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A political affiliation to Pedro

By Sarah Silber

I was exactly seven months and 21 days old on the day democracy was born in South Africa. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t remember much about that big day in our nation’s history … but my Dad remembers it well. Every April 27th, he tells me all about it. How he waited for hours in the hot sun, carrying me in his arms (how embarrassing). He tells me I was fidgety, and that I made a lot of noise. He tells me the queue was slow-moving, but nobody complained. Except for me, of course. But I don’t remember any of that.

All I know is that now I’m 18 years and seven months old, just a little older than our democracy itself. Old enough to stand in a queue and vote all by myself, the next time an election rolls around. I’m ready, because I’ve learned a lot about our democracy over the last few years.

The words “new South Africa”, “rainbow nation”, and “Constitution” have been etched into my mind by teachers, parents, and politicians alike. I’ve written countless essays and read piles of articles on “South Africa’s transition to democracy” and “The laws of apartheid”.

I’ve even watched my history teacher re-enacting scenes of himself as a student, protesting apartheid “back in the days”. Jumping over walls to get away from the police, attending secret meetings on campus, marching through the streets with huge banners … I couldn’t help but wonder how he found the time to get his degree.

I suppose I should add that he is white, and that the five girls who always sat in the front row of the of the history class are black. They were famous at our school for satirically referring to themselves as “The Darkies”. High school just wouldn’t have been the same without them. I find it hard to imagine a system that would have prevented me from being in the same class and in the same school as The Darkies. I don’t take the freedoms we have gained for granted. I just don’t think about them all that much.

On Facebook, you can choose to proclaim your interest in politics on the Political Interests tab. Most of my friends put “Vote for Pedro” there, a slogan from the movie Napoleon Dynamite. Pedro would get a lot of votes if he ever stood for election in South Africa. I do know a few of my fellow teenagers who are very concerned about the state of politics in our country, but the truth is that most people in my generation would rather follow celebrities on Twitter than follow our president.

Living in a democracy, for me, means being able to say what I want to say. It means being able to make my voice heard. It means having a cellphone. Of course, it also means being able to be friends with whoever I want, no matter what race they may be. But I don’t really make a big deal about that. It’s only the older generation, in my experience, who seem so terribly interested in colour and race.

As a student at Wits University, where my former history teacher jumped over barricades and shouted anti-government slogans, I’ve noticed that most of my peers aren’t at all interested in South African politics. A lot of them don’t even know what Freedom Day means. And when our maths lecturer told us we’d have to spend Freedom Day studying for a test, we didn’t feel very free at all.

The only time my friends and I have had a conversation even remotely related to South African politics this year, was when someone bought up the fact that President Jacob Zuma was getting married again. Then we returned to talking about Kim Kardashian’s marriage.

I know that Freedom Day means a lot to the people of this country. I know what it stands for, and what it means to the millions of people who stood in that long queue while I fidgeted and complained as a baby. But to me, this Freedom Day really means two things. It means I’m going to have to study for my maths test. And it means that, as much as we have learned from history, the really important subject, for all of us, is the future.

Sarah is a first-year BSc student at Wits University. Her interests include running, reading, blogging on Tumblr, and spontaneously bursting into song.

The Mail & Guardian wants to hear thoughts from South Africans, aged 18, on Freedom Day and what it means to them. Send us your submissions and you could be featured on our site.


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  1. John Collings John Collings 26 April 2012

    A wonderful blog, Sarah. A couple of welcome laughs, then your main point, contained in the final sentence, delivered in this centenary year like a knife between the ribs.

  2. Graham Johnson Graham Johnson 26 April 2012

    Ah Sarah.

    Our wonderful constitution is the basis for my freedom. It says, under EQUALITY’,

    “9. No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds in terms of subsection (3). National legislation must be enacted to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination.
    10. Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in subsection (3) is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair…”

    Note the last clause, “…[Discrimination] is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.” And who decides what is fair? Why the ANC of course.

    My freedom is to search endlessly for a job for myseelf and my pale-male sons. I am also free to suffer verbal abuse at the hands of any civil servant. I am free to leave SA if I want (as I am frequently told). I am free to see incompetents take jobs because of their political pursuasion. I am free to suffer in State hospitals. I am fre to pay for my tyres blown on pot-holes. I am free to watch my children get one of the worst educations in the world…

    I could go on, but enjoy Freedom day. While you study for something this country is also remarkably free of – maths skills.

    You’ll be a good journalist as well.

  3. Graham Johnson Graham Johnson 26 April 2012

    Incidentally, our constitution contains a powerful lesson in English, can you see what it is? (It is all over the place, but this will suffice to higlight the weakness).

