For one day only, I have chosen to make a list of what living in South Africa in 2021 has allowed me the freedom to do. And today, for one day only, I have decided to focus on what we have and who we are, rather than what we don’t and who we are not.
Because freedom allows me that choice.
Being South African in 2021 means having the freedom to have both “Dorp Toe” by Die Campbells as well as Mafikozolo’s Ndihamba Nawe on my Spotify playlist. It means understanding that a “Family meeting” means someone hasn’t been behaving, and then debating on social media if our president looks tired and stressed. And who is to blame. It means having a special relationship with sign language interpreters. Being South African in 2021 means appreciating the magical moment when water flows from the taps whilst the lights are on- because uninterrupted water and electricity on the same day means that the stars have indeed aligned and that the world is filled with infinite possibility. It also means not taking a fixed pothole for granted, or an honest politician for
Both being so rare. Like a Sable in the Kruger.
It means being able to voice dissatisfaction in any number of forums and not being afraid of the repercussions, as is the case in many other countries. It means knowing that our judiciary is robust and our constitution sacrosanct. It means freedom to educate our children in the faith of our choice and the confidence to know that our right to do so will be fiercely defended by those who might believe in other Gods. It means a deep respect for tradition. And the past. And the dead. Because that is who we are.
It is the freedom to laugh. Because there is no people on earth as funny and quick and quirky as South Africans are. And there is no people who love the sound of joy as much as we do. And music. And singing. And dancing.
Even in a pandemic we gifted the world with the Jerusalema challenge.
And the freedom to celebrate the Oscar when My Octopus Teacher wins. Even if we have never met the director. Or the octopus. And even if we found it a bit creepy. And we wondered if there was something about the relationship that that octopus wasn’t telling us. We continue to claim Charlize Theron. From Benoni of all places. And Elon Musk. From Pretoria. But don’t mention that Grace Mugabe is from the East Rand. Because why would we?
It is the freedom to care. Because we do. And when a hospital or a university burns, South Africans need to be told to stop giving, because that is what we do. And when an older person needs a chair in a line outside Home Affairs, someone will offer it because the older generation deserve and given the respect that is owed to them. That is what it means to be a South African on Freedom Day in 2021.
Freedom Day 2021 is a celebration of 27 years since South Africa became a democracy. It is the same time of President Mandela’s incarceration. And although almost 3 decades later, there might be many failures to point at, the ability to choose what to focus on, ironically, is one of the many freedoms that we enjoy under the constitution.
It is, in essence, the difference between the freedom “from” which is a negative freedom and the freedom “to,” which is a positive one.
Philosophers and thinkers have used these two different categories of freedom to discuss and debate the role of government in citizens’ lives. But I wonder if it doesn’t say as much about citizens and their approach to government as it does the other way around. There is always a fine line between seeing the positive, appreciating what we have but still calling out injustice and poor service delivery. It is no binary and I believe that we need to do both. As citizens of South Africa, we have been called on to do both. And the fact that we are able to, is the biggest freedom of all.
Howard Feldman is host of The Morning Mayhem, Monday to Friday 6am to 9am on 101.9 ChaiFM,
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