Defend Truth

Opinionista

As we celebrate our freedom, we must seek truth from facts

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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

As Mao Zedong said, seek the truth from the facts — let’s look at the facts over the past 28 years, assess where we come from, where we are today and what the possibilities are for tomorrow. That’s when we will find the truth.

This Freedom Day calls us to look back to our past to learn lessons and assess our present, so we may introspect and ultimately look to the future. It has been difficult on the one hand and exhilarating on the other.

Governing a state, a nation, with all its complexities, has proven difficult indeed, but exhilarating too because we’ve been busy with a very complex transformation agenda over the past 28 years.

It fills me with exhilaration to see that we have left our apartheid vestiges behind. Segregation, in law, in public and in private no longer exists. We are free to go anywhere, consort with anyone, speak our minds and vote for whomever we please. These things we take for granted, especially the born-free generation, but alas, we fought hard trying only to attain these liberties for future generations.

I hear people saying glibly that we’re a failing state and that our constitutional democracy hangs by a thread, but the reality is that governance is a bloody hard thing. We, the black majority, took stock of so much when we first took the reins of government. We looked to our immediate neighbours on the continent and vowed not to repeat the mistakes made by them post-colonialism.

But the fact is, we are repeating some of their mistakes. We can, however, steady the ship and yet again work together to set sail into our common future, but the question should be: are we still together?

We have a stable and strong democracy; the fact that we have had successive national and local government elections where we can vote for a party of our choice is a testament to this. Our Constitution has been challenged more times than I would like to remember, but each time our independent courts have protected it and such protection has been supported by all concerned.

Our media tells narratives of wrongdoing and decuplets and never do we bat an eyelid, because they are free to spin any story as they please. We can consort with whomever based on language, religion or culture; gosh, we can even build unique universities and schools for particular peoples only. These freedoms we must never take for granted.

The fact is that, yes, although inequality has grown over the past decade, this is, perversely, because greater access to our markets has opened after years of sanctions against our state. And so those with access to capital have been making more and more money, leaving the majority of our people behind. Surely, this cannot be hailed as a bad thing overall?

Agreed, we must address this gap through more jobs and social welfare. The growing black middle class over the past decade must also be welcomed, though some measure of stagnation has set in because of the Covid-19 pandemic and a weak economy. But millions have been lifted out of poverty over the past 28 years.

The fact is that even though there remain ongoing debates about the quality and standards of our education sector, the enrolment rate is near 100% and we are producing more matriculants than ever before. University intake numbers have equally soared over the years and though I disagree with free higher education, this has gone some way to providing access for the most vulnerable.

The fact is that our public healthcare system takes care of millions of South Africans, free, every day. Yes, it may take long hours and even longer queues before you are assisted by a doctor and/or nurse, but care you do get eventually. I’m still ambivalent about the National Health Insurance matter, but who knows, perhaps it will be a good venture in the end.

Snake in the garden

The fact is that the government’s heart is in the right place, wanting to serve our people, but there’s a snake in the garden, enticing everyone to take a bite of the poisonous apple called corruption. There is a fightback on all fronts of society — civil, public and private — to combat this scourge and we will succeed. In fact, we must.

The fact is that many of our people today have access to basic amenities like running water, electricity — albeit with the occasional load shedding — and primary healthcare. Feeding schemes in our primary schools provide much-needed nutrition for our young children, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme provides much-needed bursaries for studies at higher learning institutions and we have a national roll-out plan for vaccinations due to the Covid pandemic. All of this is provided by our government.

The private sector also came to the party through the Solidarity Fund and has been making headway on a number of fronts during the State of Disaster period. Many benefited from their interventions and donations. We can work together if we so choose, but it will mean sacrifices from all of us.

The fact is that, yes, the ANC under Jacob Zuma did mess up Eskom, but if we’re going to point fingers, where should we stop? Should we take it beyond Mandela’s administration and point to the apartheid National Party, where electricity was prioritised for our mines, industry and white suburbs at the expense of black people in the townships? Perhaps the fact that Eskom is now responsible for providing electricity to all the people of Mzansi is proving more difficult than before.

These are the facts and they are indisputable. So, as Mao Zedong said, seek the truth from the facts, let’s look at the facts over the past 28 years, assess where we come from, where we find ourselves today and then what the possibilities are for tomorrow. That’s when we will find the truth. 

Many — not all — are in better conditions than they were 28 years ago and if we keep our heads we can build a brighter future for all.

I hope you enjoyed your Freedom Day and let us remember all those who laid down their lives in pursuit of it. DM

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  • The freedom I think the ANC has delivered best in Africa is political debate …… SA is really a nothing is off the table approach and multiculturalism. Nobody in Africa does it better. The ANC is good that if you examine Madiba funeral closely, modern South Africa is very culturally rich. The ANC should dump all it communist type stuff and deliver on what they do that is unique to South Africa. As for the corruption another RET incarnation will finish the country off economically as we have barely ended the last episode and the debt is a vey serious problem

  • The government’s heart is in the right place: there is little to no evidence of this. There is however a mountain of evidence to the contrary: shoddy, tiny RDP houses, pit latrines in school and the protection of the corrupt. I don’t believe the government has a heart – they are consumed by greed and power and are unscrupulous in the pursuit of both.

  • Whilst there have been great strides, the real question is how much more could have been achieved without cadre deployment, BBBEE and the corruption that followed, destroying so much that worked?
    Replacing one lot of destructive racist policy with other racist policy is just plain short sighted.
    The poor have little or no future unless there is an about face on the NDR ideology.

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