A Poor Man’s View on Freedom Day

A Poor Man’s View on Freedom Day

Lindela Figlan*

Mostly South Africans celebrate freedom day. Some they feel free but some do not feel free. Some are told that they are free and get excited because they trust those who tell them that they are free. They still have hope that one day the politicians will recognise them. As hard as it is we all have to face up to the reality that this is a false hope. We have to face up to the need for a second struggle.

There are two kinds of freedom. One kind of freedom is the freedom that every person in the world has inside of themselves. This is the freedom to decide how to respond to the circumstance in which they find themselves. Even under apartheid we all had this freedom. Some people chose the path of courage. Some chose the path of cowardice. But Freedom Day is not about this kind of freedom that comes from inside of people.

Freedom Day is about the kind of freedom that comes from society. One part of that freedom is the freedom that comes from real democracy, the freedom of all people to discuss matters and to make decisions for themselves. In South Africa this freedom has been taken from the poor. It has mostly been taken by the councillors and their committees. But they are supported up to a very high level.

Another part of the freedom that comes from society is about having what you need to be safe in the world and to be able to move through the world doing what you need to do. To enjoy this kind of freedom you must be free from all kinds of discrimination. But this kind of freedom is also dependent on having money or it is dependent on a state or community that can provide the things that people need – things like safe houses, transport, electricity, health care, education, lights on the streets and so on. But when it comes to this kind of freedom the reality is that only the rich, including those in government, are free. So the minority is really free in this way whereas the majority is still under the dark clouds.

On the 27th of April every year you see really very many buses transporting the people to full the stadiums. Some they sleep under the bridges, some they are begging in the city streets, and some they stay in the shacks. If you go to the stadiums to watch you see those in government dancing in front of the poor people. Some of those poor people arrive at the stadium hungry. There is nothing to eat at the stadium if you have no money. When they go to bed that night there will still be nothing to eat.

If you can ask how the government can get these buses you will be very surprised. If you can also ask who is going to pay, and how much, you will find that the money for those buses could pay for at least ten houses for people who are houseless. We have to ask ourselves why the politicians would rather pay for buses to transport houseless people to the stadiums than to pay for houses to house those people.

When you are watching these leaders dancing in front of the poor people you will see the watches on their arms – watches that can house two people who are houseless. And I’m not even talking about their fancy suits, shoes, ties or their also fancy cars. It is incredible how they can waste money on all these pretty things for themselves when the people don’t even have what is basic to life.

Those who are left behind now are the descendants of those who decided to fight for their country. They were not willing to leave the land of their ancestors to those who came to confiscate it. Those who accepted colonialism were those who were incorporated in to it. Their descendants are the rich today. Those who resisted were those who were defeated. Because they were not cowards, because they were prepared to die for their land, their descendants are sleeping in the bushes now. Their descendants are left behind now. We are not poor because we are dirty and stupid and lazy. We are poor because our ancestors were defeated. We do not need education from NGOs or the government on how to develop ourselves. We do not need savings groups or training on how to wash our hands. What we need is justice. It is not for nothing that our shirts are red.

Some of those who are left behind go to the stadiums and sing freedom songs with the hope that one day they will be free. The pain and fear that they are feeling is making them to run like headless chickens. This is a very sad situation. You can run to the stadium in hope that the politicians will recognise your suffering but when they drive off you take the bus back to life in the shade – sleeping under bridges, burning in the shack fires, harassed by the land invasions unit and the police, cleaning and securing the homes of the rich, toiling on the farms for peanuts.

When those who are left behind ask “Where is this freedom that we have been jointly fighting for?” the answer is always: “Be patient comrades. You all know how the white minority government damaged this country. We are trying to solve these problems now but it will take time. We need you to be patient and to be loyal, to root out the trouble makers so that we can continue with development.”

But really if you can count how much money has been wasted on the arms deal, travelgate and the World Cup it will soon become clear to you that this government is not interested in what the people on the ground need. The lives of the poor people are still the same if not becoming worse. Yet we are told that we are free.

