South Africa: Is Freedom Still Coming 'Tomorrow'?

South Africa: Is Freedom Still Coming 'Tomorrow'?

Freedom day holds a special place in South Africa's history as it formally marked the end of apartheid in 1994.

While that was a major feat in the struggle to legally end racial discrimination, the term 'freedom' held a much broader and deeper meaning than just political freedom.  It symbolises the realisation of a renewed hope for social change for the black majority, and a better future for all – or so we thought.

Is freedom still coming tomorrow?

We are now 28 years into what was deemed South Africa's tomorrow, the black majority still lives in abject poverty, faced with inequality, poor service delivery, corruption and violence. The legacies of apartheid continue to haunt South Africans.  Race remains a central factor in shaping our lives.

The recent Inequality in Southern Africa report by the World Bank indicates that South Africa is still the most unequal country, ranking first among 164 countries in their global poverty database. While some progress has been made towards the reduction of inequality, urban areas reportedly continue to be more unequal than rural areas.

The growing unemployment in South Africa is also of concern. The Quarterly Labour Force Survey reports an unemployment increase from 34.9% in quarter three to 35.3% in quarter four of 2021. Additionally, youth unemployment remains at an alarming 65.5%.

There are efforts to address unemployment in South Africa. Public employment programmes such as the Community Work Program (CWP) and Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) are government initiatives intended to address unemployment through temporary work. While these programmes have faced some issues of implementation and resource allocation, CSVR's long standing research on these programs has shown their potential contribution to violence prevention, social cohesion and active citizenship.

However, corruption has emerged as a major threat to social order in South Africa. Corruption Watch's annual report for the year 2021 reports that South Africa's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 44/100 reveals serious public concern about corruption in government and parastatals.

The report also emphasises the government's failure to achieve concrete advances to curtail the root causes of corruption in the past decade and further notes that the public sector is highly corrupt.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, investigations into blatant misuse of public sector funds such as the Digital Vibes exposé shocked South Africans who discovered the misuse of funds meant to help fight COVID-19.

Corruption not only infringes on the fundamental human rights of citizens but also corrodes the state's legitimacy and undermines social cohesion.

It is the very complex combination of the above mentioned factors, as well as others that have contributed to social unrest in mostly low socio-economic communities. The daily reality of poverty and economic insecurity, poor access to quality education and health services, and basic service delivery,  all factor into communities' frustrations towards decades of unfulfilled promises of freedom.

Despite this, many communities have shown resilience in the face of all these social ills, establishing civil society organisations where the government falls short in addressing context-specific problems as well as systemic inequalities.

These issues were exacerbated by the pandemic, while the state did implement initiatives for temporary relief, implementation and corruption still proved as barriers in some instances, leaving many community organisations stretched to serve higher numbers of people with already constrained resources. This growing discontent aimed at the state is amplified by the pandemic as more state failures are exposed.

In order to re-establish legitimacy, the government ought to go beyond consultative meetings that appear to be for the benefit of annual reports and track context-specific results of transformation in communities.

Further to this, the active and meaningful consultation and participation of the youth should be at the focal point given the growing category of under-skilled and unemployability which affects young people the most. Additionally, there should be time periods and measures of accountability and impact on collective decisions and policies. Lastly, there needs to be a clearer, more concrete plan for tackling corruption, aggressively at all levels in all sectors.

The political freedom from 1994 has yet to translate to economic freedom as the tangible circumstances of the everyday citizen's material conditions appear to not have significantly changed under the ANC's rule.

The quality of democracy is characterised by corruption, inequality and violence while race and class are still intertwined despite efforts to expand the black middle class.

This op-ed was originally published by Pan African Visions.

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