Apartheid Wasn't Better; You're Just Not Coping With Democracy

2013-11-01 14:16

Reading the news, observing the unfolding of events and listening to anecdotes of many of my senior citizens in the taxis and township street corners has given birth to a viewpoint in me that as South Africans, particularly Black people, we are struggling to cope with the pace and diversity of democracy.

This I say predicated upon the realisation that it is mostly Black senior citizens who assert, whether rightly or incorrectly, that “apartheid was better.”

Okay, let me not assume I will escape the race detectives in the comments section and clarify the scope of my writing. I am not exposed to how other races regard democracy. Therefore, it would be misinformed of me to want to throw a blanket of generalisation all over everyone that I subjectively suspect to be suffering from the colds of apartheid nostalgia. If this happens to other races, then you are more than welcome to relate it to such events.

With that said, in 2012 I was in Tanzania on the annual O.R Tambo Educational Tour run by SOMAFCO Trust. As part of programme we had a discussion around the spirit of entitlement reigning among some citizens of our country, especially the disgruntled former exiles. The analogy of my input during that engagement (which I will also apply to this article) was that we need to ponder on the promises which were made to combatants in exile throughout the preparations for an armed struggle. This is to say, we need to ask ourselves questions such as: What kept the guerrillas motivated in the dreadful trenches? What were the means of mass mobilisation employed during the recruitment of guerrillas?

Of high importance is how freedom was defined to not only freedom fighters but also the masses of our people. Not letting go of those necessary questions, we need to also as Black people and South Africans at large revisit our preexisting assumptions surrounding freedom, because from where I am standing as a young South African, we struggle to cope (that’s if we are even coping).

It is worrisome to hear people who took part in the anti-apartheid protests bemoaning the results of the very democracy they were determined to die for.

When our grandmothers who couldn’t control their excitement in 1994 as they cast their votes for a democratic country later regret the dispensation they participated in ushering in, then one can at least assume that many were not aware of what democracy holistically entails; it seems that was but a privilege enjoyed by politicians, negotiators and the educated minority. Perhaps to most democracy was narrowly interpreted as the freeing of a Black man from a White man’s chains.

There appears to have not been any provision whatsoever for (1) the emergence of shared opportunities, (2) the protection and promotion of children’s rights, (3) gender equality and women empowerment, (4) the recognition of sexuality preferences, and (5) the real manifestation of media freedom, to name but an observably recognisable few.

People couldn’t wait for their long overdue liberation from colonial masters.

Irking enough, government is also persistently caught with its pants down and dress up struggling to cope with democracy. Sometimes I feel like our leaders didn’t understand this democracy. For example, urging journalists to report the good news, proposing a notorious Secrecy Bill and suing anyone whose cartoon or painting “compromises” the president’s ‘dignity’. All these despite the freedoms of speech and the press our government leaders once fought for. Included in these are the MPs who forgot the argument of democracy when they grilled Lindiwe Mazibuko’s dress in parliament and in a separate case chased Tim Flack out of parliament/legislature for his ‘dress code’.

Furthermore, the continued complaints from parents that demokerasi ena e re senyetsa bana (this democracy is destroying our children) evidences the assertion that no one is coping. Our elders paradoxically want to celebrate the fact that they are no longer forced to worship a White man, but at the same time wish to suppress the other equally significant elements of freedom—children’s rights, gay/lesbian freedom and the rights of women to be treated with dignity and equality.

‘Let us live in a democracy but whip these kids and discriminate against these women like we did in our apartheid times,’ they sing their nostalgic anthem. ‘And let us as women enjoy all these rights to equality and dignified treatment, but we must still look down on our leadership potential like it happened in the past,’ the ANC Women’s League adds vocal variety.

Democracy is a concept so diverse in interpretation. In its diversity there’s not a single feature that is supreme compared to others. I don’t know what it was explained as to others, but it’s our current responsibility to inform or remind one another that with the dawn of freedom came many other freedoms. We need to bring it to one another’s attention that democracy is fundamentally a platform of contestation—we compete for ideas, job opportunities, equal treatment. When we hold our leaders accountable, it doesn’t mean we disrespect them. We are simply enjoying the democracy they presented us with.

Democracy is about understanding; understanding others, understanding that times have changed, understanding that secrecy can’t be applied to anything that is funded by taxpayers’ money. And that is not all. There’s so much diversity in this umbrella term that we seem to not be coping well with.

It is a package; not only about Black v/s White, but also about that girl being free to wear what she is comfortable in and to speak in her comfortable accent without being either accused of "wanting it" by taxi drivers, or being called less African.

So, to all my elders in the townships that I have innumerably heard speaking fondly of the past, it is not that your apartheid era was better. It might have had its positives as far as you are in your natural selfishness concerned.

But it might as well be that you are wrong, that you misinterpreted freedom, and that you are just not coping with the pace of democracy.

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