RSA Freedom Day 2015

South Africa: Freedom Day 21 years into Democracy

Celebrating
twenty-one years of democracy provides South Africans with an opportunity for
reflection, an opportunity to pause, to take stock. We should all take stock,
because if we are serious about transformation, then our nation’s leaders need
to be honest, honest with themselves, honest with each other and honest with
us, about how far we really have come on this Freedom Day 2015.

 In his
inauguration speech, on the 10th May 1994, President Nelson Mandela said,

“We have,
at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate
all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation,
suffering, gender and other discrimination. 
We succeeded to take our
last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to
the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace. We have triumphed
in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our
people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which
all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without
any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human
dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

 Mandela’s
speech provided some very clear indicators for leadership
accountability. Political emancipation is one thing. In hindsight, that
was the relatively easy part. Twenty-one years later, the real test is whether
or not we have seen meaningful progress in our national emancipation in all the
other areas he mentioned. So, on this Freedom Day, let’s ask the question,
“How have we really done over the past twenty one years in achieving
liberation in terms of poverty, suffering and discrimination?

 Poverty
& Deprivation

Whilst we
celebrate the increase in the number of no-fee schools, the introduction of a
social grant programme and minimum wage levels, the reality is that South
Africa remains one of the most inequitable countries in the world as measured
using the Gini-coefficient. Millions are still gripped by poverty,
deprived of even the most basic amenities. One only has to look at the
living conditions of the multiple informal settlements across our nation to see
that we are deluding ourselves if we think that we have seen real liberation on
this front. It is beyond the scope of this article to examine all the research
that has been published on individual, regional, provincial and national
poverty levels. Whilst Statistics South Africa report that poverty levels have
been reduced since 2006, one has to wonder whether we can wait until 2030 to achieve the poverty reduction targets set out in the National Development
Plan.

Suffering
& Discrimination

Suffering takes
many forms in South Africa. One of the most public displays is in the form of
the recent wave of xenophobic attacks (reminiscent of the horrors of 2008). Our
leaders have, in many instances, given these attacks only qualified
condemnation. I am astounded that leaders have sought to call for protection
for victims with cries of, “Don’t kill foreigners, they helped us during
apartheid.” Or, “Don’t kill foreigners, they contribute to the
economy.” What we should be saying is, “Don’t kill.” In an
unreserved, unqualified, simple way, “Don’t!”

The moment we
have to start rationalizing not killing someone tells me we have not moved far
at all from the “continuing bondage” Mandela described. The “relative peace” he
described is no longer relative or peaceful.

South Africa
sees forty-seven murders a day. This is forty-seven too many and that shouldn’t
require explanation or justification. These murders were happening before the
xenophobic attacks and, unless focused action is taken, they will continue to
happen after the xenophobic attacks. It should not take international
pressure and behind the scenes diplomatic scrambling for leaders to make an
unqualified statement against this horrifying loss of life.

In recent weeks, we have some pyrrhic victories in the removal of statues of erstwhile colonial leaders. Whilst the physical landscape might change as we try and remap our
history and remove the reminders of our past, this is no guarantee that people’s
hearts are changing towards each other.

Mandela
suggested that we have entered into a “covenant” that we shall build society. In
2015, can every South African walk tall? Without fear? Are all South Africans
assured of their “inalienable right to human dignity?”

I am not sure
how Mandela intended the use of the word “covenant”. If it was simply in the
legal sense of, “a promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action”, then
that is one thing. But,if he was using it in the Biblical sense, of an agreement that, “brings about a relationship of
commitment between God and his people”, then that is quite different. Covenant
is key.

 Fear vs. Hope

Today, on the
27 April 2015, we can and should focus on the progress we have made. But we also
need to be honest about unemployment, education levels, inequality, violence,
crime and murder. If we are truly honest, then for many South Africans, we are not at
peace with ourselves, and we are certainly not at peace with the world. But we have an
opportunity now to recommit in covenant to God. As responsible leaders, we need to
take a systemic approach to these issues.
We need to focus on meaningfully controlling our borders, partnering in
early childhood education and on skills development and employability. We need to root out corruption and crime. We need
to give the hopeless, hope, not just for the basic amenities and a roof over
their heads but that we all have a fundamental right to live, unharmed, for another day.

Most
importantly, South Africa needs spiritual hope, that, according to 2
Chronicles 7:14. ”If my people who are called by my name will humble
themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will
hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”

If continued
Hope is to be “implanted in the breasts of millions of our people”, then may
this day bring us to our knees as we cry,“God, help us!” Let Freedom reign. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.


Dr A.J. Brough

Brough Leadership Institute

andyb[at]andrewbrough[dot]com