Freedom means different things to different people, and in a racially-polarised society such as South Africa, one can be certain that there will be a fundamental difference of what freedom entails within the different racial groups. Part of this is due to the fact that after the 1994 elections, we had high expectations of the government and institutions of democracy with regards to bringing about freedom for the “previously oppressed”. Community- based organisations that worked towards liberation at the time surrendered their work to the government. In retrospect, one can’t blame them for their naivety. Like many South Africans, they believed that the new government would advance the plight of the people; that it would bring radical change to the lives of the black majority through the creation of an equal society. This in turn has created passive citizenship, where there is heavy reliance on the state to provide services.
The year, 1994, was a watershed moment in South African history. Many believed that the advent of democracy would usher in a change of living standards. While many strides have been made in transforming South African society, the gap between the poor and the rich has been reported to widen. As the proverbial cherry on top, the vast majority of the poor are of the African race, and they remain in the same conditions socially and economically they were in before 1994. This fact is what makes the freedom debate rather complex in South Africa and ultimately, forces one to reflect on the nature of the freedom we have or that we long for.
The formation of the Republic of South Africa in 1961 made it very clear that freedom and citizenship was reserved for a select few. It is not surprising then that in 2015, we find ourselves having to question the notions of freedom and active citizenship. The recurring attacks on African nationals in South Africa are one of the most recent causes for the need for us to deeply question these notions. For the purposes of this piece we shall momentarily park Marikana, Ficksburg, Andries Tatane, De Doorns, and Lwandle amongst many others.
We need to acknowledge that South Africa has a history of violence; and that we generally use violence to deal with personal and social challenges. The forced removals and the Group Areas Act, the Native Land Act of 1913, and the system of apartheid were all violent methods that perhaps helped create this violent attitude in the broader society. The Group Areas Act, in essence, created a territorial attitude to the areas where people were placed. There have been many incidences where uproar has been a result of some people from a different group entering an area allocated to another, be it in a township or a suburb. This is evidence of how territorial South Africans have become over the years.
Furthermore, after the 1994 elections we did not reflect on the type of society we had become. Instead, we embodied this violent nature by instilling even more violent measures to dispel crowds as made evident by the tactics used by the South African Police Services. Moreover, a culture to celebrate this violent separation was created through glorifying the way of life in townships and using popular terms such as ‘ghetto fabulous’. Furthermore, an attitude of ‘this is mine, and that is yours’ was developing. This, in turn, gave society a superficial sense of freedom, where the structures of society and resource allocation to the various groups in society still remained unequal.