On 27 April 2010 the Poor People’s Alliance in KwaZulu-Natal organised our own UnFreedom Day in a place called Babanangu. I was so shocked to see the people in one place living with wild animals. I asked myself “Is this the freedom that we fought for? For people to made to live with wild animals?” Maybe some will think that I am lying but anyone who doubts me can go and see for themselves. There is no clean water there, there are no roads, no schools, no clinic and the people are complaining about the number of cows that they are allowed to store.

The crisis of our country is in the cities too. Some in the shacks they lose their land and homes because of shack fires. But come Freedom Day they go to the stadiums and for those moments as they are singing together there they feel free. But then they must go home.

What I can say is that what is being called freedom in South Africa is a big corruption. I don’t only mean that there is corruption everywhere. I also mean that the idea of what freedom really is has been corrupted. Just look at the fact that there is never any money to develop poor communities but there is all this money for the 2010 World Cup. The government says that we must “feel it, it is here”. All that the poor can feel is what we feel in our real lives – leaking shacks, shack fires, long queues for water, the dangers of life without toilets, evictions, disconnections, bosses that do not respect our humanity, unemployment, lying and corrupt councillors, a lack of safety for women and crime.

All that I can see is that the money for the poor has been wasted on the World Cup. If this was a government that cared about the poor they would have said to FIFA “Come to our country. We will welcome you. But you must live where our people live, eat where our people eat and play and watch soccer where our people play and watch soccer”. Instead they are attacking the poor, driving us out of the cities, and creating a new and segregated homeland for the rich in which they will hold the World Cup.

How different our country would have been if the government took all the money that it spent on the World Cup and spent it on the poor. How different our country would have been if the government decided to seriously emancipate the people from poverty and from criminals. By criminals I don’t only mean those men that attack women in the bushes where they are forced to seek privacy in the night because they don’t have toilets. I don’t only mean those who wait for us to get paid at the end of the month and then rob us. I also mean those who are committing huge corruption. We should remember that there are degrees in criminology.

I wonder if God can say that all those who died for our freedom can rise again. If they could rise again would they go to the stadiums to watch the politicians dancing in front of the poor? Or would they hide their eyes in disappointment and shame?

All I can say is that the people of this country must force the politicians to stop fighting about tenders. We need what is ours. The land and the wealth of this country must be shared. The politicians must be forced to become the servants of the people. The politicians must stop making excuses about how the white minority government damaged this country. We know that that is true. But we fought for a new government to change this country. We want an end to corruption right now. We want an end to a government that only wants to be the new partners of the old oppressors. We want a country where everybody can be happy and enjoy the fruits of his or her toil. We want a country where everybody can be safe. We want real freedom.

I was in Brazil for a few weeks last year. In Brazil I noticed that they have the same system that we have here. Even the new BRT buses that we are getting here are the same as those that they have in Brazil. Last year I was reading a paper where it said that some of those people who will lose their jobs for the BRT they are going to be trained as security guards, some are going to be trained to fix the cars and the buses. I was so disappointed to see that some are going to be security guards because I am a security guard. We are so exploited as guards. We are exploited physically, emotionally and financially. This was something laughable when I heard about it. I remembered when one politician laughed at another one saying that his only qualification was to be a security guard. He was undermining all the security guards yet all around him there were guards.

I wonder why they decided to nominate April of all months as Freedom Day. The only thing I know about this month is the first day of it and when the people fill the stadiums I feel like the politicians are fooling the people. There is no reason to say that you are free when you know that you are not.

We as the poor, whether we are in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil or Italy, we have to support each other and give courage to each other so that we can strengthen the freedom that is in us all. We need to strengthen this freedom so that we can use it to struggle for a free society.

To those who feel bad about how we criticise the politicians I can say that if they do good then I will praise that.

*Lindela ‘Mashumi’ Figlan is a security guard, the Deputy President of Abahlali baseMjondolo and a political refugee.