A tribute by Dean Michael Weeder, December 5 2015
For a moment in our post-apartheid history we lived in the Camelot-like days of Nelson Mandela who had “showed us the way to freedom”.
Perhaps this moment, like a dream come true with its grand narrative of messianic proportions lulled us into a passive observer distance from the heart of ongoing and permanent revolution.
We forgot that Madiba did not free himself. We forgot that he, of whom we sang, had walked through the prison gates that we – the organised, freedom-loving South Africans – had helped to open.
It was part of a grail-like quest for one who “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land”. But the angels of such virtues are elusive, occasional creatures of our collective imagination fired into flight by our longing.
We contribute to the messianic complex when we joyfully allocate our social and justice responsibility to political parties and its leadership.
Was it all worth it? The long struggle against the systemic stripping of our dignity, the deaths in detention, the banning orders, the countless detentions? Our answer is determined by our wounds and the scars of the battles we deemed worth fighting for.
Freedom will always have to be in our hands. It extends beyond the securement of democracy which, we can see, is easily up for sale and commandeered by elites skilled in framing (but never really delivering on) our expectations.
The anniversary of the passing of Madiba stands at the end of a week wherein two significant events were observed. The first is specific to the history of South Africa’s slave-descendant community. On the eve of Emancipation Day, Monday 30 November a few hundred Capetonians gathered in the Strand Street Quarry.
We have done so over these past 9 years with minimal capital and without political patronage. In the process we have reclaimed our freed selves and in so doing bulwarked our understanding of freedom and the power that secures it: the people organised along with its vanguard of servant leadership.
The other event speaks to a bondage that is ongoing, the impact of which is experienced in all our communities – World Aids Day. On December 1 we are especially aware of the pain and suffering of HIV and the particular way it is evident in the lives of women and children.
There is no Great Chinese Wall between the narratives associated with the communities affected by these events. Those who bear history’s weight of suffering – whether from the savagery of our colonial past or the immediacy of a betrayed hope – are most susceptible to HIV.
Yet we find humbling evidence of great faith amongst our families and friends affected by the Aids pandemic, amongst our loved ones confronted by the invasive illnesses such as the presence of cancer in their lives.
Saint Augustine, writing in the 5th century, summons us to secure the fullness of freedom when he reminds us that “God without us will not; we without God cannot”. Or, in a more contemporary expression, “We are the ones whom we have been waiting for”.