BY NELVIS QEKEMA
24 APRIL 2022
Wednesday, April 27, marked the 28th anniversary of the first democratic elections in our country. On the country’s national calendar, the day is marked Freedom Day. I am reluctant to go with the flow and refer to April 27 as Freedom Day.
Yes, on paper South Africans are free to vote and enjoy all sorts of aspirational freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. But in order to contextualise the day, we have to ask the fundamental question: If we say we are free, we are free from what? Before we can get carried away on symbolisms – issues such as the fact that we have a black president, majority of cabinet members are black, the chief justice is black, all symbols of racial discrimination at public amenities have been removed, we no longer have to carry “dom passes” – we should focus on the real point of dispute that forced THE people to wage a struggle for liberation.
We should not be confused. Ours was, and remains a struggle against colonialism; a struggle for the repossession of our land taken by force by European settlers; the repossession of our wealth and the restoration of our dignity as black people.
If we accept that those were the objectives of the liberation struggle, we then have to arrive at the inescapable conclusion that we are still not free.
One might ask, if we are not free, how IS IT that we have a government dominated by black people? The truth is that the system that was designed to keep us in bondage has evolved. In its earlier days, it was crude colonialism where the colonial masters – the British and the Dutch – were in control of our country and all its resources. Anything of value was stolen and shipped to the colonial powers in Europe. Later, this crude form of colonialism evolved into settler-colonialism, in a system that saw the coloniser settling permanently in our country, calling himself an Afrikaner.
But in response to the struggles of the Azanian masses, the oppressive colonial system evolved again into neo-colonialism. For the first time, a section of the oppressed people were allowed to take control of the government. The transition from settler-colonialism to neo-colonialism is marked by April 27 1994 all-race elections.
From April 1994, all South Africans, above the age of 18, could vote for a party of their choice, with the party that got the most votes being able to constitute a government. The securing of a vote, a right that was denied to the majority of the people, was seen as a major victory, and sadly it was wrongly confused by some with the attainment of the objectives of the liberation struggle. Surely, it was just the beginning. But sadly, the political opportunity has been wasted.
True to its colour, the National Party, the custodian of apartheid and white minority interests, negotiated a deal that would effectively undermine majority rule. In terms of that deal, the private property ownership would be guaranteed in the Constitution. This meant that the land that the settlers robbed at gun point from black people would remain in white hands. This meant that all the wealth they accumulated from exploiting the country’s natural resources such as mines would remain in white hands. The Nats made sure that the Constitutional Court, and not Parliament, would become the final interpreter of the Constitution. In other words, any Bill passed by Parliament can only become law if the Constitutional Court gives the green light. And the Constitution is based on vague equality, and does not take into account the colonial legacy. Worse still, they made sure that some sections are double-entrenched, which means that you would need two- thirds of parliamentary votes and six provinces to change them.
The effect of this sell-out deal struck in Kempton Park in the early 1990s is that the democratic government becomes the protector of the ill-gotten wealth of white people. This makes April 27 difficult for black people to celebrate. Black people still do not have land. They do not own the wealth of the country. They still have no dignity as they are confined to squatter camps, without basic services such as water, toilets, electricity and roads. Black people live in shacks that are prone to destruction by floods and fires. They still have to use the dehumansing bucket system.
Twenty eight years after the dawn of democracy, youth unemployment is hovering around 70 percent. One in FIVE adults is unemployed. Poverty levels are deepening and more and more of our people depend on social grants for survival. Tame and half-hearted attempts by the government to change the legacy of colonialism have come to naught. Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment are now on reverse gear. Reactionary Afrikaner interest groups are using the courts to reverse affirmative and BEE gains.
To make the plight of the black person worse, the ruling elites are embroiled in gross corruption, essentially undermining the broader objectives of the government to improve the quality of life of the majority of the people.
Beneficiaries of neo-colonialism, those who have been co-opted by the system designed to keep black people in economic bondage, will want to perpetuate the lie that we are free. They hold rallies to celebrate hollow freedom and the fact that the country holds regular elections. But no amount of propaganda can hide the fact that South Africa has become the most unequal society in the world.
Neo-colonialism gives colonialism an acceptable face, but it keeps the colonised in economic bondage. If we look behind the façade, we would realise that the script is still the same. Our country remains a modern colony of the west. No wonder our television screens are dominated by western cultural products; no wonder that English football is more popular in the country than local soccer. The country still exports virtually all its raw natural resources only to import finished products at much higher cost.
Granted this background, the people must use April 27 to reflect on the sterile freedom. But beyond reflection, we must revive our commitment to fighting for the attainment of the objectives of our liberation struggle. AZAPO has positioned itself to lead the march of the people to ensure that we continue the fight to get our land back and restore our dignity.
However, as flawed as April 27 1994 is, it gave the majority of the people an opportunity to access State power. Sadly those who were at the helm of the State since the dawn of democracy have squandered every opportunity to advance the interest of the country and its people through rampant corruption and grand scale theft of public resources. As a people, we can either continue to wail in self-pity; continue to hope that those who have brought us into this mess will self-correct; or accept the simple truth that we are our own liberators and that our destiny is in our hands. AZAPO, as the custodian of the liberating philosophy of Black Consciousness, remains committed to our historic mission of leading the people to true freedom and total liberation, which is anchored on the repossession of the land.
Nelvis Qekema is the President of AZAPO