I remember our first democratic elections well. The emotion, the unadulterated joy on the faces of thousands of voters across the country standing in long winding queues waiting to vote, sent chills down your spine. This was so very special.
I worked at a voting station in Muizenberg. We were a mixed bunch of educators and civil servants from other state departments. Here we were, making sure the administrative processes ran smoothly for the many first-time voters. The hours were long but our energy levels remained high over the three days, buoyed by the glee etched on the faces of voters. And as soon as it started, it was over. The count took place over the following few days and we all knew the outcome would be a new government. And the carnival carried on until the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as our first democratically elected president. South Africa was on cloud nine! Nothing could go wrong and the world stood in awe and admiration at the miracle of our new found freedom.
Twenty one years later, those flames of hope have dimmed remarkably. Our adrenaline has dropped off and the energized pulse of the nation has slowed. Our breathing has become shallow as we grapple with our challenges spawned from a transition into democracy. Our naivety has been laid bare. Democracy is hard work; building a culture of active citizenship and goodwill towards all is tiring. And many are tired.
Many of our political leaders have lost their moral compass. We seem to be in free fall across so many fronts despite huge achievements in giving our people universal access to health services, education and social upliftment programmes.
Inadequate forward planning, bureaucratic bumbling, weak public sector leadership and the demand to lift millions out of poverty has taken its toll on our parastatals. Our growth rate is a meagre 2% this year. We need to grow at 7-8% to sustain our nation going forward. This is tough and getting tougher. And the fall-out of our ongoing failure in this arena is rising crime, failing infrastructure and rising social cohesion stress, most recently in the form of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals.
Not a day goes by that we are not forced to stomach murder and mayhem, directed at the very young, across the age spectrum to include the very old. Our freedom is creating as much pain at the moment as it created opportunity to build a South Africa that is a force to be reckoned with on the continent of Africa.
"Freedom is not free; you've got to pay the price, you've got to sacrifice, for our liberty!" This struggle song remains as relevant today as it was so many years ago. Happy Freedom Day.