Freedom Day under lockdown

By Paul Mabote

Wednesday, 27 April 1994 was a significant and historic day in South Africa! It marked the country’s first equal and non-racial elections, the demise of the apartheid system and the dawn of a new era of democracy and freedom for all South Africans. 26 years into the future, the picture is an unimaginable one. Faces are masked, roads are empty and doors are closed as citizens feel the heavy chains of the ongoing national lockdown, made necessary by the surge of the highly infectious Covid-19 virus, which has already claimed more than 75 lives in our country.

Freedom Day is usually decorated with countrywide mass gatherings and celebrations, a familiar sight which regrettably, will not be seen this year. – Stay home has become law! Despite the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, how can South Africans still observe and celebrate Freedom Day in 2020? How are Activators across the country going to be celebrating the day despite the constricting realities of the national lockdown?

Zodwa Manitswana, a 2017 Activator from Johannesburg will be celebrating Freedom Day along with her fellow colleagues, she says. “I work in a hotel that has currently made a change from accommodating travellers to accommodating healthcare workers that are fighting on the frontline during this crisis. We will be celebrating the day by screening a documentary about the significance of the 1994 elections, then having a short conversation about it afterwards. Zodwa adds that the screening and discussion will be followed by a candlelit yoga and meditation session.

Selekanye Seribe, a North West based Activator and the founder of Peo ya Afrika Agri-digital institute, says that together with her colleagues, they will be observing Freedom Day by distributing to their less fortunate community members fresh food items from their own garden. Selekanye says that so far they have grown and prepared about 500 cabbage and 250 spinach plants for donation in her rural village of Thaba Sione. “We are celebrating our freedom to use the land that we have been blessed with, and making a positive difference in our community members’ lives in the process.” She added.

2015 Activator Irvin Chauke has a rather reflective view: “Freedom day symbolizes a lot in our country, but for me it reminds us of how the black nation came together for a greater cause. Sadly, however, our freedom of movement is now restricted, which is ironic. I will observe this day by taking time to reflect on how far we have come as a country and rejoice on what I have achieved as a result of the privileges we enjoy because of the birth of our democracy. Also, I will remain safe and try to encourage my family and friends to also remain safe, so that we can enjoy the next Freedom Day outside together, to signify breaking free from the lockdown and more importantly, breaking free from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Another Activator, Tefo Mekgwe, is a director of the youth-led Choko Five Movement based in Kagiso, in Gauteng. He shares the following about the activities of his organisation: “We have been running a series of online presentations on socio-political issues and for Freedom Day, we will be hosting a live community discussion on what it really means to be free. We will also be rolling out our “Mask for All” Covid-19 campaign, whereby we have encouraged skilled community members to make sewn face masks from unused cloth cut-offs. Those who wish to lend a hand may then donate R25 to buy a mask from local sellers.”

2017 Activator Hlubikazi Sanqela will be observing Freedom Day with her learners, engaging in their online Whatsapp group. She says “we will be engaging on the topic of what Freedom means to each of the learners during this time, and also whether we are free at all? Since the beginning of the lockdown, we have been interacting frequently on social media, assisting with studies and discussing social issues affecting young people. Hlubikazi is a community development worker in Alice, Eastern Cape and she runs her own organisation called Born to Shine Youth Development Agency.

“Under the circumstances of the lockdown, it is imperative that we leverage technology.” Those are the words of Cape Town based Activator Hendrick Swarts, of Black Consciousness Poetry. In the past, they have hosted contact poetry sessions around his hometown of Kuils River, events which due to the lockdown regulations, can no longer be continued. Hendrick says, however, that the restrictions of the lockdown have pushed him and his colleagues to realise one of their long-standing ambitions of creating a podcast series. He says “We have decided to record our first episode on Freedom Day and we are going to be engaging on the meaning of freedom from a black consciousness and poetic perspective. It is going to be a new and exciting experience.”

From KwaMashu in KZN, Activator Nkosikhona Mpungose shares the following “it is unfortunate that our 2020 Freedom Day comes during the lockdown. However, these were necessary measures imposed by the president of the country.” As a part of the Covid-19 field information team for the EThekwini local municipality, Mpungose and his team will be going to different informal communities where social distancing is not easy to practice, to facilitate Covid-19 information sessions. This, he says, will be to help educate the communities on the seriousness of the Coronavirus and the reasoning behind the lockdown regulations, as well as to identify families which are in urgent need of social distress relief.

2019 Activator Kagiso Kgomane from Ga-Rankua in Pretoria is passionate about education. He says that he will be spending Freedom Day assisting students from Technology Vocational Education and Training with one of their theoretical subjects. He says “I have decided to play my part by ensuring that the students get ready for online learning.”

Gauteng based Activator Pagel Nyilongo is a sound engineer and is usually out around the country working at big events. “I seldom have time to spend with my family,” he says, “this will be the first Freedom Day that I will be home in almost 7 years and I intend to spend it with my family, I guess enjoying the freedom to care and to be cared for. Being home on public holidays is not normal for me, so this will be a very special one.”

I will be working on Freedom Day”, says Activator Jessie Mart from Johannesburg. Jessie has the important job of transporting hospital staff to and from work on a daily basis. He says “I do not feel free, by definition of the word, given that we are not free to do most things during the lockdown. However, I feel liberated, remembering the positive change that was introduced by the 1994 elections and the significance of Freedom Day in our country. I am also happy to be able to assist essential workers by getting them to work and back home safely during this crisis.”

From accommodating and transporting essential workers, to digitally assisting learners with their studies and going on drives to educate fellow citizens about their safety during the Covid-19 pandemic; it is clear that Activators across the country are set on playing their part this Freedom Day. Although it may be free of the usual colourful celebrations, the light of Freedom Day in lockdown truly reveals the selfless contribution by these young heroes to causes bigger than themselves. Happy Freedom Day!

“We continue to spread the message of #StayHome #BeSmart #BeKind #BeSafe #FreedomDay2020” – Nkosikhona “Uzzi” Mpungose






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