By James Letuka, DA MPL in the Free State Provincial Legislature:
The below speech was delivered by James Letuka (MPL) during the debate on Freedom Day and Africa Day at the sitting of the Free State Provincial Legislature today.
The Democratic Alliance acknowledges and recognises the sacrifices made by countless brave and dedicated people so that today, as a united nation and as a united country, we could celebrate, with pride, days such as Freedom Day.
We can all appreciative the massive strides and advancements made in the Free State and the rest of our country in restoring the dignity of our people since 1994.
However, despite the gains we have made, in the Free State and in much of South Africa today, government is failing our people most in need through the neglect of basic service delivery, poor governance, corruption and a general carelessness.
When we celebrate Freedom Day, we must acknowledge the gains we have made. Apartheid was a horrible system of oppression, segregation and violence.
But being politically free today should not cloud us to the realities millions of our people face today.
The three enemies fighting against the realisation of a prosperous society in the Free State – namely, poverty, inequality and unemployment have married their brides in government, which is corruption, abuse of power and gross financial mismanagement.
Together these unholy matrimonies wreak pain and suffering on hundreds of thousands of our people in the Free State. Most of them are black.
The DA is not blind to the suffering of the poor and the unemployed. In fact, where we govern, we place them first in everything that we do in government.
“Freedom” is one of those words that are difficult to define, as Abraham Lincoln aid in his impassioned speech on freedom in Baltimore, Maryland:
“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty”.
Lincoln warned at the time:
“We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.”
Please excuse me for not venturing in supplying any definition of freedom here today. Perhaps we will approximate freedom, as Professor Horst Köhler maintains, not so much through definitions, but more through stories and mosaics of life which faintly reflects this great idea in all its recalcitrance and all its promise. Perhaps it is not the world that teaches us the meaning of freedom, but rather the deed.
Let us reflect for a moment on the preconditions of freedom, in trying to understand what it is.
The lives of visionaries like that of the father of our nation, Nelson Mandela, others such as Walter Sisulu, Mlangeni Mhlaba, Helen Suzman, Bram Fischer and Lillian Ngoyi, Sophie de Bruyn and Simon Nkoli all bear testimony to the fact that freedom needs courage. Freedom needs justice. And freedom needs identity.
Freedom needs courage, because fear reigns where there is no freedom.
It should be understood and accepted that freedom itself cannot keep the promise of happiness, which calls for people who dare to do something, people who take responsibility for themselves and others. All those who fought with stubborn fearlessness for freedom and not shy away from personal risks did ultimately achieve freedom for all.
Hopelessness and fearfulness are shackles to development in both the personal and the political sphere.
Freedom needs justice.
In South Africa, and in our province, extreme poverty and enormous wealth exist parallel to each other. Such devastating contrasts are an insidious poison for any society. The contradictions of modern day South Africa, which also exemplify many of that of the entire continent, are the expression of economic, social and cultural segregation.
As an example let’s take our education system, in which the two extremes face each other: on the one hand a few excellent schools and universities; on the other hand the mass of ailing educational institutions producing school leavers who are often barely literate or numerate.
This is particularly true of the poor and especially the black population. The consequence of this is an extremely high youth unemployment rate.
In the Free State youth unemployment is at 48%! Half of all our youth can’t find a job. It is then no wonder that at the lack of positive prospects for young people, they turn to gangsterism, violence and crime.
We can never barrow the inequality gap and right the wrongs of the past if we do not take education seriously. A proper education is the first step towards prosperity. In this province, much like in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape, education has been the victim of the ANC’s unwillingness to take it seriously.
Freedom needs identity, for freedom without a purpose and meaning is like a gold ingot in the desert, valuable in theory, but of no use at all.
“After Freedom” is a befitting title to a book published this year on the post- apartheid generation in South Africa. To the current youth of South Africa apartheid is not a memory, but only a legacy.
The big question in South Africa is no longer “freedom from what?”, but “freedom to where?”
The struggle for a unifying and forward- looking identity for this nation is the focus of its societal debates.
How can new trust be created whilst the wounds of the past still have to be healed?
Present-day South Africa cannot and must not be colour-blind, but it must equally not allow itself to be paralysed by the cementing of ethnic and social differences motivated by populist power politics as we see emanating from leaders of parties like the EFF, the FF+ and even elements in the ANC.
The legacy rainbow nation of Nelson Mandela ‘should be’ kept alive. We must give depth and substance to South Africa’s search for identity, the search for a modern South African conception of freedom. This process will be protracted and complex and painful and tiring, yet in order to reach our goals, it is unavoidable.
The South African project exemplifies the great African narrative that is currently being written.
It exemplifies a continent that is on its way to overcome victimhood and is reclaiming its place on the world stage. Africa is rising. The continent realises that pain and anger about the historical oppression cannot be the sole sources of its own identity.
It is an undisputed fact that several countries of Africa played a major role in assisting South Africa gain its freedom from Apartheid.
Perhaps it may be because of the friendships established in the past and the economic position of South Africa that attracts foreign nationals to our country. It may be that many foreign nationals in South Africa had to flee the horrible oppression of war and famine reigned upon them by bloodthirsty despots.
For whatever reason foreign nationals find themselves in South Africa, they are our kin. We are all human. And we are all protected by the Constitution of South Africa.
The recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals are unconstitutional and illegal. These deplorable deeds are contrary to the “Human Rights” that are also entrenched in our Constitution.
The same way we fight racism, we should fight xenophobia. In fact xenophobia is a form of racism. We must remove the cancer of all prejudice such as racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia from our society.
We can only remove this cancer of prejudice if we build a society on shared values inspired by the spirit of our Constitution.
In three weeks’ time, the DA will launch its ‘Vision 2029’. This document, along with our Plan for Growth and Jobs which would create 8% year on year economic growth, and create millions of jobs, as well as the Values Charter we adopted at our Federal Congress earlier this month, will be the three weapons the DA will take to beat back unemployment, poverty and inequality.
It is with these three plans that we will build a united, prosperous, and peaceful society, founded on shared values.
The DA’s Plan for Growth and Jobs, our Values Charter and our Vision 2029 are also the tools we will use to dislodge the ANC from the Union Buildings.
In the DA we honour the past. But most importantly our activists and our more than four million voters own their future.
I think it is appropriate to close with the words of Professor Horst Köhler when he presented Helen Zille with the Freedom Prize in Germany last year. He said:
“This Freedom Prize should also challenge us to strive again and again for the essence of freedom, not to be satisfied with the veneer that surrounds it everywhere, depending on which way the wind is blowing. South Africa’s freedom is just 20 years young…”
With those words, I thank you.