Guest Column

Speaking to our parents: how is this freedom?

2017-08-17 08:02
A student stands firm against a police line at Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday. Young people are becoming more aware of the massive systemic and institutional issues SA faces – which they may have to remedy
PHOTO: Jaco Marais

A student stands firm against a police line at Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday. Young people are becoming more aware of the massive systemic and institutional issues SA faces – which they may have to remedy PHOTO: Jaco Marais

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Ashanti Kunene

“Our parents were sold dreams in 1994, we are just here for the refund.” These words demanded attention in a sea of posters at a #FeesMustFall protest. And it still holds mine.

The generational disjunctures between us, the so called ‘born-free’ generation, and our (grand)parents’ generation have become increasingly tangible, visceral and unavoidable. #FeesMustFall and decolonisation are but two forms of its expression.

Intergenerational disconnectedness is not unique to South Africa. But our disconnect is unique in that it is linked to the idiosyncratic atrocities that shaped this land and its people.

For us, 1994 carries the weight of unfulfilled democratic promises.

For our parents and grandparents, it is that together with the pain, memory and lived reality of apartheid and colonialism.

To us who have only known democracy the concept of a rainbow nation rings hollow. To our parent generation, I am told, many still say they never thought they’d live to see apartheid fall.

The ‘rainbow nation’ made us believe that even within our differences we are equal. But we are not. We live in a country with the highest wealth inequality in the world. All political freedom did was make us seemingly equal in identity as South Africans (and then only just).

It turned a society of fundamental inequality into a society of nominal equals. And because we are all ‘equal’, all infinitesimal pantone variations of a rainbow, it requires that we, in effect, ignore the real things that divide us.

An uncritical lens allows the rhetoric of the rainbow nation to go unquestioned.

The concept of the rainbow nation was an idea that our parents and grandparents could believe in. Needed to believe in. The promise of a rainbow nation was (and is) so much better than the brutal, unflinching unrelenting reality of apartheid beatings, rapes, teargassing, killings, oppression and daily terror.

Being included into the mainstream was progress; not having to carry a dompass and move freely was seen as progress. Not being at the mercy of a white baas’s whims was progress. Because it was.

But it is here where the friction of the intergenerational disjuncture manifests itself.

We recognise that progress, we are grateful for this progress, we respect the gains made. But we have to ask, must ask: how is this freedom when the very land we now move freely upon still does not belong to us?

How is this freedom when we still don’t earn the same pay as white people? How is this freedom, when the black womxn* is still the face of poverty and unemployment in South Africa?

On its own, inclusion based on identity does not solve the structural consequences of apartheid. We know our parent generations understand this. Or we think they do.

Our agitation comes from the seeming lack of advancement for the marginalised, the slow pace of economic justice. The apparent notion that now that we have political freedom we can sit back to let the slow progress of time and markets spread equality.

That’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough; it won’t solve SA’s socioeconomic issues because you cannot eat a vote.

We don’t want to be included, to merely be allowed to walk upon this land ‘freely’. We want to own our land, in every sense: as entrepreneurs, as business owners, as captains of industry, as owners of capital, with access to finance. We know that restitution is needed. We just don’t understand why no one is seriously talking about it. We want to be heard when we say there is a need to reimagine our political economy.

Rejecting the unfulfilled promise of the rainbow nation is not a rejection of the struggles our (grand)parents – of Mandela, of Sisulu, of Winnie and so many more less well known, who fought against apartheid.

It is, rather, a rejection of compromising on true freedom; political freedom with economic freedom and epistemic freedom. It is a rejection of the notion that freedom is something to be negotiated, to be bestowed on us black, coloured and Indian people by those who (still) hold the economic power and agency to live lives of dignity, relative comfort and even prosperity.

It is a rejection of a freedom that sees the structural inequalities of apartheid continue due to the unwillingness of those very same people to give up or sacrifice, this comfort and prosperity in the name of reconciliation and restitution.

Compromise on its own is not a bad thing. But compromises that privilege one section of society and continues to marginalise others is what we reject. We reject compromises that result in a lived experience that is fundamentally incompatible with the democratic promises of the ‘rainbow nation’, an experience where if you do not have R10 in your pocket, you do not eat. An experience where if you are born black, poor and a womxn one can make some fairly accurate descriptions about the kind of life you will lead. The words ‘comfort and prosperity’ do not feature.

In the words of Malcolm X “if you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches that is not progress. We still have the knife in our back.”

Only a few of the majority black population has benefitted from this kind of ‘progress’ and some have had to morally bankrupt themselves to get to where they are today. Marikana, Nkandla, state capture, the Guptas. We need not even say more.

We must all fulfil our historical mission and not turn back until the mission is completed. That is the duty before all of us, and especially one that lies at the feet of born frees and all those still to follow.

We simply want to talk about it. To our parents. And grandparents. And not be dismissed but taken seriously. Asijiki Singagqibanga!

* Womxn is a term used to indicate that ‘women’ are not the extension of men and seeks to highlight the structural barriers all womxn face in a patriarchal society. The term womxn attempts to indicate that gender is a spectrum, its fluid and thus this term includes and speaks to the entire LGBTQI community that sits outside of the heteronormative patriarchal binary conception of ‘man and woman’.

** Ashanti Kunene is an intern in the Sustained Dialogues programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. She is also an International Studies Masters student with Stellenbosch University.

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Read more on:    feesmustfall  |  youth  |  apartheid  |  inequality


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