Category Archives: Gender Links

Are We All Free This Freedom Day?

20 April 2011

Are We All Free This Freedom Day?

by Hunadi Ralebipi

Johannesburg — To those who were not part of the struggle for freedom, you might not understand the painful joy that filled South Africans on 27 April 1994. It was like a butterfly setting free from its cocoon, struggling to be free so that it may experience the radiance of the sun on its colourful back. It was not easy but it was worth it. South Africans pushed till the day they flapped their wings and felt the element of freedom, a South Africa for all.

Freedom Day, 27 April, is a day when all South Africans are reminded of the pain, struggle and anguish that occurred as a result of colonialism and oppression. It is a day when we were set free from the historical ties of domination by the “white man”.

Almost 20 million South Africans queued to take part in the country’s first free and democratic elections on that day in 1994. It was the first non-racial election to take place in South Africa, finally setting its citizens free from colonialism.

On Freedom Day we commemorate the heroes and heroines who shed blood and lost lives making South Africa a country for all, where we all live in harmony irrespective of our race, nationality, sex, creed or sexual orientation. Freedom Day is meant to remind us that South Africans are “one people with one destiny.”

But is this true?

Are we as South Africans all free when people still live each day in fear of being violated, where citizens live in poverty and without jobs, where women fight to be heard and represented and where gays and lesbians are raped and murdered?

Is this a South Africa we voted for?

We have come a long way in a short time but freedom should mean much more.

Freedom should mean emancipation from poverty, unemployment, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Freedom should mean a better life for all.

Abahlali baseMjondolo, an intellectual movement formed in 2005 in Durban, reminds us that “there are many South Africans who feel like the freedom they are meant to have is a cruel joke which attempts to gloss over the true social concerns of citizens.

“This day actually reminds us how un-free we are. All South Africans may be officially free to vote in government elections, but why vote for a system that ignores your human need?”

The Gini index ranks global inequalities of wealth and has consistently ranked South Africa as one of the most unequal nations on the planet. The gap between rich and poor is not shrinking.

And through all the successes that South Africa has witnessed and continues to celebrate, gender inequality remains a major problem. Women and men do not receive the same treatment and acknowledgement in the corporate world and in the societies they belong to. There is a gap that still needs to be filled in order for women to say “we are free from oppression and discrimination”.

Traditional African cultures once clearly stipulated different roles of men and women in society. Boys and girls grew up having specific roles that were assigned to a particular sex: boys hunting and girls cooking. From an early age females were victims of injustice and girls grew up knowing that they had to work hard in order to find husbands who will care for them. By today’s standards, this culture was unfair to women.

In many ways South Africa is one of the few African countries really pushing for gender equality. The government has found it important to promote a range of policies and legislation that stand to benefit women. Because of this, South Africa is at number three in the world in terms of gender equality in national government.

At the same time, South Africa is also at the top of the list of countries where violence against women is the most extreme and common. Recent Gender Links research in Gauteng found that three quarters of men have admitted to perpetrating violence against women in their lifetime – many of them have raped women more than once.

When can we celebrate a day where we will be freed from this violence and celebrate equal rights for all? How will true liberty ever reach our soil?

My father used to recite a poem by Charles Osgood that was a bit silly but also thought-provoking.

“There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. But Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”

Change begins with you.

It is time we stop putting responsibility on others and instead begin trying to make a difference within our societies. There are some inspiring examples of this. Women and men are fighting for change today, all across the Middle East.

Our own example may be the most inspiring.

There is no easy road to freedom, Nelson Mandela said in his speech. As we celebrate South Africa’s 17th year of freedom let’s keep in mind that some of us are still fighting a battle to be free. Until that battle is won, none of us have truly seen freedom.

Pambazuka: South Africa: Informal trader’s dreams shattered

South Africa: Informal trader’s dreams shattered
2010-04-01, Issue 476

Informal traders’ hopes of making huge profits during the upcoming World Cup tourist influx were shattered last week when they were ordered to vacate Park Station, a key transit hub in Johannesburg’s central business district. Ironically, the incident occurred during South Africa’s Human Rights Day celebrations; the day South Africa remembers 69 victims from Sharpeville who died during the protest of pass laws.

By Libuseng Nyaka

Informal traders’ hopes of making huge profits during the upcoming World Cup tourist influx were shattered last week when they were ordered to vacate Park Station, a key transit hub in Johannesburg’s central business district. Ironically, the incident occurred during South Africa’s Human Rights Day celebrations; the day South Africa remembers 69 victims from Sharpeville who died during the protest of pass laws.

Mamusa Musa is one of the traders dislodged during the eviction. Musa says that from that day the lives of herself and fellow traders have been an uphill battle. Unlike at Park Station where different travelers pass through hourly making purchases for their journey, the small shack she occupies now is not very profitable. Musa says she struggles to collect R100 a day, meager earnings for someone trying to put food on the table for 13 members of her family.

“We could not believe our lack of fortunate, when on March 21 we were told to vacate the place where we have been selling for many years,” said Musa. “We agree that renovations are important, this is what we were told was the reason our eviction. But the conditions offered to us when we can come back in May was nothing but a polite way of saying never come back.”

Thembela Njenga, Programmes Manager at The Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET) in Johannesburg, witnessed the misery that the informal settlers faced during their eviction.Njenga said that it is unfortunate that informal traders will no longer enjoy the coming of the soccer games. “For them, this has brought them sorrow, their business are going to collapse. This shows that World Cup here is not for the empowerment of people at grassroots level,” argued Njenga. “They regard their poor people as a shame who need to be hidden away from the sight of the visitors.”

Addressing a gathering during the first Southern Africa Local Government and Gender Justice Summit and Awards held in Johannesburg 22-24 March, Njenga said that the 28 informal traders were asked to pay a rent of R1700 a month when they come in May, which must be brought together with an advancement of two months rent.

The expected rental amount came as a shock to the traders, some cannot even dream of raising that amount of money over a year, let alone in time for the May occupancy. According to Njenga, this sum is impossible for an informal trader to raise; it was just a diplomatic way of getting rid of them. Njenga noted the irony that this happened on the same day that South Africa was celebrating people‘s rights.
Initially, the 28 informal traders at Park Station received a letter notifying them that they must leave their spots due to renovations ahead of the World Cup mega-event. They could come back in May 2010. The actual eviction then took place on March 21

This is not the first instance of removing informal traders from locations where they have traded for years as the World Cup draws near. Njenga said that the same has occurred in Cape Town. In at least some cases the government built shelters for them where they can sell but this has also negatively affected their business, as it is not a busy place.

For the traders, who are mostly women breadwinners of families, this has means their livelihoods have literally been pulled form underneath them. Rather than supporting such marginalised people from making the most of the event, that have been further impoverished and embarrassed.

Njenga explained that informal traders are very clear on what they want; many want to remain informal. Informal trade makes up a huge percentage of the nation’s economy. However, despite this, when by-laws are made, the views of informal traders are ignored.

The story of eviction of street vendors during Summits or other “important” events when countries are expecting visitors has become normal in Southern African countries, but does this mean that for a city to look clean poor people must be further pushed to the fringes ? Or is just hypocrisy of our government trying to appear smarter than they are?

How can street vendors or people selling in our towns make a city dirty? We pass them every day, and most of us make purchases from them all the time, so how can it be that we suddenly decide that they are “undesirable”?

There has been so much concern about crime, has it not occurred to anyone that taking away someone’s source of income may push them to do something they would never otherwise consider? At least these traders are not stealing, and are doing an honest hard days work to put bread on the table.

* Libuseng Nyaka is a journalist with Public Eye News. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.