Bobby Stevenson

Eastern Cape Legislature Leader Bobby Stevenson

Freedom Day means different things to different generations. For one generation the emphasis is on celebrating freedom as the victory of democracy over apartheid. For another it represents the hope that South Africa can progress towards a state where the dream of freedom can be lived.

Although we are free from the yoke of apartheid we are still shackled by poverty, unemployment, a failing education and health system; together with a high crime rate which contributes to a climate of fear. There is thus a huge gap between the intent of our constitutional democracy and what is delivered in practice.

As a result, when we celebrate freedom, we must not only look backwards at our history of injustice, which we can never underplay, but also forward to what we need to do to restore the dream of a rainbow nation.

What are some of the acts of “unfreedom” that shackle us from progressing socially, economically and politically as a nation?

Socially, the ANC practises a form of historical entrapment, whereby it regularly plays the race card to try and ring-fence its voter base. The most recent example was where the ANC in the Western Cape who, with much fanfare, falsely accused a municipal manager of sending a racist email to a provincial minister.

Similarly, the right wingers polarise our society by feeding on racial fears and the Malema rhetoric has done much to give oxygen to this polarisation process, thereby fuelling South Africa’s volatile political environment.

In the current climate, it can be argued that South Africa is regressing from the idyllic perception of the rainbow nation we had once hoped to become.

The vilification and demonization by the racial nationalists on both sides must stop.

As Mamphela Ramphele so aptly put it (Sunday Times, 4 April 2010) “There are, however, gathering storm clouds on the horizon, signalling that all is not well in our democracy.”

Another area in which our freedom is suffocated is by the lack of free expression. Civil society, particularly church leaders, academics and the business community do not speak out as they should for fear of reprisals, resulting in a weak civil society. Such political correctness and self censorship is a dangerous threat to open dialogue in a functional democracy.

Secondly freedom is a consequence of economic development and opportunity. The high pool of unemployed in this country, particularly amongst the youth, is an indication of how this component of freedom is missing and being stifled. The figure of 2.5million youth between the ages of 18 and 24 who neither have a job nor are undergoing some form of educational training is a ticking time bomb.

A poor education system fails our learners and that’s why so many learners are failing in our Province resulting in the retardation of South Africa’s workforce.

The freedom to choose a career path and change the circumstances of one’s birth is thus highly restricted. Job seekers are also dealt a double whammy as labour legislation and government economic policy also restricts job opportunities.

Thirdly, on the political side, a poor administration results in the problems of voters being ignored. Only 1.9% of queries forwarded to the Province from the Presidential Hotline have been resolved. This contrasts with over 53% in the Western Cape. A poor administration also results in corruption, wastage and general inefficiencies that could better be spent on developmental opportunities.

Thousands of houses could have been constructed in this Province if we didn’t have to return over R1.3 billion of unspent funding to the National Treasury over the last five years.

Although we have one of the finest constitutions in the world – if the values expressed in that constitution are not upheld and manipulated, our very freedom is undermined.

One of the ways this is done is by the assault on the constitution by the cadre redeployment policy of the ANC. This results in a parallel structure to the constitution being set up where deployed comrades are not answerable to the institutions of state but to the ruling party. The power of the party becomes supreme while the authority of the constitution is undermined. In addition, where people are appointed to the administration who are not fit for purpose, the poor become the primary victims of this maladministration.

So what can be done to take forward freedom in this country?

The answer lies in one word – RESPECT – respect for life, property, dignity and diversity.

There is much work to be done but let’s celebrate the prospect that exists to establish the rainbow dream where all South Africans are free to access the opportunities that our country can offer.

After all, you have the constitutional power to bring about the change you want to see by registering and exercising your vote.

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