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Dreams of freedom

8 July 2013

Back in the 1970s a little-known pop/gospel group called Parchment released a single with a song Let there be light in the land

Yesterday’s dream didn’t quite come true
We fought for our freedom
and what did it do?
Now no one can see where they stand.

Back then, the freedom we were fighting for was tomorrow’s dream, not yesterday’s dream, but I recognised and accepted that when freedom finally did come, if it did, it would not last. We live in a fallen world and in a fallen world freedom, like everything else, becomes tarnished, tainted and corrupted.

Twenty-one years later, in 1994, we could say, with the psalmist:

When the Lord turned again the captivity of Sion: then we were like unto them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter: and our tongue with joy.
Then said they among the heathen: The Lord hath done great things for them.
Yea, the Lord hath done great things for us already: whereof we rejoice.
(Psalm 126, Coverdale version)

But yesterday’s dream didn’t quite come true, as Justice Malala points out here Standing up for Liv Shange – Times LIVE:

Should Malema be squeezed out of political discourse because he wants to nationalise the mines and banks? Should state resources and institutions be abused to keep out people with whom we disagree on these issues?

No. Not in the democratic South Africa we have built since 1994. These questions come to mind because of the curious case of a woman called Liv Shange. Shange is Swedish and is married to a South African, Xolani Shange.

Malala goes on to point out that

Liv Shange is in Sweden right now with her three children, visiting her relatives during the school holidays. On July 14 she is supposed to return to South Africa with her children so that they can start school on July 15.

However, it turns out that our government may not allow her back into South Africa.

Apparently, the Department of Home Affairs is now investigating Shange, who has lived here for nearly 10 years, and may not allow her back into the country.

Why? There are allegedly irregularities with her residence status. Surely, someone in a marriage relationship with a South African – with children from the union – and a long time living in this country should not suddenly have a problem with their residence status?

What’s really going on here? Well, it turns out that her residence status may not be the reason why she won’t be allowed back into the country. It all started with Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, who accused Shange of being “behind the anarchy” at Marikana.

A logical response to Mantashe is this: it was our own SA Police Services who shot and killed 34 mineworkers that afternoon in August last year, not Shange.

SnowBamaSouth Africa isn’t the only country with this tarnished dream of freedom, however. Much more recently, back in 2008, an American called Barack Obama was talking about “Change you can believe in” and “Yes we can”. Now protesters wave placards saying “Yes we scan” and “All your data are belong to us.”

The apartheid regime in South Africa treated hundreds of people as the Zuma regime now wants to treat Liv Shange, and as the Obama regime is now treating Edward Snowden.  They were deported, banned and banished. The change we could believe in has turned out to be quite unbelievable.

As I said, I’m not surprised that it happened. I’m not surprised that yesterday’s dream didn’t quite come true. I didn’t expect it to last. I knew that the words of the song were true. I had also read the words of the Brazilian educationist Paolo Freire, and often recalled what he said:

The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom misacquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man, nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.

What Freire says about freedom and human completion calls to mind the words of the theologian Christos Yannaras:

What the Church has in view is the freedom of morality from schematic gradations and utilitarian prescriptions. It aims at the morality, the ethos of personal distinctiveness and freedom: this means not simply that individuals’ character and the mores of social behavior are ‘improved,’ but that man is restored to the fulness of life and existence as he transcends the corruption and death of his created nature.

And that leads me back again to the song by Parchment.

Yesterday’s dream didn’t quite come true
We fought for our freedom
and what did it do?
Now no one can see where they stand.

So let there be light in the land
let there be light in the people
let there be God in our lives from now on

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