Freedom Day


Guest Post by Duane Jethro*

Today marks the 19th anniversary of Freedom Day in South Africa. It is an occasion to reflect on the recent and distant past. This is significant because in recent weeks the past has re-emerged as a category of political and public debate. Here, the past refers to the recent 20th century past, the past of Apartheid. That said, the past never really wanes out of public discourse as the question of understanding the present socio-political conditions in South Africa are always hooked onto some historical reference. And it is Nelson Mandela, the symbol and referent of one transition from that past, that has come to be the focus of these recent debates about the qualitative substance of that past. In this brief post, however, I would like to reflect on the ways in which Mandela’s image as a referent of that past has been appropriated, signified and transformed into material form as commemoration, in an attempt to understand what it says about post-apartheid South Africans’ relations to a particular past and the significance of those practises for material commemorations post-apartheid.

Over the last weekend of March, Nelson Mandela was admitted to hospital for the second time since the start of 2013. Naturally, his admission attracted intense media attention, with focus being drawn to the status of the aging statesman’s health. In the wake of the public speculation that again enveloped Mandela and his family, and the questions asked about the morality of the enterprise, the acclaimed South African cartoonist Zapiro weighed in with a cartoon that called for South Africans to start accepting Mandela’s frail, ordinary mortality and let him go. Instead of letting go, however, South Africans sought to affirm their connection with and support for Mandela in seemingly ordinary yet culturally extraordinary ways, by, for example, laying stones of support outside his Houghton home while he was hospitalized. It was reported that members of the public embellished these lithic markers with messages such as “Get well we love you” and “I wish you many more b-days to come”. These Madiba Rocks therefore affirmed Mandela’s continued resonance in the public psyche as a national patriarch and reaffirmed the public’s ethereally real bond with him. More significantly, however, in affirming their affinity for Mandela through the laying of stones at his front door, South Africans were generating a spontaneous memorial, a humble form of commemoration with powerful cultural and historical significance.

Variably referred to as spontaneous shrines, roadside shrines or simply grassroots memorials, memorials like these are generated across the world when material markers and messages of support quickly accumulate at sites related to death and tragedy. As far as it relates to celebrities, it can be traced to the outpouring of public grief after the violent death of Princess Diana, and the enormous floral tribute that bloomed at the gates of Kensington Palace. Another iconic spontaneous memorial sprang up at St Pauls Trinity Church in downtown New York immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks. Survivors, loved ones and friends transformed the church boundary fence into a rich, refulgent tapestry of grief and solidarity, embellishing it with a material culture of fabrics, photographs, flags and hand-written notes for the departed. Collected, curated and preserved inside the church space, the assemblage endures not as ephemera but as an amalgam of broken-hearted interpretations of a national tragedy.

Materially, spontaneous memorials manifest in particular ways, and their material forms speak to the very substance of their cultural and historical significance. Alluring, yes, but also annoying, as in the case of residents of Port Shepstone in Kwazulu-Natal province’s complaints about Bury Stander’s spontaneous memorial, or the awful conundrum faced by residents of Newtown, Connecticut, wondering about how to deal with the material piled up after the spontaneous commemoration of the Sandy Hook massacre. This agony about the basic reality of emergent public commemorations affirms the significance of their very materiality as a key to understanding them as heritage place-makers.

To return to the growing pile of stones outside Nelson Mandela’s home, we can see links to the practise of leaving stones at the graveside of the deceased in Judaism. Closer to home, however, we can situate this spontaneous memorial to the indigenous African custom of the cairn, mounds of stones left by passers-by out of respect to the ancestors laid to rest at a particular place. It resonates with the stones that have been erected at South Africa’s official post-apartheid commemorative space, at Isivivane at Freedom Park in Pretoria. A symbolic burial ground, commemorating all those who died in the struggles for freedom and humanity, Isivivane was sacralised through the authentic indigenous religious knowledge provided by local experts. Sanusi Credo Mutwa, “visionary, historian, seer, prophet, sculptor, painter and unique individual with an uncanny ability to clearly understand the universe, the world and humanity” confirmed the significance of stone in African indigenous knowledge, as lithic registers of time immemorial, as vessels that networked ancient African knowledge.

Nelson Mandela’s connection to the site was more than theoretical. Tourists developed a close association between the figure and the site, often probing tour guides about whether it was being prepared as his final resting place. In that case, it appeared that a range of commemorative practises whether material or merely speculative where already taking place while Mandela was alive or, more specifically on the cusp of passing away. This suggested that there was a transformation in public perception in relation to his place in the South African past as heritage and his frailty as a mere mortal.

