disillusionment of the first generation of “Born Frees.” Those children, born in 1994, were heralded as the future of the new South Africa, with all the possibilities and advantages that a democratic and free society had to offer.

But 18 years later, journalist Justice Malala described our country as a powder keg waiting to explode.

He spoke of a “restless nation,” marked by disillusionment, anger and protest, particularly among the young. For these teenagers, 18 years of democracy had not delivered the jobs and opportunities once promised by the ANC.

Their dreams, he said, had been deferred.

And now here we are – 10 years on from that point. A full 28 years into our so-called free and democratic country.

And are we any better off?

Sadly, I think we all know the answer to that one.

Today, there aren’t many dreams to defer because people have simply stopped dreaming.

Former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, said recently, “The majority of South Africans feel democracy is not working for them.

“South Africa is a breath away from becoming an imploding society, and we have people – political entrepreneurs – who are trying to gaslight that implosion,” she warned.

“You can’t really build when you are fighting with each other. This project of building our dream country will need a ceasefire.”

Almost three decades after standing in that hopeful queue, this is heartbreaking to hear.

Ordinary South Africans have been left behind. They are left asking if anyone actually knows or cares that they are in pain.

This lament was voiced so poignantly by Palesa Mosa, an impoverished Stellenbosch resident who said, “Now we have this thing called democracy. That is not what we asked for. I don’t want democracy – I want the freedom that I fought for.”

She further went on to say that democracy had not served her, or her poorly educated children, well.

It’s a sentiment tragically shared by the majority of South Africans.

The latest annual Human Science Research Council’s South African Social Attitudes Survey shows that South Africans are increasingly dissatisfied with democracy. In 2004, when the country celebrated a decade of democracy, 59 % were satisfied with democracy. That number has now dropped to just 32 %.

Hardly surprising when you realise almost two-thirds of our population is expected to live on about R1 000 a month.

The inequality, unemployment and abject poverty that has long haunted our country were only made worse by the pandemic.

Leaving many people asking, “Why should I defend democracy for the sake of democracy?”

It’s a loaded question – and here’s another one:

Journalist Lauren Marx asked in an article in The Mail & Guardian, “Is living politically free but socially and economically on your knees true freedom?”

“Freedom is a fragile thing and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by way of inheritance; it must be fought for and constantly defended by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. And those in world history who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.”

Ronald Reagan

Freedom does not happen automatically, and it is not a gift. It is the hard-won responsibility of the people who demand it. It is up to us to ensure that the people we have put in place to govern do so in a way that is compliant with our beloved Constitution.

Instead of the dream of a free and democratic country, South Africans are forced to contend with what can only be described as a continuation of historical patterns of exclusion and marginalisation.

28 years into the new South Africa, equal opportunity is still not a reality for the majority of our people.

The worry is, the failure to deliver on the promises of 1994 continues to delegitimise democracy in the minds of South Africans.

It is nothing short of a travesty when all South Africans’ right to vote, which was so hard-won, and for which countless people died, is being squandered blindly.

The need for redress in SA is enormous.

And using the past as an excuse for the failings of the present no longer holds water.

As an article in the Daily Maverick stated, “The stratagem of blaming apartheid for current ills becomes ever more threadbare as time passes. The ruins of Germany and Japan were repaired in less time than has passed since the demise of apartheid.”

We need to spend less time blaming and more time accelerating the change needed to make the Big Dream of 1994 a reality.