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Solidarity, caution and watchfulness: Freedom Day messages in ‘challenging times’

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Freedom Day, celebrating South Africa’s first
democratic elections in 1994, is marked with stark polarity compared to
previous years.

It will be celebrated on Monday under a strict
nationwide lockdown that limits many freedoms in a bid to curb the spread of
the devastating novel coronavirus (Covid-19).

Some of South Africa’s leaders have reiterated the
call to use the time as a day of reflection during the global pandemic.

A theme of solidarity

As the country awaits President Cyril Ramaphosa’s
address on Monday, the government said in a statement that the theme of this
year’s Freedom Day would be “Solidarity and the triumph of the human
spirit in challenging times”.

South Africans should take the time to “ponder on the progress we have made as a country” and how we will move forward from here, it said.

 

 

“South Africans are reminded that the values
as espoused in the Freedom Charter still hold true even under these trying
times and they are an overall vision for a non-racial and democratic society
and many of its values are embedded in the Constitution.”

Celebrating freedom without freedom

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola reiterated this
message, saying while South Africans are not free at this time, they could
determine a future in which they are.

“Freedom Day 2020 is unique; it is happening
under the imposing limitations of a dictatorial virus which has imposed
restrictions on people across the globe. It is difficult to speak about freedom
when people are not free.

“It is clear that our freedom will come from
our actions as a nation and how we respond to the advice of the World Health
Organisation (WHO), government and medical scientists.

“We can determine and shape a kind of future
that we want in our country by adhering to the restrictions and encouraging our
communities to do the same. In that way, the world will be free again,”
Lamola said.

 

 

Restrictions ‘not equivalent to apartheid’

Presiding officers of Parliament said the
restrictions applied on people’s movement “are in no way equivalent to the
inhumane limitations forced upon the majority of this country by the apartheid
government”.

They added that it is in place for the good of the
people and “is justifiable to stop the spread of a deadly virus”.

“Despite restrictions, we celebrate this
year’s Freedom Day (on 27 April) with comforting guarantees that the government
is seized with putting in place measures that will help ensure that all people
of this country have an equal chance of survival – during and beyond this
pandemic,” it said.

‘We must never allow the temporary to become the
permanent’

DA leader John Steenhuisen said on Monday via video
that the coronavirus lockdown has given South Africans an opportunity to
reflect on how important freedoms are.

“In this time, when many of our freedoms have
been limited to stop the spread of the virus, we must now acknowledge that
these are freedoms that we must never, ever take for granted.”

He said it was important that South Africans not
allow the infringement of freedoms by powers given to individuals during the
emergency period.

“We must never allow the temporary to become
the permanent, whether it’s the use of armed forces, whether it’s restrictions
on movement… we need to acknowledge that these are temporary measures.”

South Africans should never go back to a situation
where these freedoms acknowledged in the Bill of Rights are infringed upon or
impeded, he added.

Basic human rights

On the eve of its 25th anniversary, the South
African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said the “irony” of
celebrating Freedom Day during the national state of disaster is not lost on
the commission.

It said despite being in the middle of a global
pandemic, South Africans could still reflect on the basic rights that were
ushered in on this day in 1994.

“The current limitations on rights such as
freedom of movement, freedom of association and other rights imposed in terms
of the disaster management regulations to curb the spread of the rapidly
spreading deadly Covid-19 virus should remind us all, on this Freedom Day, that
our human rights and freedoms should never be taken for granted but must be
treasured and jealously safeguarded.”

Social, economic justice

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) said all South
Africans must pay tribute to those who sought to fight and win the freedoms
South Africa enjoys today, and who are no longer alive.

“Freedom can only be thoroughly enjoyed and
appreciated when social and economic justice, becomes the new struggle this
generation fights for in post-apartheid, post-liberated, South Africa,” it
said in a statement.

The party believed political freedom must now also
be met with a fight for social and economic justice.

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