    “[Discrimination] is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.”

    When we allow adjectives into a legal document we encourage interpretations. There should be NO discrimination. FULL STOP.

    But, the constitution says we can have ‘fair discrimination’. This is a loophole a mile wide, and the constitution is full of them. The writers must have been very ignorant of English construction.

    It should have DEFINED fairness, such as discrimination may be applied when a something is made unavailable that should be available to all persons (e.g. discriminating against being allowed to design a bus without an wheelchair friendly entrance). As it is, the government uses it to justify all kinds of racism and human rights abuses.

    Remember, Sarah, no adjectives…

  4. Pedro Pedro 26 April 2012

    Hi Sarah
    I did stand for elections last year in Ward 66. I unfortunately did not get a lot of votes. This is wonderful blog nonetheless. You and your peers must look forward towards building a better South African for you and your children’s children.

  5. Call for honesty Call for honesty 26 April 2012

    “Living in a democracy, for me, means being able to say what I want to say. It means being able to make my voice heard. It means having a cellphone.”

    Sarah, I hope Wits University teaches you how to think and reason logically – your school teachers do not appear to have considered this as important. In many of the worst dictatorships people have cellphones – it is the massive technology advances and increasing affordability that has made them readily available to the masses. When it comes to freedom of speech, sadly this is regularly abused allowing people to say what they want no matter if it twists the truth, is slanderous, spreads rumours and is prejudicial to truth.

    “Living in a democracy, for me, . . . also means being able to be friends with whoever I want, no matter what race they may be.”

    Sarah, I hope Wits University teaches you history that is not the flavour of the moment with all its political correctness. Apartheid did not prevent friendships between black and white even though it separated their areas of residence and their schools. But the new political system is just as flawed – just in different ways. A broad reading of reputable historical works and primary documents is a good corrective to the propaganda of each and every government.

  6. Benzo Benzo 26 April 2012

    @Sarah: “And it means that, as much as we have learned from history, the really important subject, for all of us, is the future.”

    Thanks for your input on what “liberation day” means to you and hopefuly to many of your friends. You and your friends will make the future, we -the oldies- just want to watch it happen in peace and harmony for all.

    However do not be harsh on the people who went through the rough times. Deep emotions do last. Putting them into history might take a life time. Having gone through WW2 as a young boy have left me with some strong feelings about that war time and war in general.

  7. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 26 April 2012

    Which is what happened in Vietnam and in Zimbabwe – the young were bored with the “history” of the old fogies.

    Which is why Mugabe stopped allowing new voter registration in 1999 to stop the youth enrolments, and evicted 1 million farmworkers and their families off the white farms and out of their voting areas, started giving back to the tribal chiefs their authority (the type of electorate that Zuma’s marriages will appeal to) and suppressing parliamentary freedom and the media.

    But Zimbabwe has 75 percent of its people in rural tribal areas under tribal chiefs – usually without even radio let alone TV or newspapers. Only about 30 percent of South Africans live in rural Tribal Homelands under tribal chiefs.

  8. Amigo Amigo 26 April 2012

    Sarah, you are a hopeless blonde.

  9. Thabo Thabo 26 April 2012

    Freedom day for me, as an older whity who grew up in the regime, was brainwashed believing (for awhile untill I started thinking) that we’re protecting ourselves from the “swart gevaar” – for me freedom day means ALSO freedom! Free from those depressing cloud hanging over us of all who hates us and wants to bomb us secretly, free from brainwashing, free from guilt! Yes also we, whities, are free and that was all worth the while!

    Enjoy tomorrow! And whatever “colour” you are, never, never, and never again think and act upon someone else in terms of his/her colour.

  10. Ian Dewar Ian Dewar 27 April 2012

    A great expression of your current world view Sarah. In a way your comments remind me of a 21 year old Xhosa student on one of our life-skills courses only a few years ago. He was really, really angry with his parents because he didn’t know what racism was until he entered the workplace, and they had shielded him from that ugliness until then.

    And they also remind me of myself at your age. I was too busy working hard and having fun to have much of a world view about anything at all. But reality bites harder and harder the older one gets, and one day it will happen to you too when you realize that the global mess my and your generations have inherited needs to be sorted out for our children to have a future at all.

    So enjoy your fun years with gusto (and singing), but keep your eyes on the future too. With the way you write now I’m sure in time you will find your own way to contribute to making the success of that future your children’s reality as well.

  11. Benzo Benzo 27 April 2012

    @Amigo: why do you say that????????

  12. Travis Travis 27 April 2012

    Amigo, you need to look up the definition of “blonde” in the dictionary. Maybe you’ll find yourself there.

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