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Commemorating the past to understand the present and imagine the future on Freedom Day

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Xolelwa Kashe-Katiya is the Project Lead of the Indlulamithi South Africa Scenarios Trust.

Finding each other and sharing a common understanding of our history remains elusive and this is a result of the extreme inequalities that continue into the present. On this score, we flirt with danger of unimaginable proportions.

National days are opportune moments for the unfurling of banners and the polishing of monuments. However, we should be wary of a myriad of pitfalls. Among these is entrapment by blinding national rituals hollowed out of their original meaning.

The reclamation of our birthright through the Struggle, waiting, snaking lines, and finally through the ballot box, was not as banal as it might now seem. Amidst the sacrifices and unwavering patience was an infusion of copious doses of imagination about the future. The centrality of imagination cannot be overstated given the inherent pluralism that democracy entails.

South Africa is well on its way to re-enact the great pageantry of gauging the national mood through an election. When the first democratic elections took place exactly three decades ago, there was no telling where they would lead.

At times, citizens have undertaken this democratic right in defiance of prevailing anti-democratic currents that blow from every angle. Democracy is currently undergoing a decline internationally. In its stead is the resurgence of “enlightened” authoritarianism, ethnic chauvinism, and religious nationalism which have become drivers of the current state of global affairs.

However, South Africans ought to be able to weigh up competing possibilities of our democracy, also the goals and aims are not always commensurate.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The honeymoon is over for South African democracy

Indlulamithi South Africa Scenarios Trust serves to remind South Africans that the future is a choice, not an inevitable fate. The mapping of the various trajectories the country could follow is one way of doing this.

This was certainly the case with the Mont Fleur Scenarios that were developed before the 1994 elections. The 1990s process brought together a diverse group of South Africans to envision the country’s transition from apartheid to democracy.

In developing the Indlulamithi South Africa 2035 Scenarios, the same principle applied, as a diverse group of South Africans were engaged with to imagine our recovery from State Capture and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The research process revealed that the freedom we want to celebrate will be informed by three key driving forces. Firstly, South Africa’s future is threatened by the incapacity of the State and the diminished credibility of our democratic institutions — the lack of accountability and pure graft is a key element of this driver.

The second driving force is the economy that has grown sluggish over the years, and without meaningful investment by the private sector, it will worsen.

Lastly, the internal security threats that are fuelled by anger and distrust among citizens are the third driving force. Collectively, these will determine the trajectory of the country past the 2024 election, towards the 2029 and the 2034 elections.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections hub

If we are to look to the past, to make sense of the milieu we have inhabited for the past three decades, the ability to keep wrangling over our Constitution and our complicated past is commendable.

However, finding each other and sharing a common understanding of our history remains elusive and this is a result of the extreme inequalities that continue into the present. On this score, we flirt with danger of unimaginable proportions.

The anniversary of the Rwandan genocide is an important reminder of the tragedies that can befall a nation haunted by its past. Particularly one where its people cannot agree on who the victims and perpetrators of past systems of tyranny are.

In the end, whatever meaning we attach to the past 30 years, should help galvanise future-oriented and informed conversations among citizens. It should help South Africans understand how certain choices made today could shape the future in relation to the country they envisage.

In addition, national days such as Freedom Day must be utilised to help us understand the historic role ordinary people have played in pulling the country from the brink on numerous occasions.

How, even in the darkest moments in our history, we managed to collaborate and chart a future that restores our dignity as a nation. DM

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