The F-word: I miss the freedom of the unfree

2012-04-28 09:12

I miss being unfree. That’s right. I miss life before April 27 1994.

This is not the same thing as saying I have a nostalgia for apartheid. I don’t. Neither does this suggest that I do not recognise the heroic efforts of men and women, of children too, who waged the struggle so that today black people can claim the dignity that is their birthright.

I have not forgotten that apartheid was a murderous and barbaric system based on the lie of white supremacy and black non-humanity.

I miss how being unfree unchained us from the shackles of the complacency and the deferring of personal responsibility we see today.

I miss days when the unfree knew they were their own liberators. They may not have used big words like agency and anomie, but they knew that if things had to happen they would have to do them themselves and that those who behaved in unacceptable ways had to be made to see the error of their ways.

I miss being unfree because all round me I see people shackled by liberty. They carry on as though the promise of freedom weighs heavier on them than the chains of bondage.

Today everything that is wrong with our society is someone else’s fault. Of course there are still a lot of things that indeed reflect historical fault lines. Some of the problems we have, such as lack of skills in the labour market or overcrowded ghettoes, are the fault of white racism.

Knowing what they knew then and without justifying apartheid, the unfree set out to circumvent those who curtailed their movements, and found ways to be happy and resourceful despite their circumstances and the worst intentions of their cruel masters.

Today people have no shame in calling a radio station talk show to say that the government “must do something” about one or another social problem without bothering to say what that “something” that needs to be done is.

Government, the state and the party have replaced even that area the apartheid government could not curtail – one’s thoughts. Many fine minds have parked them and now wait for directives from a certain address in downtown Johannesburg before they can express for themselves what they think is right or wrong, inspired or banal.

Being free has seen many able bodies go to bed hungry when they have the time and space not to be. It baffles the mind that so many are angry and hungry when they have allowed fertile soil in our back yards or in our villages to lay fallow as they wait for remittances from relatives who themselves are in poorly paid jobs in towns and cities.

Unlike in the days of unfreedom, when faith was a rallying point for freedom, today it is the scapegoat for why the deviant behave as they do.

 One such example is the argument made by Thabo Shole-Mashao on these pages last week: religious formations must hang their heads in shame because of the rampant criminality in a society that professes to follow one deity or another.

One of the many problems with this line of argument is that grown-ups need not take responsibility for their actions simply because they were sprinkled by a few drops of water as babies or underwent this sort of ritual later on in their lives.

This line of thinking concludes that crime is merely an outcome of terrible manners by badly brought up individuals who have forgotten their Sunday school and catechism teachings.

I miss the days when debauchery and crassness were a letting off of pent-up steam caused by institutional suppression rather than the central pillar in the pursuit of human happiness it is these days. I dream of freedom that is more than the right to tick a box every now and then.

Like our grandparents dared to believe in the 1950s, I believe today that freedom will be in our lifetime.

» Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo 

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