27 years later, and the question of true freedom in South Africa continues to be a debate.
With the levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty seemingly increasing – the South
African dream (whatever that is to you) seems further and further away. The rich are getting
richer. The divide between the have and have nots is becoming larger by the day. With that,
the mere understanding between the rich and the poor escapes. The rich are generally out
of touch with this issue and the poor live in a world of contentment, discouragement and
hopelessness. The feeling of being forgotten and maybe even a “this is what it is” mentality.
Drawing from some of my experiences and observation I’m going to attempt to figure out
what freedom is and I’m going to try and be as un-superficial and un-idealistic as possible in
my definitions. Which will not be exhaustive…
For me freedom has been about movement and possibility. The acquisition of “stuff”.
Freedom is that as a middle class, black, young female in South Africa I still feel like I have to
fight for my voice to truly be heard. It’s that I can still be seen by my colleagues as a
transformation hire and therefore questioned whether directly or indirectly in capability. It’s
that my students, especially the older ones, still question whether they can trust me or not.
Freedom is that a couple of years ago my salary was adjusted to the same level as my
colleagues who are at the same level as me (early last year – an odd 24 years after the
country obtained freedom).
Freedom is that as a civilian I’m trying to, have the opportunity to, and feel an obligation to
play a part in levelling the playing field between a 13 year old that goes to a school in a
suburb versus one that goes to a school in rural Bergville. Freedom is that 15 years after
matric I’m still hoping all schools in the country could look and provide the same education
provided to me back then.
Freedom is that some of the kids I interact it through Nka’Thuto EduPropeller
(www.nkathutoedu.org.za) smile and get comfort from the groceries you buy them having
toilet paper. Only because they can carry the roll of toilet paper to school during their
menstruation cycle. For her that was more beneficial than the pieces of chicken, perhaps
that is because their likely to spoil in the absence of a fridge. There’s no space for the fridge
anyway and the neighbour they pull electricity from cuts them off from time to time.
Freedom is that my mentee who lives off NSFAS got mugged outside her commune and her
R1000 that she had just withdrawn was part of the collateral damage. Her 3 rd pair of
sneakers that she had ever owned (by choice) and had just bought on sale was collateral
damage. And so was her cell phone that she was so proud she could buy for herself. And so
was the laptop she had just finished paying her uncle for after spending her whole first year
taking a chunk of her NSFAS to pay for it. Freedom is that the people who mugged her went
into her room, took more of her clothes and went away with her key. Freedom is that the
people who mugged her were women.
But freedom is also that my brother can work in a first world country by choice with a
qualification from one of the best South African universities. Having had studied what he
wanted to study and not what was imposed on him based on the colour of his skin. Freedom
is that I can sit in my house and write what I like without that causing my loved ones to feel
like I’m putting my life in danger. Freedom is that I’m a fourth-generation graduate on my
maternal side but it’s also that I’m first generation on my paternal side.
The more I sit and think about what freedom actually is for me, the more I move further and
further away from understanding what freedom really is for the entire population. South
Africans experience freedom differently as a result of the inequality, unemployment and
poverty we are plagued with.
So far ahead but still so far behind!