Freedom Day 2007: 13 Threats after 13 years of freedom

Today, we have much to celebrate as we mark our thirteenth Freedom Day. Most South Africans of all backgrounds have made the long walk to freedom since April 27, 1994, forging a thriving new society once marred by division an

d inequality.
Yet, as the wise adage has it, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. It is a sad irony that after thirteen years, there are thirteen very real threats to our hard-won liberty, and we need to have a frank and honest discussion about them. The traffic lights ahead are not yet flashing red; yet the switch from green to amber is cause for concern.
The first threat is the state’s continuing attempts to encroach on the independence of the judiciary. The bills that keep resurfacing in Parliament seek to place aspects of the administration of the courts in the government’s hands – a move which would imperil the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.
The second danger is the overreach of executive power; under President Mbeki we have witnessed a steady consolidation of authority in his office, which has usurped decision-making from the people’s elected representatives and the Public Service Commission another lynchpin of our new order.
Thirdly, we are witnessing the closing of the spaces for civil society. The range and vigour of independent voices and organs so vital to freedom is being undermined, covertly and overtly, by the governing party’s obsession with its own certified brand of political correctness.
The fourth threat to freedom is the encroachment on press and media freedom; the Film and Publications Bill – another piece of legislation that keeps returning to haunt Parliament – would effectively bring in censorship via the back door. Packing the SABC board and management with ruling party apparatchiks is a further insidious reality which curtails media freedom at the state broadcaster.
Fifthly, government’s lack of respect for democratic outcomes is a disturbing feature of today’s political landscape. The unflagging attempts by the ANC to unseat the democratically-elected DA-led multiparty coalition in Cape Town stands as a warning: the governing party only seems to care about democracy as long as it is winning.
Crime, surely, is a sixth curtailment of our freedom, for the stark and simple reason that most South Africans today live in fear – on the streets, at work, out anywhere by night or by day, even in the supposed safety of their homes. Yet our government seems more concerned with jeering at victims who speak out than apprehending the criminals who force us to stay in.
A seventh threat lies in the sphere of foreign policy, where our leaders seem hell-bent on betraying our legacy as one the world’s few examples of a negotiated democratic settlement. From international platforms, we either warmly support, or refuse to condemn, a rogues’ gallery of despotic regimes – Libya, Saddam’s Iraq, Iran, Myanmar, Zimbabwe – who share an antipathy towards our traditional friends in the West. In place of ex-President Mandela’s vision of human rights guiding our foreign relations, we are becoming associated with the polecat-club of dictators shunned by most of the world.
The eighth threat on the list is the ANC’s determination to rewrite history to privilege its role above all others. As if in zealous pursuit of George Orwell’s nightmare vision in 1984 – whoever controls the past, controls the future – our rulers’s apparatchiks are changing place-names, airbrushing individual histories, and generally falsifying history into one, triumphalist, majority-nationalist narrative.
HIV/AIDS is a ninth and very real danger. Government’s foot-dragging and denialism has cost our people dearly; freedom means nothing to the millions who have died, and the millions more still to die.
A tenth menace is the persistent, and worsening, poverty and joblessness that afflicts most South Africans. By failing to implement desperately-needed growth-driven reforms, government is lighting a powder-keg of resentment amongst the poor. Far too many of our people stand resentfully outside the winners’ enclosure, peering at a small, well-connected elite whose privilege drives home the majority’s suffering.
The eleventh threat is the dire state of education and skills training. After thirteen years of mismanagement, staff attrition and wrong-headed policies, we are not producing sufficiently literate school-leavers – never mind the skilled graduates we need to remain competitive in a globalising world.
Penultimate on our list is the state’s failure to deliver on its promises – not only to the poor, but to all South Africans. At the point where need is greatest, a blend of mismanagement, corruption and a skilled staff exodus is eroding the quality of life that nurtures a free society.
The thirteenth threat subsumes the others: it is the governing party’s obsession with transformation, meaning political control by the ANC of all levers of power in society as well as the relentless pursuit of demographic representivity at all costs.
This drive for “transformation” is inimical to the values of individual freedom and accountability so eloquently defined in the Constitution, and imperils the liberties many fought and died for. As we commemorate Freedom Day, it is vital that all South Africans – of whatever political persuasion – recommit to making freedom a living and breathing reality, before it is too late.

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