A week since South Africa celebrated 21 years of freedom, members of Parliament convened in the National Assembly to debate what freedom actually means today.
Topics touched on during the debate included xenophobic violence, the weak economy and the gains – or lack thereof (depending on which side of the house you’re sitting) – made by the government since freedom reigned in 1994.
As expected, ANC MP and Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa used much of her prepared speech to focus on the improvements made by the ANC government over the past 20 years.
Opposition MPs scoffed as Molewa said South Africa was now a better place to live in.
“What happened over centuries cannot be rolled back in 20 years,” she told Parliament. “We reject the pronouncement that South Africa is not safe for asylum seekers and foreign nationals. Violence has no place in South Africa today.”
‘Sense of hopelessness’
Molewa then supported the call by President Jacob Zuma that all foreigners should be respected.
Later, ANC MP Tekoetsile Consolation Motlashuping praised Zuma for taking the lead in condemning and combating attacks on migrants.
Molewa was at her most fiery against travel advisories issued by Britain, China and Australia, warning their citizens not to travel to South Africa because of last month’s xenophobic violence that claimed seven lives.
“The issuing of travel advisories after the xenophobia attacks is damaging to South Africa,” Molewa said.
Gauteng transport MEC Ismail Vadi drew a link between a weak economy and the attacks.
“Unemployment and the continued marginalisation of townships have created a sense of hopelessness that has resulted in the xenophobic attacks,” he said.
Vadi said South Africa was sitting with a youth unemployment problem.
Mmusi Maimane, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, said it had to be acknowledged that for too many South Africans “freedom means nothing without opportunity. We are not yet free; we have only achieved the freedom to be free.”
Maimane said economic inequality was still a matter of race. “The society we all want to build is so far away from this. Our economy is growing at just 2%. At this rate we can make no meaningful dent in our unemployment figures.”
He said the government was failing in its duty to provide solid leadership on the economy.
‘A national struggle’
The third party to have their say was the Economic Freedom Fighters, who dug into the ANC more aggressively than the DA.
Newly sworn-in EFF MP Mmabatho Mokause said there was nothing to celebrate.
“When we take over we will bring true and complete freedom to the people of this country,” she said.
The Inkatha Freedom Party’s Narend Singh told the house that there was no doubt that economic transformation was still needed in the country.
“Have we arrived at economic emancipation? The answer is no. Will we arrive at economic emancipation? The answer is yes.”
The IFP splinter party, the National Freedom Party, spent their allocated four minutes of speech time to defend the gains made by the ANC-led government.
MP Munzoor Shaik-Emam solicited several cheers from the ANC side of Parliament when he said South Africa was in a much better space than it had been.
“Let us not complain. Let us find solutions,” he said.
The EFF questioned why Shaik-Emam was speaking on behalf of the ANC, a question that speaker Baleka Mbete dismissed.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said total freedom ought to be a national struggle.
Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald said freedom was not free: “You have to work for freedom.”