South Africa split on Freedom Day

Celebrating 16 years of democracy, the country still lives under Apartheid's shadow.

    As the country celebrates 16 years of democracy, many South Africans feel that total economic and political freedom is still a long way away [Reuters]

    South Africans celebrated Freedom Day on April 27, 16 years after the country's first democratic elections and the end of the racist and oppressive white minority Apartheid rule.

    "From the ruins of a racially polarised order, we have built a nation driven by a strong commitment to the values of justice and equality," Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president and head of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, said during celebrations to mark the day on Tuesday.
    "As taught by our icon President Nelson Mandela, we must remain steadfast in our determination that never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another," Zuma said, repeating the very words made famous by Nelson Mandela in 1994.

    He went on: "And so with freedom, came the responsibility of building a non-racial, united and reconciled nation."

    No economic freedom

    But as the country prepares for the kickoff of Africa's first football World Cup, the South African Student Congress (Sasco) spoke out against those -black, white and every shade in between - that it accused of failing the country.

    Freedom Day marks the day economic freedom was surrendered in exchange for political freedom, Mbulelo Mandlana, the current Sasco president, said.

    Mandela won a Nobel peace prize for negotiating a peaceful end to Apartheid [AFP]

    Sasco is a student movement that traces its history back to the early days of the struggle against Apartheid.

    Many of the political leaders that fought in the liberation struggle were once members of the student body.

    Steve Bantu Biko, the black consciousness leader who was killed by Apartheid police in 1977, was the first president of the student organisation when it was formed in 1969.

    Rich rule

    “We have secured a democracy that gives the rich the right to rule the roost in our political and economic terrain," Mandlana said, on a day that is generally viewed by South Africans as a chance to reflect on a united, non-racial society.

    Millions of South Africans still live in poverty and in recent years the country has experienced sporadic and violent social unrest as many become impatient with the slow pace of service delivery.

    Sasco says that "tenderpreneurs", those who have taken advantage of the new government’s tender process, have accumulated personal wealth while failing to deliver the goods and services they were contracted to deliver, resulting in collapsing low cost houses, roads and bridges.

    Even though more than 2.3 million low cost houses have been built for nearly 11 million people since 1994, there is still a widespread shortage of housing and millions of people live in squatter camps with no access to running water or electricity.

    But the government said it is doing all it can to meet the needs of the people, and Tokyo Sexwale, the minister of human settlements, recently said that the scale of government housing delivery is "second only to China".

    During Apartheid, the Group Areas Act was put into place, and this forced people of different racial groups to live in racially partitioned cities and towns.

    "Many still live in areas once designated for black people ... away from economic opportunities and civic services," Zuma said during his address.

    Apartheid's legacy

    He blamed the legacy of this and other historic laws for being in existence almost 20 years after they were repealed, saying that though apartheid laws have disappeared from the statute books, their effects still linger on.

    "Many still live in areas once designated for black people, away from economic opportunities"

    Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa

    "Our people still have to daily confront the impact of the laws [of the past]," Zuma said in Pretoria before thousands of people gathered outside the government Union Buildings.

    South Africa suffers from extreme income disparities, with some reports citing inequality levels in the country as the highest in the world.

    Between 1993 and 2008, income inequality in the country actually increased, as those who benefited and amassed wealth during Apartheid were best suited to profit from economic stability and prosperity in the new democracy.

    But the gap between the rich and poor in South Africa has not only widened between whites and blacks (as all non-whites are legally known) but also within the different race groups.

    BEE abused

    Government policies, such as black economic empowerment (BEE) and affirmative-action, that were meant to redistribute wealth from the white minority population to the masses, have largely failed to do this.

    Zuma and the ANC have acknowledged this to some extent and there are discussions underway aimed at finding ways to address this.

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    Instead of redistributing wealth and positions to the black majority, the policies have resulted mainly in "a few individuals benefiting a lot," Zuma said, while leaving the leadership of most big companies in white hands.

    The black masses, the intended beneficiaries, have hardly gained from these policies.

    The richest 4 per cent of South Africans, a quarter of whom are black, now earn more than $80,000 a year, more than a 100 times what most of their compatriots live on.

    The BEE legislation was originally promoted by big white businessmen in order to ward off post-Apartheid calls for nationalisation of the mines and the major national corporations.

    What resulted were a few well-connected blacks being given huge equity stakes in big businesses, leaving whites with the bulk of the country’s wealth.

    Many of those that were enriched by BEE were either struggle veterans themselves, or those close to them.

    Although renewed calls for the nationalisation of the mines and banks have been heard within ANC ranks recently, the president has repeatedly said that this is not on the government’s agenda.

    'defeat capitalism'

    Some claim that this is due to the influence that the new black capitalists have on the president and certain key figures within the ruling party.

    So while many South Africans celebrated the positive changes that the country has seen since 1994, Sasco members were not in a celebratory mood.

    They called on students and workers to use Freedom Day as a day to strategise on how to expropriate what they called the ill-gotten wealth of the black and white bourgeoisie.

    "We call on all students and workers not to spare a moment but mobilise to defeat capitalism and neo-liberalism in the movement and in society," Mandlana said.

    While crowds ululated at the Pretoria Freedom Day celebrations, Sasco said that students and workers would only celebrate when education was free and fair.

    “For now, we will stay in our dilapidated houses and residences and watch the ululation go by.”

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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