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Freedom Day: South Africans still economically shackled

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The Freedom Charter, which outlines the vision of South Africa as dreamt by the heroes of our land, promises citizens that the people shall govern, the people shall share in the country’s wealth, the land shall belong to all, there shall be work and security, free education, and everyone shall enjoy equal human rights.

Though many strides have made in achieving these goals, the current sociopolitical climate appears to call to the fore the existence of continued socioeconomic inequalities.

For community activists who were part of the anti-apartheid movement, South Africa’s current situation is disheartening.

Suraya Bibi Khan has a keen sense of justice that has seen her fighting for just causes in South Africa and internationally. Born in 1952, at a time when racial equality was unheard of in South Africa, Khan grew up fighting for equality and justice for all. Her motto in life is that one should live by the courage of one’s conviction. She demonstrated this conviction in 2003 when she joined a group of men and women who went to Iraq as human shields against American civilian bombings in Iraq. This led to a similar humanitarian role in Palestine with the Palestinian Solidarity Alliance.

Speaking to VOC News this week, Khan said one of the most pressing issues for the oppressed was the right to education. Those who stood up to fight for equal education were targeted by the apartheid state.

This form of control, along with the brainwashing in the form of “Swart Gevaar” created feelings of hate amongst citizens and, through dividing communities, conquered the minds of South Africans.

“There is a quote by Immanuel Kant, who says that if you deny my ability to think, you deny me my dignity and you take away my humanity.”

Khan further spoke to the sentiment shared by numerous South Africans who describe freedom fighters of the past as having had the agenda of personal economic gains when joining the struggle. She stated that most freedom fighters, who financially struggled during Apartheid, continue to struggle to make ends-meet today.

“But our hopes and dreams have to a large degree been fulfilled, since we now have a right to vote,” Khan says.

In light of the looming Nkandla and Gupta scandal that disrupted the political process of the country, she encourages citizens to realise that the work required to succeed as a country is not isolated to collective responsibility, but instead extends to individual responsibility.

“The Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to go to court, etcetera, and to take responsibility not as a collective but as individuals. We want to claim and blame, whereas party political structures have, as a collective of individuals, put together their minds.”

Freedom fighters of the past tried their best to achieve the ultimate level of freedom.

“Did we mean ‘access’ to education or did we mean ‘free’ education? We have to understand when the Freedom Charter was written in relation to the population size at the time.”

One aspect of the freedom charter, which Khan considers to be non-negotiable, is the division of the land, since it is an issue that is connected to the international solidarity movement. She, therefore, urges Government to take responsibility and to divide the land equitably amongst the population.

“Give our people dignity!”

Community activist Imraahn Mukaddam says due to the state capture of the political process by capitalist structures, South Africans continue experience mass inequality and poverty.

Since a vast number of South Africans continue to be reliant on social grants, the freedom that was envisioned within the Freedom Charter has not been realised, he says.

“The six per cent increase in social grants is an insult to the dignity of the poor and due to food inflation of 22 per cent, the R80 awarded to the elderly was eroded in the first three months of 2016.”

Mukaddam says the main areas of concern within South Africa relates to the high cost of living, lack of food, and the lack of access to job security.

“If South Africans had access to real jobs the impact of high food prices and the cost of living would be mitigated.”
South Africa needs to investigate mechanisms directed toward to eradicating poverty and hunger, he says.

“As the Food Sovereignty Campaign, we believe that South Africa should have a state sponsored food system and that Government should give people access to land so that they can grow community cooperative gardens.”

He further states that citizens are living in worse conditions than previously since government is not acknowledgingthe plight of the poor.

“We as South Africans cannot claim to be free when we know that 14 million of our neighbours are going hungry. This is bondage to poverty – You can’t have freedom without dignity and you cannot have dignity when you are hungry,” Mukaddam asserted.

‘South Africans cannot claim to be free’

Chairperson of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the Western Cape, Bernard Joseph, says in light of the current political climate within the country, we as South Africans cannot claim to be free.

The main challenges the EFF seeks to address is the issue of the lack of housing and the continued sanitation problem which many south Africans face on a daily basis.

Joseph says the issue of crime and substance abuse in over populated areas needs to be addressed, since it is becoming impossible for citizens to reclaim their areas and control the actions of the youth.

The EFF also calls to attention the problems that arise from the lack of dependable transport, where individuals are unable to access places of employment, which subsequently increases frustration within communities.

“Let’s not invest in areas that are already affluent, while the poor areas continue to lack infrastructure and services.”

Joseph believed though South Africans enjoy the right to vote, the government has failed South Africans in terms of freedoms that were promised in the Freedom Charter.

‘South Africa needs an inclusive economy’

While the EFF called to attention the lack of adequate services, spokesperson for the Appropriation Committee of the Democratic Alliance (DA) Malcolm Figg highlighted the effect of corruption that is prevalent within state structures on the level of poverty.

Figg explained that the only way that citizens will be able to remove themselves from a state of poverty is with their inclusion and participation in the economy.

He further stated that the continued misuse of public funds and corruption at the highest level has added to the frustration and anger that South Africans currently experience.

“Instead of the money being spread more evenly, if you are not well connected, then opportunities are few,” Figg stated.

Images of the past, which depict millions queuing to vote in the first democratic elections, gave hope to citizens who were previously disadvantaged. This hope, Figg stated, appears to have dwindled in light of the mismanagement of the country.

South Africans, Figg stated, cannot be free without being provided with a respectful standard of living, which requires access to employment, education, healthcare, and quality-based services.

“Our people cannot be free while they queue for casual jobs, have no electricity, water, or houses. Freedom day marks 22 years of democracy, yet millions of South Africans are yet to taste freedom.”

In light of freedom day celebrations, we seek hope from a sentiment shared by former president Nelson Mandela: “Do not judge me by successors, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

VOC (Thakira Desai)

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