Beyond references to statue cults and grandiose representations of figures of esteem, through which the Mandela narrative has also been interpreted, it has also been circulated, recirculated, digitized, electrified, commodified, monetized, globalized and ultimately immortalized. Sjhoe … this excess of cultural and capitalist labour invested in cycling his image through public culture suggests that arguably, South Africans have been dwelling in what Ciraj Rassool has called the biographical complex, a play on Tony Bennet’s notion of the exhibitionary complex, a post-apartheid temporal dimension framed by his biography. Nevertheless, returning to the growing rockery outside Mandela’s home, commemorations such as these raise questions about his future place in the post-apartheid commemorative space and how we attend to the past that he so evocatively represents. What are appropriate means to commemorate him and his legacy, and who decides on what that is supposed to mean? More significantly, we can relate his failing health and the call to appreciate his mortality to the frailty of the romantic post-1994 narrative that he so powerfully represents. Perhaps in laying stones outside his home, South Africans are indeed learning to let go.

* South African Duane Jethro, is a PhD student in social and cultural anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

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15 thoughts on “Freedom Day

  1. The “Right to Vote” does not necessarily constitute Freedom … until the tenets of those rights are enjoyed by the general populace. Emancipation without empowerment means very little to the underclasses of society …

    As Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere said: “No citizen of Africa can relax in the comfort of his/her own self-respect while others are being denied/exploited … abused … merely for being (different) who they are.”

    owen_mshengu_sharif

  2. Freedom Day in South Africa must not just be a day to celebrate the birth of the Rainbow Nation.It must be a time of reflection with a passion for redefining South Africa as a country in which Black Africa is re-rooting socially and economically.
    Merely having political power is not enough.Greater effort must be put in by President Zuma and the Government to see the emergence of a strong African Middle Class which has the capacity to truly transform Black African Lives.
    Our concern cannot be for white people who have so marginalized Africans the world over that it seems they relish us been the scorn of all the other peoples of the world who see most Africans as criminals.
    Redefining South Africa must take into consideration the needs of the very poor so that housing,education,business growth and job creation become a permanent feature of the future South Africa which in turn must use these skills to transform all of Black Africa and the Diaspora.

    • Freedom Day in South Africa was not just a day for the real South Africans all Black but still suffering at the hands of a continued apartheid systems which plagues a land in which many live in self denial that the white man’s presence in South Africa is our greatest challenge.Crime and poverty among Blacks is still too high for me to accept the notion of Freedom.Freedom for whom? For the white people who continue to live sumptuously on lands of our forefathers and mothers?
      Africa will only be free when Black Africans are respected and accorded the dignity and respect deserving of a people who have toiled too long for the fortification of the white man whose injustice still rages against us all.

  3. Malek, you sound like a self-pitying racist to me. Everything that is happening in our country today is because the masses still somehow believe that All the Nations Crooks (ANC) are the answer to past problems. Those problems are past, today’s problems are of our own making over the last 20 years and of the making of those that every 5 years use their hearts to vote instead of their brains. One thing is for sure, we are on a downward spiral at a heck of a rate of knots. Our liberties are fast being eroded by apartheid era laws such as the new Protection of State Information Act. Tell me Malek, how successful has the BBBEE plan been?
    One thing I do know for a fact, our health and education facilities were way better during apatheid than they are today for black and/or white persons.
    By the way Malek, your forefathers and mothers stole this land from the San and Khoisan by means of mass murder, slavery and genocide so get off your high wooden horse and make things work for you by yourself!

