This article is published with courtesy of SABC Digital News.
Throughout the world many nation-states put on elaborate and at times costly displays in celebration of their sometimes hard won freedoms from various forms of subjugation ranging from the yoke of oppressive regimes to crimes against humanity as the Apartheid regime was correctly called by the United Nations (this was a result of the brutality of the white minority regime which visited extreme violence and human rights violations on the defenceless black majority) in this human rights violation relay.
The Dutch and British colonialists prior to the Nationalist Party coming to power in 1948 had subjected the majority of the population to dehumanising systematic marginalisation as various obnoxious legislation design with the sole intention of denying them their legitimate birth-right- these legislative frameworks included the notorious Native Land Act of 1913 which Sol Plaatjie in his book Native Life in South Africa vividly recounts after it came into law thus, “awaking on Friday morning, June 20,1913, the South African native found himself not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”.
Indeed since the seventeenth century, the black majority had not enjoyed freedoms which many people of the world took for granted.
A period when the Dutch and subsequently British colonialists set foot and began a scorched earth policy of unimaginable suffering.
Today, South Africa is a free country, the freedom which we will celebrate on Freedom Day (27 April) marking 23 years since the dawn of democracy, has come at a huge price, literally through blood, sweat and tears – thousands of black people (from Sharpeville, Boipatong, Langa, Ginsberg, Mthatha, Mdantsane, Zwelitsha and many other places throughout South Africa) lost their lives so that today we can be free.
Freedom after 23 years of democratic rule in SA
The Freedom Charter espoused a vision of a united, non -racial and democratic South Africa free from discrimination. “ We the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people”
As a country we will be celebrating 23 years since the first democratic elections in 1994 where the majority of the population voted for the first time for a democratically elected government. The snaking ques throughout the country were a spectacle to behold as people from different strata of society cast their votes. Who can forget the injuncture of the first democratically elected President , Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela who during his inauguration on 10 May 1994 committed to the world that “ never, never and never again, shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign! The sun shall never sat on so glorious a human achievement! God Bless Africa “
Sadly, today as we celebrate our beautiful land we witness the steady but sure disintegration of our moral standing in the world .
The Freedom Charter upon which the Constitution was build identified fundamental characteristics of a free South Africa, free from the yoke of bondage, oppression, discrimination- where the People shall govern.
Whilst the political mood in the county might be different from the euphoria of 1994. We are frequently witnessing sections of society expressing their disaffection with the ruling political elite and the establishment- from the# FallistMovements of 2015 to the formation of pressure groups such as Save SA, marches to the Union Building, Parliament and Johannesburg,- these developments are a sign of a maturing democratic system- what we currently witnessing are the practical expression of the democratic aspirations enshrined in our constitution- these taken for granted freedoms include the inalienable rights to dignity, assembly, equality, and association.
These cornerstones of democracy are what sets us apart from dictatorship and one-party-states which hitherto littered our mother Continent.
Social cohesion and nation building
Nations embark on these elaborate rituals imbued by the desire to foster unity, social inclusion, and equality and social cohesion- essential ingredients for nationhood and for forging national identity- our national symbols including the national flag, national anthem, official seals constitute our identity document as a nation.
Challenges facing social cohesion
Whilst our democratic institutions remain intact, we hall from time to time experience some turbulence. That is normal. As our young democracy shows signs of maturity, it also risks challenges hell bent on arresting such maturity, these challenges can be grouped into 3 levels, structural, societal and political.
The nationalist government bequeathed the democratic state with the enduring legacy of structural inequality (one of the worst in the world after Brasil), grinding poverty, chronic unemployment (with the youth who constitute the majority of the population bearing the brunt); and growing under development.
With many people excluded from the capitalist economy, social cohesion shall continue to be strained. Social inclusion, simply put signifies the sense of belonging, recognition as part of many- thus bound by both the fortunes and misfortunes of the society to which one belongs.
Societal challenges such as the breakdown of our moral fibre, corruption (both private sector and public sector), fraud and maladministration are constant threats gnawing at the fibre of our young democracy.
One glaring example of the stark differences in the allocation of state resources to the populace is along the binary of rural/urban, rich or poor, educated/under educated, landless/landlord, (in)access to power and the benefits that goes with it .Annually, for various reasons the bulk of the national fiscus gets disproportionately allocated to people in urban areas than to the rural poor where villagers have to walk or commute long distances to access government services, such as health, education, welfare and employment. This strata of society is doomed to remain in the periphery if nothing drastic is done to ameliorate their plight.
Steering of social cohesion
The national Department of Arts and Culture has the national responsibility of driving the strategy for building an inclusive and cohesive South African society. In 2012, A National Strategy for Developing an Inclusive and A Cohesive South African Society was adopted, some of the principles of social cohesion contained in the strategy include, constitutional democracy, human rights and equality, non-racialism, inclusivity and social justice, redress and transformation, civic responsibility and national consciousness.
The strategy roll out is a collective responsibility of the various government departments. For example, within post school education and training, the Minister of Higher Education and Training has recently published a Policy Framework For the Realisation of Social Inclusion in the Post School Education and Training System. The purpose of the policy framework is stated as “to assist post school education and training institutions in the implementation of social inclusion and to provide a monitoring instrument to the department of Higher Education and Training to ensure that the social inclusion priorities of the DHET are taken into account in all PSET institutions”
That South Africa as a young democracy is maturing should no longer be in dispute. The celebrations of 23 years of democracy should be an opportunity for all who live in this beautiful country to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the founders of democratic South Africa. We dare not take our hard-won freedoms for granted. Perhaps we should take to heart what the late African-American singer/song writer Curtis Mayfield when he says “ …..freedom has never been free”
George Mvalo is the Director: Social Justice and Transformation Unit, Vaal University of Technology