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Post-Marikana, it’s time freedom became visible

Over the past 18 years too much attention has been paid to history or its makers. You see, the struggle stalwarts are part of our history but it’s the ideals they fought for that is our heritage. Let’s admit it’s time the struggle stalwarts retire from centre stage. There’s been too much navel-gazing. We must unlearn the habit of focusing on the past and pay attention to the present.

We have a democratic government. Simply put the role of the liberation stalwarts was to establish a democratic government and create an enabling environment for all people to enjoy freedom. Their historical mission was to create a society that would create employment, education, healthcare, safety and comfort, skills development and opportunities for people to fulfil their individual potential.

Much as this is a great historical achievement, what’s lacking is the information and education that will teach people how to claim their human rights as defined and protected by the Constitution. This is the heritage. It’s only when people truly understand their human rights in a constitutional democracy that we can talk of a successful freedom struggle.

The overthrow of apartheid was meant to break exploitation, oppression and cowering before the brutal forces of economic domination. This dream has not been fulfilled. Freedom fighters are now the bourgeoisie who enjoy well-paying jobs in government, state-owned entities and lucrative BEE deals. They live off the fat of the land. As former struggle artist Jonas Gwangwa sings, freedom for some is freedom for none.

To realise the vision of a caring and proud society we have to create a new culture where we focus on the heirs of the struggle. We can do this by ensuring ordinary citizens are educated about their individual rights and begin to internalise the principles, ideals and values enshrined in the Constitution. Rather than heap praises on ageing and increasingly irrelevant struggle heroes, it’s time we channel our energies, time and resources to workshops and awareness programmes that teach people about their human rights and what freedom means.

Many liberation heroes have assimilated into the unjust economic status quo they fought against. In fact they’ve become the guardians of economic inequality and social injustice that’s threatening social cohesion. This is totally unacceptable in a democratic environment where the majority continue to be assaulted, exploited and oppressed, evident in the Marikana tragedy.

When the anger of ordinary folks explodes into violence and death, the contribution and value of the struggle heroes is questioned. What does freedom mean when there’s been no radical transformation of the economic status in places like mines, for instance.

We must promote the Constitution as the premier document that should shape our attitude, behaviour and conduct towards ourselves and others. Some freedom fighters now want to suggest that the Constitution is suspect. They have to say this to protect their narrow material interests and justify being part of a history they fought against.

To enjoy freedom and democracy, ordinary folks need to transform themselves into an informed and knowledge-based class of people armed with their Constitutional rights as active citizens. To get to that level we must move on from glorifying struggle heroes and prioritise gaining the necessary information, knowledge and education to implement the objective of the liberation struggle, which is economic justice and social equality.

Often those who should be enjoying freedom resort to violence simply because they do not understand the structures and process that work to their advantage in a constitutional democracy.

The rightful heirs of the struggle must undergo an intellectual transformation to open their minds to what they can get the state and its apparatchiks to do for them through constitutional and legal means.

It’s time freedom became visible.


  • Sandile Memela

    Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic, columnist and civil servant. He lives in Midrand.