/ 27 April 2023

Freedom Day in South Africa: A reflection on broken promises

Zuma Must Fall March, Johannesburg 2017
A population disillusioned by broken promises of democracy in country beset by corruption, load-shedding, unemployment and inequality has little to celebrate. (Delwyn Verasamy)

As South Africans commemorate Freedom Day on 27 April, a day that marks the end of apartheid and the beginning of democracy in the country, one cannot help but question the significance of this day in the current state of affairs. 

While Freedom Day is meant to symbolise the triumph of freedom and equality over oppression and discrimination, reality paints a different picture. Corruption has become rampant in government institutions and entities, the electricity crisis has left the country in darkness, businesses are closing down and unemployment rates are soaring, particularly among black-owned businesses. Is this the freedom that our forefathers fought for?

During the apartheid era, black South Africans were systematically oppressed and denied basic human rights. They fought tirelessly for freedom, equality and a better future for themselves and future generations. The end of apartheid and the advent of democracy in 1994 was a monumental moment in South Africa’s history. It was a time of hope and promise, with the country embracing the principles of democracy, equality and social justice. However, over the years, the dream of true freedom for all South Africans seems to have been fading.

One of the pressing issues that has plagued South Africa in recent years is corruption. Corruption has seeped into various levels of government institutions and entities, undermining the very foundation of democracy and eroding public trust. The high rate of corruption has been a major hindrance to the country’s progress and development, diverting resources meant for the welfare of the people into the pockets of a few greedy individuals. 

It has also contributed to inequality and perpetuated poverty, particularly among the most vulnerable communities. The lack of accountability and transparency in government has led to widespread disillusionment among the populace, who feel betrayed by their leaders and the broken promises of democracy.

The electricity crisis is another pressing issue that is crippling the country’s economy and affecting the daily lives of its citizens. Frequent power outages and an unreliable energy supply have had severe consequences for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, resulting in job losses and closures of businesses, including the black-owned businesses that are vital for economic empowerment and transformation. The electricity crisis has also severely affected agriculture and other sectors of the economy, exacerbating the country’s socio-economic challenges.

In light of these challenges, one might wonder if South Africans are truly enjoying the freedom that was hard-fought for during the apartheid era. Are we living in a society where equality, justice and opportunity are available to all, regardless of race, gender or socio-economic status? Are we able to fully realise the promises of democracy and freedom that were once envisioned? The reality seems to indicate otherwise.

As we reflect on Freedom Day, it is clear that there is still much work to be done to achieve the vision of a truly free and equal society in South Africa. It is imperative that the government and all stakeholders take decisive action to combat corruption, promote transparency and accountability, and ensure that the country’s resources are used for the benefit of all its citizens. 

In addition, urgent measures need to be taken to address the electricity crisis and support businesses, particularly black-owned businesses, to thrive and contribute to the country’s economic growth.

While Freedom Day holds significant historical importance in South Africa, the current state of affairs raises legitimate questions about its relevance in the present context. 

The challenges of corruption and the electricity crisis have hampered the progress and prosperity of the country, leaving many South Africans disillusioned and struggling. It is crucial that we, as a nation, come together to address these challenges and work towards building a society where true freedom, equality and opportunity are realised for all, regardless of race or socio-economic status.

Andile Sokani, a South African sociologist, focuses on public health’s social and behavioural aspects and the political economy of gender equity and empowerment.