In a speech on 27 April 1994, after casting his first democratic vote, former President Nelson Mandela (may his soul rest in peace) said,
“It is the beginning of a new era. We have moved from an era of pessimism, division, limited opportunities, turmoil and conflict. We are starting a new era of hope, reconciliation and nation building.”
27 April has since been declared as Freedom Day in South Africa, and this year we celebrate 20 years of democracy.
So what does it mean to have “freedom?” Ask around and you will hear many variations – typically highlighting what that particular person regards as most important to them. Generally, people speak of choice and reflect on the fruits of our democracy, but they are also not blind to the flaws South Africa is adorned with post-’94. Freedom, for me, is the fact that 1. I have been able to make a choice to study abroad, knowing that I can return home and seek opportunities that once were reserved for a mere minority, 2. I can love whomsoever I choose to love, 3. I can own a house and drive the car of my choice, and 4. I have the responsibility to protect the very same freedom into which my children will someday be born.
I am excited to cast my very first vote on April 30th at the Consulate-General in Milan, ahead of the national voting day – May 7th. Will my single vote change the state of South Africa as it stands today? Perhaps not. But it very well may if, as I hope, I am just a fraction of many other young, informed and implicated South Africans who will mark their “X” this election season – our collective participation may bring about the change we need to turn our country around to continue to realise the dreams once carried by our brave and strong men and women who fought for our liberation. I don’t believe these dreams have been lost in us.
What the freedom achieved in ’94 has afforded Mbewu is the opportunity for nine incredibly talented, intelligent and beautiful late-80s women, actively contributing to this thriving nation’s economy, to put their minds together and form a singular vision towards something they are passionate about. This freedom means we, unlike our forefathers, can create a platform to become game-changers in our mission as a collective and within the various areas we each have an impact. As aspiring leaders, it also means that we get to live in the times where the leaders we turn to for inspiration can shine on the world stage for the integrity of their work – just as our Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela has recently done. Simply put, limits are only those which we place ourselves. Otherwise, freedom allows us to be whatever we aspire to become, and that is what we celebrate on Freedom Day.