The Meaning of Freedom & Democracy in our time

Are we Free or are we DOM? With that being understood, 27th April marks the commemoration of Freedom Day in South Africa, which seeks to unite and remind South Africans of the journey that our people have gone through to have this day set aside, and reflect upon.

Freedom is highly correlated with a wider range of choices and greater ability to do various things. Meanwhile, democracy is a universally recognised ideal as well as a goal, which is based on common values shared by peoples throughout the global community, irrespective of cultural, political, social and economic differences. It is thus a basic right of citizenship to be exercised under conditions of freedom, equality, transparency and responsibility, with due respect for the plurality of views, and in the interest of the society.

Fortunately, Tsepo Ya Rona Mofokeng, an independent artist joined me in unpacking some of the challenging questions which seek to evaluate how far we have gone in sustaining our democracy and freedom.

What values underpin leadership and democracy?

Mofokeng says, “The idea of leadership premises itself, on the foundations of serving. When we speak about values of leadership, we are implying that we must be selfless, generous and most importantly, not to be found wanting. Leadership is about leading, sticking one’s neck out and making decisions that have the potential to change the status quo. The values of leadership demand that we have the ability to see ahead of our time, to be bold and have the nerves and tenacity to tackle ahead on the challenges that come with being a leader”

Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to engage Siphokazi Pangele, founder of Ambassadors in Action, who argued that, “The thing about democracy and freedom really raises an alert to an individual that wants to be crowned a leader. First of all, the values that underpin a leader not only underline the word leadership, but actually break it down, and take it to a point whereby you are given the actual responsibility to lead a ship, and having an understanding that a ship actually carries a large number of people.”

How do we make our democracy inclusive with everyone sharing the responsibility to do better and be better?

“Everyone sharing the responsibility to do and be better actually making democracy a people’s forum, that way democracy is not only initially hand-held by a person who fought for democracy or by people who lived under oppression. Democracy is a freedom for all, freedom for all is allowing people to voice themselves and be heard. Democracy does not only mean we are free, therefore whatever you are thinking in your mind has a right to be heard by other people,” adds Pangele.

However, Mofokeng says, “What I’m certain about is that it is the responsibility of every citizen to play their part, without being told what part it is because it stands to reason that if we are all invested in the same vision, if we all agree that this is our future, certainly we should not then have to outline the face and smile of that future because it is ours.”

While we try to make democracy inclusive, madam premier Helen Zille still thinks that colonialism wasn’t all that bad, afterall, these sentiments came from someone who was a beneficiary of colonialism. So what do comments like these do to our democracy?

Mofokeng comes to our rescue to say, “Leaders like Helen Zille suffer from amnesia. But we cannot speak about amnesia and not reference the ANC. What Zille said about colonialism is not different from what the Zuma government is forcing on us, to be passive objects of Zuma’s fantasies, while Zille dreams about fantasies that were great for her and whiteness. So even though both leaders have a right to write what they like, it is up to us democrats to remind them that we are not tabula rasa’s- which is to say- we are not blank documents that need to be filled by their inconsiderate and poor vision of leadership. We will rise and raise our ox baritones to what we perceive to be injustice.”

What is the criterion for nation building?

I personally think nation building is a farce. We cannot speak of it as something that can be attained, although we can speak about the idea of imagined nations, imagines societies and so on. Nation building supposes that there is one nation, yet in a complex and sophisticated cultural country like South Africa, how do you speak of one nation? You cannot because we are too diverse, however, surely you can speak of one country and multiple voices. Meanwhile, Pangele has a different view, “Nation building means us understanding and acknowledging that issues such as racism will still exist, and will maybe, if I may say, forever exist. What are we going to do about that? Will that be our stand point? Will that be the barrier between us joining forces with other races into creating this nation that we want to feel free and call it a democracy.

Freedom of expression

South Africa has been held at ransom by a series of events surrounding freedom of expression. This has been evident in Parliament, if not social media (Penny Sparrow), then arts (Ayanda Mabulu paintings) and everywhere else. The good thing about freedom of expression is that, it has allowed people on the ground to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate conduct/s portrayed by those in action. Interestingly enough, the recent Mabulu paintings had gone viral to an extent of potentially pissing off loyalists and appraisers of Nelson Mandela.

I spoke to Lunga Mantashe, a PHD candidate and lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Recently, Mantashe had expressed his view on social media citing the right and wrong side of freedom of expression.

In our engagement with Mantashe he said, “I agree that we all have rights. Additionally, I agree that rights must be exercised if they really matter and have meaning of existence. Artists have rights to express what they may not be able to express in words. They may draw artistic work depicting a president as a person they still perceive as a rapist, despite the court judgement acquitting him” says Mantashe.

He adds that “They may go further and draw a picture of him raping an innocent woman to drive their point home. Of course they may go on and draw the president actually taking a shower after that”.

“However, I have disagreements with the manner of their drawings. First, I believe that all individuals have a right to be treated with dignity. This does not mean that we cannot disagree with the president and other people. Depicting a president naked, with his penis revealed in the picture and all other body parts exposed is not only an over expression of a right to express, it is an intolerant over expression” Mantashe concluded.

Freedom and Democracy is no longer about the theory, but rather the engagements and implementation of the theory that has been gathered. We have seen the role of the youth in this current generation where they are all about action. I think it is important to hold those accountable to the majority to book. The youth by their nature must disturb, agitate, anger and disorientate the way things are. If the youth does not rise up to the circumstances of their generation, they would have failed in passing their heirloom of history to generations ahead. 



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