    • Who ever you are.Do not hide behind some fake name,be real as I am.One thing for sure is that I did not hide behind a mask because I am a proud Black African descendant who knows what our pains are and one who is prepared to campaign world wide for a better path for all peoples but my primary concern for now is for the total liberation of Black Africa.I am sure you are not an African,someone born from European Ancestry and one of whom is the cause of our many problems in South Africa and Africa at large.
      You can call me a Racist all you want but you have to be Black to know what it is to be a sufferer not by design but because of the systems exacted against us Black Africans by the White man who has visited Africa with his evils and now is attempting to redeem yourselves at the cost of us attaining a higher rate of success.
      Like the United States,White South Africa still lives in Apartheid and I will not apologize for saying so.You people know fully well that the ANC needs lots of help to right the wrongs after your total control of our forefathers for centuries.Now that we are attempting to make a quantum socioeconomic shift you people are at work in negative ways to demonstrate that the ANC will fail and that Black Africans cannot run governments successfully.Isn’t this the paradigm in the USA where white people are doing all in their powers in the Republican Party to make Obama fail?
      No system is perfect and the ANC cannot get it right in 20 years.How long did you murdering whites in South Africa rule over our people? Think again before you answer me because you are one sorry white man or white apologist who is fearful of the strength of people like me,people who have no love lost for white people just as they hate our guts.To heck with your sadness.Who feels it knows it and Black Africans continue to feel the pains,are frustrated not because of the policies of the ANC but because White people are behind Black corruptions,those who cannot see the big picture which dictates that,honesty,integrity,equality and selflessness is required to make Black South African lead much better lives
      For your information<I have no apology for being branded a RACIST.Arn't you racist by choice and preference? Will you put the best Black African before a White man?All you people who despise me must know that I know you people too well and I will not shift from my stable ground until all Black Africans are better placed economically,educationally and socially.How much longer must we remain subservient to whites and all other peoples?
      About our land,you can say what the hell you like South Africa was always BLACK before your ancestors ruthlessly murdered our ancestors but like every one of you ,you are attempting to rewrite history to show that this was not Black land.Go back,dig deep into history and see that the first man in Africa was BLACK as coal.We ruled many lands but we were not barbarians and never will be.
      I have no love lost with criminals Black or White because those who deprive the people of their wealth while the holders of State positions,must be punished so you can take that to the bank.I am for Justice,Peace and Equality,not by the white-man's standards but by the principles of ONE and ONE in the face of a just Creator.

  4. Malek Abubekr commented on Freedom Day.
    in response to egteSafrican:

    May I remind you idiot that you are the pig.It is you who has the DNA of the Hog in your blood line,that’s what you are made of and that’s why tou stink so quickly when the sun burns you white piece of ass.Your rank is beyond control and if you do not use perfume etc,etc;you will smell no different to a hog from which you came>So who’s the Pig asshole?
    Reply Comments

    Malek (strange African name, sounds Arabic to me) I have taken the liberty to copy and paste your racist comments for all to see, seen as you did not have the guts to do so.
    Your insults are taken from whence they come . . . an ignorant fool!
    Suffice to say that you probably worship Mugabe and Julius Malema is your bosum buddy. You sir, will achieve nothing in your life! You are racist, arrogant, self-opinionated, self-pitying, hateful and worst of all you believe in entitlement. Best you crawl back into your little hole as this big real world is too difficult for you to handle! Shame!

    • Every time an African stands up against you kind,you people descend into your enclave and emerge with a brand of racism against us.Are we wrong to talk back to you? You had better get it into your thin skull that these are different times and we will not let you roll over us.
      You think you have the moral high ground to condemn my rant against you racists pigs who still want to keep major sports in South Africa in White hands sighting that Blacks are not good enough to represent the country to which they belong and you adopted?
      All of you should be put out of Africa because you harbor evil and play the lighter group of Africans against the Darker ones.That’s your mission from Washington to Bulawayo;its the same attitude by you self serving hypocrites who feel deep in your hearts that Africans are not good enough to be your equal.You should stay out of African Business,keep in your corner and we will seek to resolve our problems in-house.
      Yes! I love President Mugabe and Brother Mulema.They are the brothers who white people despise because you cannot control their minds.Mugabe has been too descent with white people in Zimbabwe .After all that they did to us Ian Smith should have been tried for murder a long time ago and so should many of you apartheid pigs.
      You people expect us to simply forget what you have done and walk away.Is that so? No! We need justice in all of Africa and the rest of the world occupied by people of African Descent.
      Your people took the AIDS virus to South Africa as a means of controlling the African population growth. What escaped your attention is the fact that white people in America were the ones who through their homosexual lifestyle possessed the virus and had to find a way to make money off it.
      Which African benefits in the league of Pharmaceutical giants which are mostly Jewish owned? It has always been a problem for white people to accept Africans as their equal.To many of you we are still NIGGERS but unlike me many of my brothers and sisters spend too much time warming to your kind instead of focusing on solutions to the problems of Africans.
      For your information!I am not an Arab nor of their descent.I am of African Descent and know what it is to suffer at the hands of white people so do not lecture me because we Africans pain while the Jews prosper.To this day no white man has come forward to accept responsibility for the heinous crimes of their enslavement of Africans preferring to blame African Kings and Chiefs for collaborating with them.That’s how you keep hiding under the veil so as not to pay reparation and by the way!
      Did you know that Haiti where more than 10,000,000 million Africans live in the Caribbean Sea had to pay France reparation? That’s why there is so much poverty there today coupled with the constant intervention of America to undermine their progress and development.It was the United States which threatened Haiti with war if it did not pay France reparation so do not lecture me on your civilities.You people have no moral authority to condemn Mugabe and Mulema because you are worst than them.President Mugabe and millions of Zimbabweans suffered for years like Madiba in Robin Island and now when we speak out against your atrocities.You want us to walk away in silence?
      All the Africans who do that are resting in their grave for trusting your kind but I will not rest on my laurels while Africa is repositioned in the hands of White people who knows no sincerity and cannot be trusted just as the Arabs and those who effect acts of terrorism wherever.
      Africans in the vast majority are peace loving people who only want to go on with our lives in our space.By the way! Have you ever seen what becomes of insects who enter the colony of the ants?

