Freedom: Can it be eaten?

2013-07-25 17:12

Freedom: Can it be eaten?

One might ask, what is freedom? Can it be eaten? How does it function? Freedom from what, and to do what? How do you know when you are free?

Some philosophers have argued that freedom is a virtue bestowed to all humanity. It is a notion backed by a soft law instrument popularly known as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Others go to the extent that it is the freedom of choice, but this notion of freedom of choice poses many challenges as choice is subjective, and some choices seem to exist inside the constraints of an individual buying power and other things. However, let’s leave the politics of lack for another day of questioning.

Today, let’s focus on the question of what exactly are we free from, if it is from apartheid, what is the function of this freedom from apartheid? Does this freedom afford us the luxury of choosing not to go bed without food and help us to live up to the fullness of our potential, or is it just an illusionary idea that is truer for the very same people who did not need it in the first place? Is it rather a prerogative afforded to the chosen few freedom fighters?

If freedom were on the South African menu of delicious dishes, how many would afford it, or rather, who would be able to consume it?

These questions are asking us whether we have something to celebrate on freedom day, and if yes, what exactly should we celebrate?

Unfortunately, I do not have answers because all of them appear to be located inside the reality of every day people who are still struggling to make ends meet, and the very same people who needed freedom the most: kings who are still slaves.

Perhaps understanding freedom lies in the lived experiences of one's lack of freedom. For example, if you have ever been incarcerated, treated, or felt like a sub-human-South African, a pariah in your own land, discriminated against because of the colour of your skin, robbed of the opportunity to get to know your other fellow citizens, inferior by virtue of being born like that, or spat on because you are like this, you understand what is freedom!

Furthermore, a biblical narrative of freedom might shine some light into the question of what is freedom.

The biblical narrative that seems to speak directly into the notion of freedom is the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt to the promised land, the state of being that promises everything that is great and humane for the oppressed Israelites. This story tells of the oppression and suffering of the Israelite populace, but also reveals the liberator’s (God) migratory plan to the promised land.

What is interesting about this narrative is that the vision and strategy (reminiscent of the National Development Plan) to get there is clear and precise, and support for the strategy and appreciation of the desired destination is apparent among the people. However, in the process of journeying, some foreign elements that contradict the strategy and initial consensus that fueled liberation efforts begin to emerge. These contradictory elements include leadership divergent from the original mission and principles, and struggles or challenges that make people think the state of oppression in Egypt was much better in comparison to their every day struggles in their quest for real freedom.

To juxtapose this powerful biblical narrative with South Africa’s freedom tale seems necessary. The struggle of African people in South Africa was, or still is, unquestionable, as they initially became pariahs in their own land in the eve of the colonial project. Therefore, the need for the emergence of liberators was necessary and largely necessitated by the real struggles and the suffering of the African populace. Even though there were multiple strategies on how to get to the promised land amongst the liberators, they were all united around the idea of freeing African people.

Obviously, the African National Congress (ANC) emerged as a major embodiment of the African people's aspirations. In 1994, people witnessed the first-ever democratic elections, which set into motion the process of freeing people from their dehumanising circumstances.

Amidst great strides that have been made towards desired freedoms, just like it happened with the people of Israel in the biblical narrative, within the ANC there are now elements that seem to stifle the efforts to achieve real freedom. For example, corrupt leaders, lack of requisite skills to role out the government programs of actions, and selfish ambitions -- or rather, a shift away from pursuing the original mission towards pursuing other goals other than a place called freedom for all, a place which appreciates the idea of human rights for all, or a place that attempts to translate the abstract idea of human rights into a consumable reality for all.

Obviously, the Israelite's divergence from the original mission resulted in the delay of the promised freedom, and most of them died in the process, which is equivalent to denying people the justice they deserve.

My desire is that as we celebrate the first ‘phase of our transition’ as they call it, let us be mindful of our founding mission, and let us deal diligently with foreign elements that seek to stifle our migration towards the promised land, the promised land, which promises to benefit all South Africans, regardless of their political allegiance and the colour of their skin.

My freedom alone is not freedom, as ours is promoted through the notion of ubuntu, which suggests that I am because of others. If ubuntu imperatives were so instrumental for the achievement of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s forgiveness project and highly appreciated as an African axiom that promotes humanity ethos, why is it that it is not appreciated enough to help us embrace the suffering of the downtrodden?

Let functional freedom reign for the betterment of all, before the masses discover undesirable pathways towards freedom, and in the process make Malema happy!

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