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Is Freedom Enough to Make People Happy?
On March 21st, when residents of the northern hemisphere celebrated the first day of spring, South Africans commemorated Human Rights Day, remembering particularly the victims of the Sharpeville massacre that took place fifty years ago. What actually happened that day? People of the Sharpeville community, which is situated about sixty miles south of Johannesburg, came together for a peaceful protest against the necessity of carrying their passbooks, dompas, around with them. Police ruthlessly fired on men, women, and children. Reports of the brutal and unprovoked attack dominated the world’s press, resulting in the worldwide condemnation of South Africa’s apartheid government.
Fifty years after the fact, and sixteen years into post-apartheid democratic rule, there remains unhappiness in many quarters. Articles in local newspapers feature stories on survivors of the Sharpeville massacre. One representative of the current Sharpeville community spoke to this point: “What we see of government people is they come here and throw festivities in the name of the fallen heroes of the Sharpeville massacre while people around here starve.”1 Looking at the stories of people who lived through Sharpeville and are alive today, one can ask the question: Is freedom enough to make people happy?
What we are witnessing in South Africa at the moment is an unprecedented period of affluence in Black society. There is a growing middle class, and due to Black Empowerment enterprises and the country’s rich mineral resources, an increasing number of Blacks are becoming millionaires and even billionaires. The mining magnate Patrice Motsepe grew up near our mission, spent a short time at Tsogo High School (the name means ‘Resurrection’) and then completed his education in a Catholic school run by religious in the Eastern Cape. Today, due to his father’s wealth and his own prowess in the mining industry, Motsepe is ranked among the top entrepreneurs in Fortune 500 magazine. His is a success story to be sure, but what of the fate of his contemporaries in places like Sharpeville or Mmakau where I live?
“While the rich get richer, the poor get poorer,” goes the old saying. And though there is a tremendous amount of wealth in South Africa, there is an ever-increasing number of people who are still deprived of basic services, housing, water, sanitation, health care, jobs − what we used to call the common good. There are weekly protests against poor service delivery in both rural and urban townships. Concerned ratepayers meet in local municipalities. Where is the money going? Why don’t we have services? What about the potholes in the roads? Can we really afford to build so many new sports facilities for the World Cup?
People want the basics − shelter, food, water, employment, good schools for their kids − and they are tired of waiting. Well into our second decade of democracy, we find that there is neither the will nor the capacity to make government work for the people. What remains are anger and broken promises. The political activist Philip Kgosana sums it up this way: “The big question is whether, 16 years since 1994, the people of South Africa have gained real freedom for which so many sacrifices were made and so much suffering was endured.” 2
Jean Evans RSM joined the Sisters of Mercy in Burlingame, California, then transferred to the Sisters of Mercy, Johannesburg, South Africa. She has worked in formal and informal education and lectures part-time at St Augustine College in Johannesburg.
1. Saturday Star, March 20, 2010, p. 15.
2. Saturday Star, March 20, 2010, p. 15.
Carol Rittner RSM
Angela Hartigan RSM
Michael A. MacDowell
Ann Brady RSM
Paula Carron RSM
Francis Anover RSM
Jean Evans RSM
Anna Nicholls RSM
Mary O’Sullivan RSM
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