      • There is at least two things we agree on, we both don’t trust the Yanks and giant pharmaceutical corps. You see, there is common ground to be found if one really wants to!
        You can stop with your Jewphobia, I’m not Jewish but I do have a lot of respect for them. For over 5000 years they have been hounded by dogs and even after Hitler tried to take them out they survived and have since flourished and I do not blame them in their efforts to protect themselves at all costs. They are merely doing exactly what you are preaching . . . except a whole lot better.
        Go read the latest post on Italy . . . I don’t see any African country trying to accommodate all those that live within their borders in the way Italy, and Europe for that matter, are trying!
        It is no use carrying on this discussion due to three reasons; 1) I do not suffer from “white guilt”; 2) You are so filled with hate that you cannot see the wood for the trees; and 3) I wish to see peace and prosperity on this planet not the violence that you espouse.
        Let that be the end of this discussion . . . or would you like the last word?

      • There seems to be a sense of civility at last except that I believe you misunderstand my logic.I am not a racist,I simply want Africans to be given the ground we deserve.I hate corruption and believe everyone involved must be brought to account.I do not espouse hatred for whites but believe they must first apologize for enslaving our forefathers and mothers before lecturing to us about how we should live.In fact they who rule must be the first to act if they really want peace and security for all
        I so not hate Jews.I just believe that they are responsible for the misdirection of Africans as they are the authors of the various isms which too many African leaders espouse,adumbrate and use in a demeaning manner to dispose of their perceived enemies.
        Its up to you if you want to end the discourse but remember as I said before.White people want it all their way or nothing and most including some I know personally feel that they are superior to us so the question is not how we behave but how well whies accept the new dispensation which by the way has allowed the Asiatic people to rise militarily and economically.
        Europe and the Yankees have a rival unsupreme despite their apparent military superiority over the Chinese who have grown in stature.They are all Super powers but not a single African country has made the quest to become a nuclear power because by nature we are a people if allowed to live in peace will do so by mining our own business.That’s why if Africa is allowed to prosper in peace,the world would be a better place.We do not make the weapons which find its self in our lands,these are made by white people ans Asians but it serves the collective interest of the Jews to continue their despicable ways of promoting destruction of Africans whom they hate with a passion so I will not be sorry for Jews if Iran and the rest of the Mid East are able to get the better of Israel.
        In the end my priority is for the advancement of a better African world without the suffering we have become accustomed to.It is not enough at anytime for Africans to appear as a people who only want hand outs.We have resources and these must be exploited to benefit our people not the multinational corporations alone who come into our countries,exploit our resources and give us pennies as if we are still their slaves.
        Let me tell you,I have many white relatives but they are not the authors and controllers of the system so they are mot my enemies.I know many good white people,they too are not my enemies but you must understand my hatred for any man Black or White who amasses wealth at the expense of our people’s socioeconomic development.

