The Presidency in South Africa asked us: what does freedom means to you? The last few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about freedom or liberation, which I use interchangeably. This has been in the context of the brutal crackdowns by governments on pro-democracy demonstrators, but also the ongoing relentless cry, throughout history: let my people go!
This challenge leaves me with many questions, but let me rather refer to a few bitter ironies. Hopefully these random pieces of my mind or better, these unanswered agonies, might help us to look at our own story, as South Africans awaiting Freedom Day tomorrow (I put it in this way, aware of the bit of ambiguity in my formulation!).
For me, the first obvious irony is staring at us in our neigbourhood. Here, we squirm at the ugly reality that those who were paraded as the paragons of liberation, has turn out to be the worst enemies of freedom. I'm refering of course to our very own neighbourhood villian, Robert Mugabe, once the leader of the liberation from colonialism, in the then Rhodesia. A few years into his reign, in the midst of the liberationspeak and reconciliation gestures, there were disturbing rumours of human rights abuses against his political opponents. At that stage, only a few would dare to speak out for fear of being branded an enemy of the state or worst a 'counter-revolutionary'. Within this discourse, everyone wanted to be revolutionaries and they would all pat themselves on the back, invoking notions like 'comrade', 'cadre', 'footsoldier', etc. Anyway, at least in Zimbabwe, this farce has been exposed. These so-called 'liberation fighters', turned out to be agents of the same cruel system, clobbering the poor and political opponents into submission. Their dreams for the nation, it dawned, was not justice or freedom, but fantacies of capitalist grandeur, supping the finest of whiskey, jetting in and out of the best European fashion capitals, and of course, licking sushi from the bodies of white models. In the meantime, they keep the duped masses enthralled by their tales of their heroism in the struggle, swearing at any opportunity at the evil Europe and dead white colonialists, yet craving secretly to be in their shoes, or better, in their beds. Freedom for them, is to be white, to be rich, to show that we can bling it better then the old master.
There's a second irony, in that the support for the anti-colonialist struggles, the allies who used to support the liberationstruggles, has turned out to be the worst criminals against freedom, back home. The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, or better known as Libya, under Gaddafi supported liberation struggles and post-colonial states, propping up regimes with trade, weapons and soldiers. This kind of comradeship gave him the audacity to accounce himself as the Brother-Leader of the United States of Africa, with its seat in his hometown, Sirte. Today, everyone laugh at this idea for obvious reasons, yet last year Gaddafi was a respected trade partner, so much so that the South African President recently, at the 'very successful' AU resolution of the Libyan conflict, still refered to him, as our 'brother-leader'. The point is, we know now who this person really is and what the point was of his support for the anti-colonial struggles. We know now what their definition of liberation means. There was no such thing as national sovereignty, nor socialism, let alone freedom from imperialism where the resources and wealth are shared amongst the people. It was the defence of his and his family fiefdom, the clinging to power, at all costs, which motivated his foreign policy. His current 'scorched earth' response to the uprising of younger generations, asking for freedom to decide their own future, radically exposes his definition of liberation as he buy his grip over Africa. This is the reality of the postcolony, where the cruel realities after the political take-over remains intimately ingrained in personal selves and the systems of power colonies inherit, perpetuate and brutally protect.
There is however another irony which gives hope. It is the irony that the younger generations, the children of the postcolony, those born after the heroic liberation struggles, are redefining what true freedom means. This is a remix of opaque strugglesongs for a new set. I'm here not simplistically refering to a person of a particular age; I'm refering to those who share a particular social consciousness forged in the midst of a self-conscious struggle for freedom, against the contemporary empires. This is an ongoing struggle which are not naive about human nature and great leaders or great institutions. This social consciousness insists on access to information and decisionmaking, they declare the agency of all people, irrespective of past loyalites, in the quest for social transformation; theyr are driven by the values of equality and integrity.
Our generation hoped that these coordinates would have been the cornerstones of today's free post-colonial society and that the current crop of public leaders would have been the custodians of it. We felt that this is indeed the space within which freedom reigns. Yet, it didn't happen. And so the vulnerable, the oppressed still await their freedom day. This is not a passive wait, the biggest irony is that we find this freedom allready present, on the flipside of the failures of the older generations of liberators. We find it in the uprisings of these younger generations. I personally don't see it merely in the youth formations of political parties irrespective of their rhetoric. What I find is that they merely aspire to emulate the first generation of post-colonial despots. Their eye is on the candy. Perhaps, if you look inside these ghost-towns, you might find the true custodians of these values, already been assasinated in the powergames of post-colonial politics. I find the inklings of freedom in young people, who are not duped anymore by empty liberation rhetoric and songs of fat youth leaders, surrounded by elite private security personel.
This freedom ironically is graphically demonstrated in the Andries Tatanes from obscure, poor townships. He was from nowwhere in the Free State, a place called Meqheleng. Yet, he was from somewhere, some one, a committed maths tutor, an unarmed protester against the lack of justice in post-colonial South Africa, a young father, who apparantly wanted to prevent the police from brutally attacking the older people in the march. He was shot dead at close range by riot police.
It's happening also in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Libya, Mauritania, Bahrain, Syria.
It's happening as the Andries Tatane's are obeying the call to serve the cause of justice, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.
It's in the free choice for this kind of service to the vulnerable, a service for which you are willing to die.
It's here that freedom rings, mr President.
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