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The Jewish Report Editorial

Will the born frees keep SA free?





Remember the long, winding queues of first-time voters in 1994 outside voting stations everywhere in the country?

Heart wrenching stories of very old black people, for example, insisting on being carried to voting stations because they wouldn’t let anything prevent them from voting – making their cross – for the first time in their lives.

The South African population is a young one: some 40 per cent of its population of 52 million people was born after 1994. We call them the “born frees”. Nearly two-million were eligible to vote in these elections, constituting a small percentage of the 23-million-strong electorate. However, by the next elections in 2019 they will make up about a third of voters.

It won’t be long before they exert major influence in our politics.

Black people among the born frees don’t know what it was like to carry a pass, as their parents did, controlling their movements, and to be required by a policeman to produce it any time, night or day. And all the other grotesque apartheid regulations. They do not, in general, harbour the bitterness of their elders, unless by proxy. This is not to say, though, that their lives are untarnished by apartheid’s legacy.

Now they see elections occurring as a matter of course: their right to be blasé if they want to, is a precious one, which a person only misses when he hasn’t got it.

Just to the north of us lies Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe came into power after the liberation of Rhodesia in 1980 by the idealistic freedom fighters of Zanu and Zapu. Many people saw him as the saviour of Africa, who would spread democracy and development to other states on the continent.

Rhodesia had been the bread basket of Africa. Look at it now: an impoverished country run by an 90-year old dictator, which must import food to survive and where the rule of law is constantly abrogated for the personal gain of corrupt people in power. Sadly, Mugabe has become a caricature of what could have been such a great country.

It boils down to the failure of the people of Zimbabwe to recognise the fragility of their freedom and to safeguard it with everything they had. US President Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) said: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

Others have said this in different forms throughout history. Nelson Mandela said: “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.

What are the chances of South Africa going the calamitous route of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe? Can we rely on the born frees, who never had to fight for liberty in this country, to show the vigilance required to safeguard it?  

Freedom often slips away incrementally in a society, hardly noticed until it is too late and it has to be fought for all over again.

Madiba is gone. With him, in a sense, went our moral compass. Among the new crop of political leaders, too many populist rabble-rousers appeal to the lowest denominator, whipping up supporters with false expectations that cannot conceivably be met. Like politicians everywhere – especially before an election – they tend to try and outdo each other with utopian promises of what they will bring to their constituents if they are put into power.

The South African Jewish community is, in relative terms, a sophisticated community when it comes to voting, and is generally in touch with the country’s major issues and where it fits into the world. Jews as a people know what it means not to have freedom – our history has taught us the hard way. Now that the election is over, it is time for introspection. Did we vote for the best for our country, according to our own consciences and not at the behest of any outside organisation?

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