So I am supposed to feel guilty and unpatriotic that on April 27 –- Freedom Day -– I went to play golf. Maybe I should feel even more guilty that I played well in spite of my killer hangover from the binge at the tombstone unveiling the previous day.
Clearly my guilt was not strong enough to stop me from having even more fun on May 1 -– Workers’ Day -– because I chose to go shopping and celebrate my birthday.
If the utterances by our political wisecracks are anything to go by, on these national and other days, it is not time to relax, spend time with family, or even worse, flaunt your capitalist mores by going shopping, golfing, doing the movies or taking advantage of an extra day or two to take a holiday. These days are meant for all of us to go to rallies and pay our gratitude for hard–won freedoms and praise those that freed us.
And that is exactly what gets me. There seems to be a group of people who have decided among themselves whose contribution was much worthier than the other in ending the abominable system of apartheid. There was a time when these vitriolic diatribes of attacks were aimed at white South Africans for being unpatriotic and “racist” for not observing our national days. But the attack has spread to all those of us who shamelessly go shopping when the workers should be having a day to themselves, those of us who choose to watch an action flick rather than to remember how children died fighting Bantu education in 1976, or travel to the seaside instead of going to Sharpeville to listen to ANC and PAC stalwarts fighting over who really owned the day.
Bollocks! It is time someone told our heroes that the struggle was fought by more people than just a handful of self–made moral gods who continuously want us to feel like scum of the earth because we have a life, because have decided to live the freedom we fought for.
Those who bombed dustbins outside takeaway shops, or spent years on end on Robben Island or spent half their lives in foreign lands fighting apartheid are heroes. But someone must start telling them some truths. They are no more heroes than the woman who harboured schoolchildren in her bedroom and with a straight face told armed and mean soldiers and the police that there was no one in her house. They are no more heroes that the old man who emptied his car fuel tank to give to the “comrades” to make petrol bombs and hit another “target”. They are no more heroes than the scores of poor people who observed consumer boycotts, in the process spending much more of their hard–earned money buying in township stores than from the cities. They are no more heroes than scores of school kids in Soweto (me included) who missed a full year of learning in 1987 fighting Bantu education.
They are no more heroes than the girls that were raped by their “comrades” in execution of the struggle. They are no more heroes than mothers who grieved the disappearance or death of their children at the hands of the brutal police. They are no more heroes than teachers who quit the profession because they could not just sit by and be party to feeding innocent children an inferior education. In fact they are also no more heroes than the teacher who stayed in class and without many resources, facilities or reward, producing some of the leading industry players, engineers, doctors and managers.
They are certainly no more heroes than those protest poets and actors who scoured the country performing messages of resistance at significant risk to themselves. They are no more heroes than the domestics that leaked information about their masters and madams to the movement. They are no more heroes than the church ministers who turned their sermons into political rallies and risked losing their jobs, membership and, or even being detained. They are no more heroes than countless teenagers (like yours truly) who under the Detention Without Trial rule spent hours at the Johannesburg Prison –- cynically known as Sun City –- killing time by watching passing vehicles on the Golden Highway.
The struggle for freedom had more casualties than those that were hanged by the apartheid government. The struggle against apartheid was not confined to, nor was it is fought any better by those who wore camouflaged uniforms in Lusaka or Tanzania.
The struggle for the dignity of all was not won only by the luminaries with prison credentials. When the streets of Soweto, Khayelitsha, Zwelitsha, Maokeng, Mafikeng, Kwa-Mashu, Galeshewe and Seshego were rendered ungovernable by ordinary people who today also deserve the honour and dignity of a free people, the struggle for freedom belonged to all those who said “enough is enough”. These millions of nameless and ordinary South Africans cannot be derided only because they were not banned, banished, imprisoned, exiled or even killed by apartheid.
These unsung heroes remain that, unsung. They are widows and widowers. They are victims of both apartheid and the struggle, sometimes made to drink detergents and cooking oil because they defied the call for consumer boycotts. Their homes and cars were petrol bombed because they sent their children to a school far away to secure their education. Their dignity was stripped because they did not make a monetary contribution for this or the other cause of the student movement.
I believe that we need to always commemorate important days, if only to remind ourselves that never again should any part of our humanity subject another to such gross atrocities. But I do not want to go to a rally, sit in the sun waiting for politicians, who inevitably always come late, droning on and on as they sip bottled water before disappearing in their limousines.
South Africans need to find ways to mark these important days and landmarks without subjecting us to fatal boredom and verbosity. And one day when we find these ways, the “racist” white South Africans, and the indifferent black nouveau riche like yours truly, will be happy to mark these days, not because we feel guilty or have nowhere else to go on the day, but because we have been saved from another atrocious system called a political rally.