By Howard Feldman
Most South Africans would be able to list the reasons why Freedom Day in South Africa is a misnomer. The glaring irony of an African National Congress government would trip off their tongues, and they would lament how loadshedding, corruption and stupefying incompetence have created an environment that is anything but free.
But they would be wrong.
I would argue that even primary school children in the country, if asked to do so, would rattle off “Five Reasons” why many in the country are not free and why the day should be put on hold until such time as they are. But that it should still be a holiday.
After all, primary school children, like their parents, enjoy holidays.
But as they are likely mimicking what they are hearing at home, they too would be incorrect.
Because as imperfect as South Africa is, Freedom Day is worth celebrating.
Freedom Day is one of 12 public holidays and commemorates the first nonracial election which took place on 27 April 1994. It was a magical time that showcased the very best of South Africans. The transition was a magnificent example of forgiveness, of focus and of acceptance.
It was a day that shone so brightly that it illuminated the world and showed them what is possible: something that could not – and would not – have been achieved without the ANC and their leadership. As the party that birthed the Freedom Charter, who negotiated with the apartheid government, the credit for a peaceful transition will always be theirs.
On the first commemoration of the day, Nelson Mandela addressed parliament with the words:
“As a new dawn ushered in this day, 27 April 1994, few of us could suppress the welling of emotion as we were reminded of the terrible past from which we come as a nation; the great possibilities that we now have; and the bright future that beckons us. And so we assemble here today, and in other parts of the country, to mark a historic day in the life of our nation.
“Wherever South Africans are across the globe, our hearts beat as one, as we renew our common loyalty to our country and our commitment to its future.”
It has been widely accepted that a number of factors have “saved” South Africa from the breath-taking corruption of the last administration. These include a free press and a robust judicial system. These forces worked together to expose and limit the corruption.
Both are only possible in a “free” country and along with the right to vote, are the cornerstones of a democracy.
There is a lot wrong with the country. There are valid reasons for South Africans to refuse to celebrate the day. There are also valid reason for them to argue that without economic freedom, access to adequate power, medical care and education, many in the country are unable to enjoy the lofty notions of a free press … and that the ideals of an independent judiciary are meaningless in the dark.
What is vital to note, however, is that South Africans are resilient, resourceful and driven. Through their initiatives they have illustrated how to solve all the challenges above and – if given the opportunity – will continue to do so. South Africans are positive, creative and equipped with a sense of humour that doesn’t allow them to take anything too seriously.
South Africa is horribly imperfect. It is plagued by a corrupt and ineffective government. But that, I can say without fear, is in of itself the very reason why Freedom Day is worth celebrating.