  5. Unfortunately I have to reply as if I end the discussion you will state that you have proven your point that us white pigs always want things our way or nothing.
    One reason I want to end the discusson is that we will not get anywhere positive and I am one that prefers to persue positiveness. Another reason is that I live in the present which gives me a future and I prefer to look to the future and not live in the past, as if one lives in the past there is no future.
    Another reason is that you expect me to apologise for something that white pigs (your words), Africans and Arabs did way back when and which the Africans and Arabs are still doing. (Go watch the movie I Am Slave).
    I am not white and I am not black, I am human and an inhabitant of planet Earth. I do not expect you to apologise for the black guys that raped and murdered my wife or the drunk black guy that caused a vehicle accident in which my brother died and I refuse not apologise for anything that I did not personally do. It wasn’t all the white pigs (your words) in SA that threw me in prison for 2 years for refusing to fight an unjust war so how can I expect all whites to apologise or blacks to say thanks. Quite honestly, I do not want an apology or a thank-you, I made the decision based on my beliefs and knew the consequences.
    The last reason is that you are too full of hate which tends to cloud one’s judgements and you cling to too many reasons as to why you find life untenable. It appears to me that you will always find someone to blame for something. I may be wrong, but it sure sounds like it!
    My wishes are to see that all of Earths inhabitants have the basic 3 entities that we require; shelter, sustenance and warmth and all in acceptable amounts.
    I wish that the greed and consumerism culture that has overtaken our planet disappears and makes way for a culture of sustainability, a culture where we give when we can and accept with dignity when we need. Most of all I am an ardent soldier of Mother Earth. She is my diety as she provides everything I need and so I will defend her all I can and with all that I have. I fight GM foods, I fight the unsustainable rape of her in mining, logging, oil, consumerist developments, monoculture, etc. Quite honestly, I wish the super-volcanoes would erupt or a meteor would hit us as this planet is over-populated and we are too stupid to realise that we cannot carry-on as we are. (The Yanks have realised this and that is why they are now trying to control the worlds food supply with their GM rubbish.) A natural disaster of gigantic proportions would at least allow those that survive an opportunity to start again as we have made a mess of this one.
    Malek, if i may give you some advice, replace the hatred with love as hatred is a wasted emotion. Start anew, let today be the first day of your life. You must become the change you want to see. Go out there and find heritage seed-stock and preserve it, explain and teach people about the importance of the environment and the need to protect it, tell them about the preciousness of water and the detriments of insecticides and herbicides, teach them that all living entities on this planet are precious and need each other to survive, learn permaculture and how to create food forests and impart this knowledge to everyone. There is so much that needs doing, and which you can do, and really no time to waste on feeling sorry for ourselves, for, if we don’t, our grand-children will hate us for leaving them a planet that they cannot survive on and a society that is filled with hate instead of love!

    • Remember I did not start the piggish language;you did.I maintain that I do not hate white people but take a position against the historical position and the failure of the majority white race to apologize for enslaving our forefathers.You and present day whites cannot be excluded from the process because you are the inheritors of white supremacy thus the obligation not by complicity but by inheritance belies every white man to speak out against the actions of your forefathers.
      Your lofty position on planet earth was not achieved by way of your modern thought process but by the cruelty of your forefathers,their barbaric actions which have given rise to the dispensation in which everyone seem to behave as animals of the last kind rather than see each other as people deserving of dignity.
      I do not pray nor will be complicit in white hate or extremities but I simply want to take this conversation to the next level so that at some point both sides will see the need for convening some kind of conference which will examine the issues we have and will readily lend support to our call for that apology and for the review of the issue on non-payment of reparation,after all.!Ain’t the Jews receiving reparation from Germany and other Euro states to this day?
      What’s so wrong with you people coming off your high horse to apologize for the wrongs of your fathers? It happens every day where people are barred from occupying positions to which they are entitled because of the history of a family.So what’s the difference my friend?
      I do not hate you or any whites and I mean this.I want justice for my forefathers and mothers who were so wrongfully removed from Africa in the name of white greed,rape,brutality,murder,scientific experiments carried out on them like guinea pigs and of course for the robbery of our wealth.
      Just go to Britain the mother of white theft and barbarism and you will see all the stolen artifacts of Africa locked away in secured glass containers,things on which they make billions while our people from these were stolen are left to enjoy abject poverty,a death sentence conferred by white supremacy and the systematic intention to annihilate people of Black pigmentation.
      I commend you for your stand against any act of injustice but now I want you to join me in seeking to find common ground on which we can both help to charter a course to bring an end to the issue of intolerance in the vast majority.It is out of these uncommon grounds that lasting peace,justice and security are found so do not deny that you have a duty here.All of us have this duty to treat each other as single dignified human beings.
      As regards the issue of your family.I am deeply sorry to hear this and my position on barbarism effected on any human being whether black or white remain the same.When people kill others in an unjustified act of evil they should be met with evil.The old testament (Moses Laws) speaks best to it and I will not be sorry for any African who willfully murders a white man who has brought him or his family no harm.
      As for the Arabs still murdering Africans in our home land,we will get justice one day and the tides will be turned against these desert fox who hate our guts.More importantly although I was brought up as a Muslim,
      I hate injustice and will not sleep in my grave until every man I can help to free from bondage is so freed.Remember,Africans do not make weapons of mass destruction,It is the White man,Chinese and Asians who do so yet these weapons find their way in our Motherland to keep our people distracted from the fundamental position of working toward freedom,equality and justice for all peoples.
      The wars in Africa are not African made,these are systematically implanted there by the white controlled Spy Agencies in America,Britain,France,South Africa and the Zionist Cabal in Israel.So do you still want to end this discussion?

  6. I most definitely do want to end the discussion, we will never find common ground, we are too different. I wish you nothing but good. May you find happiness and peace.

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