Home Opinion & Features Reflections on our freedom in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic

Reflections on our freedom in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic

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The journey to freedom was a long and arduous one. As we mark Freedom Month, it would be important that we pause, reflect and take stock of whence we come as a nation, even as we battle an invisible enemy in the form of Covid-19.

South Africa’s successful Struggle for freedom and democracy is one of the most dramatic stories in the global historical time line. The racial tyranny of apartheid ended with a negotiated transition into a non-racial democratic government, but not without considerable personal cost to thousands of women, men, and young people who were involved in the struggle for the liberation of this country.

Solomon Mahlangu, a brave young man went defiantly to the gallows in 1979 where he was executed at the age of 23. His words in his quest for freedom are most instructive, as cited: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight ”

Similarly, in his farewell speech, Nelson Mandela, the first democratic President of the Republic of South Africa, added:

“Let us be mindful of the terrible past from which we come; memory should not be used as a means to keep us shackled to the past in a negative manner, rather as a joyous reminder of how far we have come and how much we have achieved. The country’s history of division, injustice and suffering ought to inspire us to celebrate our own demonstration of the capacity of human beings to progress, to go forward, to improve and do better. Historical enemies succeeded in negotiating a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy exactly because we were prepared to accept the inherent capacity for goodness in the other”

On this 26th commemoration, just one year shy of the 27 years Mandela spent in prison, his sentiments still remain relevant today, given the mammoth task that still lies ahead: i.e. ensuring that South Africa will progressively become a socially integrated and inclusive society.

To that end, it is necessary that a concerted effort is made in ensuring, despite all the missteps of the past, there is a targeted focus on social cohesion and nation building. The journey to freedom was a long and arduous one. As we mark Freedom Month, it would be important that we pause, reflect and take stock of whence we come as a nation, even as we battle an invisible enemy in the form of Covid-19.

We can also not forget the great African warriors who fought in the wars of resistance to thwart colonial oppression and land dispossession. 

We must, at this juncture, pay our fitting and deserved tribute to these true sons and daughters of the soil. In fact, when the mass liberation movement gained traction in the early 20th century, no doubt our leaders at the time would have drawn inspiration and solace from these past generations of gallant and fearless warriors.

In the context of the current invisible enemy that is Covid-19, many of our compatriots exemplify the same spirit as the generations of freedom fighters before us.

Most leave their homes routinely and without a grudge, because the task at hand is for a greater good, at times at such great cost, including their lives and those of their loved ones.

As we mark Freedom Month, it is appropriate that we convey our heartfelt appreciation to the health-care workers, security personnel and many of their counterparts in the essential services across various trades and occupations, such as the grocery store workers, the pharmacy assistants, the petrol attendants, the private security personnel and many others in similar roles.

Freedom is not only about the exercise of civil liberties and unfettered enjoyment of rights, as guaranteed in our Constitution.

Rather, freedom must also be about commensurate responsibilities or obligations we have to fellow human beings.  

We have seen civil society embracing a broader message of caring and preserving lives as the religious fraternity, for example, agreed without hesitation to forego religious observances in the normal way, in a bid to assist in the battle against Covid-19.

We are grateful that the National House of Traditional Leaders suspended initiation this season and all our traditional leaders heeded the call to keep our young boys at home and preserve lives. We have also witnessed acts of solidarity from business like never before.

This, too, goes to demonstrate that the dream of a nation united by a common purpose is possible.

Since, as has been intimated, freedom is about responsibility, one of the saddest truths in this period is the spike in the number of reported cases of gender-based violence.

As families remain under stringent lockdown measures, women, in particular, find themselves trapped in homes, and without reprieve. Children have also not been spared the trauma since the schools were ordered to close even before the national lockdown. Gender-based violence is one of the blemishes to our freedom that needs to be tackled head-on, and it needn’t only be during this time – as women remain under siege for the 365 days of the year.

Like the selfless and brave essential workers during Covid-19, let us also take a stand, with conviction, that we will not tolerate gender-based violence in our communities. Let us make the pledge to expose it and bring it to the attention of authorities wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.

Amid this rebuilding process, we are now having to put up a national armour against Covid-19. It is proving to be a painful and emotionally draining experience. Our young boys cannot exercise their right of passage into manhood at this time; as a nation, we are still not in a position to bury our loved ones with the dignity they deserve; there is anxiety, and many of us will be scared by this experience and shall remain scared for a while.

However, we will take up the rebuilding challenge both socially and on the economic front, and ensure that South Africa reaches the other side of the experience as one united sovereign nation, standing head and shoulder among many others who have undergone a similar experience. May freedom reign in our land.

* Mthethwa is the Minister of Arts, Culture and Sports

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of the DFA.