Two Freedom days. 1994’s had hope. Does 2020’s?


Two Freedom days. 1994’s had hope. Does 2020’s?

As I think back on the first election, and see the injustices Covid-19 has exposed, I can’t help worrying

People walk past a graffiti artwork of former president Nelson Mandela in Cape Town.
FREEDOM People walk past a graffiti artwork of former president Nelson Mandela in Cape Town.
Image: Esa Alexander / Sunday Times

On Freedom Day on Monday, I reflected on what it must have been like in 1994.

I was just a child on April 27 that year, but images from then have brought me to the conclusion that everything about that day was in contrast to what we see today.

Being indoors and not in winding queues that many joined to cast their votes to determine the country’s future was, perhaps, a failure to honour one’s patriotic duty.

On April 27 2020, as the nation is in lockdown to fight Covid-19, being outdoors and in close proximity to others is, perhaps, failing one’s patriotic duty to adhere to government’s calls, aimed at saving lives.

On Monday, I needed to get some essentials at a grocery store. 

I left home, then realised I had forgotten an important item. I rushed back in to collect it . No, not an ID book – but my face mask.

In the long queue I was about to join, some people wore surgical masks, others designer ones, while some wore industrial masks. A few were pulling scarves or their polo neck jerseys over their mouths and noses.

Two gentlemen joined the queue behind me. 

Their conversation moved from how they had left the township to join the queue here because unlike those, this one wasn’t as long.

Perhaps, like those in voting queues in 1994, their conversation ranged from the weather to the future of this country and the situation in which we find ourselves.

“This Ramaphosa guy isn’t half bad. He’s Venda after all. I like the Venda nation. They know how to take care of people.  I don’t think these R350s he’s offered would have happened under any other president,” one man remarked, referring to  the social grants government intends giving to the unemployed during the pandemic.

I wonder if the same conversations of hope were held about the late former president Nelson Mandela on April 27 1994. They probably were. He was viewed as the saving grace by many black people.

“And he’s clever. The country won’t be losing any money in giving this cash out,” the other said of Ramaphosa.

I didn’t understand his notion, but well, I wasn’t exactly in a position to ask him to elaborate.

Metre by metre we moved closer to the door, observing the social distancing that had been preached about.

The patience everyone showed was probably the same as that in 1994. Everyone knew what they were doing and what it was that had to be done.

As I reached the shop door, unlike an inked finger that one collected at the 1994 polling stations, queuers offers their hands to be sprayed with sanitiser.  

Shopping done, my drive back home was quick. On the radio, I heard a news broadcast with a clip from EFF leader Julius Malema’s Freedom Day speech.

Several politicians, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, gave powerful speeches about SA’s resurrection from the coronavirus pandemic, but Malema’s speech focused on how businesses could not be relied upon to sustain the country because maximising profits was their priority.

The food parcels and all the grants are meant for South Africans only. Even the small business grants are structured for South Africans only.
Julius Malema

Later, as I went through Malema’s speech, I picked up on a few aspects that struck a chord.

He highlighted the dire situation of foreigners who came to SA seeking greener pastures, but were left behind when contingency measures were put in place for those hardest hit by the virus.

With wallets and grocery cupboards emptying, returning home for many of foreigners was not a choice as border posts were closed or, worse, there was nothing waiting at home.

“The migrants, even those who are registered with permanent residency, will be overlooked, excluded and probably even deported during this Covid-19 crisis,” Malema said.

“The food parcels and all the grants are meant for South Africans only. Even the small business grants are structured for South Africans only. This is the reason all other countries in the world will never see black lives as worthy of dignity, respect and remorse. We do no not feel remorse for each other here on the continent. We do not feel solidarity for each other,” he said.

Malema’s words reminded me of a post I saw on a Facebook community page just days into the lockdown.

A woman from Zimbabwe pleaded for assistance, saying the lockdown had forced her to stop working and she was battling to feed her child, who couldn’t drink her medication on an empty stomach.

I reached out and helped where I could, but this was just but a drop in the ocean.

Like so many African countries are now looking to SA for advice on how to handle the coronavirus, other nations undoubtedly looked to us when we achieved peace at the 1994 polls.

I wonder how we are faring. 

On Freedom Day 2020, the Nelson Mandela Foundation shared a quote by Mandela: “The purpose of freedom is to create it for others.”

I wonder whether the freedom of others remains a priority for us.

A statement released by the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation answered this question.

“The democratic SA that celebrates its 26th birthday today is not the fair and just country that it should be — that many in 1994 dreamed it would be,” it said.

“This cannot be blamed on the coronavirus. If anything, the virus has done the country a ghastly favour by exposing the unsustainable foundations on which it is built ... that must be urgently fixed.”

I wonder what April 27 2030 will look like.  


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