Georgina Guedes

Taste freedom

2012-05-02 10:00

Georgina Guedes

On Freedom Day morning, someone I follow on Twitter said, “Happy Freedom Day. The taste of freedom is still great, 18 years later.”

The sentiment filled me with a rush of pleasure. As did the headlines proclaiming that the first “Born Frees” will be voting in the next elections. It reminded me that we've come on an incredible journey and that what we stand for as a country is still one of the great political success stories of the past 100 years.

As I was driving around on Freedom Day, I noticed people walking in the street or at the shops, and I thought to myself “They're free too,” and I wondered if they were taking the opportunity to savour it.

And sure, I'm not delusional. I know that we have crime problems and our economy could take a knock at any second and that our education system is failing those who should be emerging from the imbalances of the past and that e-tolling is a disaster whichever way you look at it, but the people of this country are free, and that's very important.

An English friend I hadn't seen for years came out from the UK last week on business. He came to visit us and asked us questions about apartheid (he's a little younger than we are, so by the time he was aware of political issues in the world around him, South Africa was already a fledgling democracy).

It was interesting to revisit it; to discuss it with someone who was appalled and who hadn't realised it was that bad. We only scratched the surface, but even remembering the Pass Laws that limited the movement of the majority of the population threw into start contrast the South Africa of then and now.

The fact that there are still people out there who manage to make out like those were the good old days is astonishing to me. Every public holiday of political significance, some idiot offers one of three tragic insights:

“The blacks were better off then than they are now.” Are you insane? Like I said, sure there are problems with the New South Africa, but they have nothing on the oppression of one race by another, of the restrictions of human rights and of the violence that was meted out by the old regime to keep the majority in check.

“It was hard for all of us during apartheid.” Aw, diddums. No, it wasn't. It really wasn't. It might have been annoying having to arrange a pass for your gardener or scary for school kids to have to sit six feet from the perimeter fence, but in general whites had it pretty breezy. If you want to know about hard, ask the political prisoners, the separated families or those who were violently questioned by the police before 1994.

“They should have got over it by now.” This is a frequent starting point for massive debate. As far as I'm concerned, if you're not over it, you're not over it. I do think that our strength as a nation lies in the fact that we were built on reconciliation and that we've looked to the future, but we should never forget where we've come from.

So, this Freedom Day, I celebrated how far we've come and the fact that things are better for the majority of South Africans. But I also remembered the atrocities of the past, and looked to the future with a hope that the current regime will continue to ensure the liberties of all its citizens so that we can enjoy our success as a nation for many generations to come.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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