”Written byIndio Friedmann
27th of April 1994. Our generation knows of this date, not through experience but through an overlapping of painful memories, of shameful stories and lingering restlessness. Generation Z (1997-2012) and Generation Alpha (2013-2025) can never understand apartheid as it is but rather as it was, through other generations’ lived experiences and the fallout thereafter. It must be asked then, whether the very freedom that was delivered post-apartheid, although an incredible feat then, may not be enough for our country right now – the current freedom itself still limited by economic and societal constraints, except this time just left off the legislature’s check (or cheque) box to regulate. The quintessence of freedom is boundlessness, an entire being is autonomous in their actions and liberated in their mind. Echoed by Steve Biko – “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” However, substance lacks meaning when it cannot be practically materialised. And so, what is the point of having freedom but not being able to use it?
To explain this, socio-economic rights within South Africa’s Bill of Rights (Chapter 2 of the Constitution 1996) exist to mechanise our inherent freedom. For example, I am free because I can travel safely. I have freedom of choice – to choose my occupation, education, and residence. I have access to food, water, shelter – all the things that make these choices possible. However, I cannot be spatially free if I cannot acquire transport or housing. I cannot be financially free where there is no employment. I cannot be free of social inequality where access to education is barred. I cannot be free to be physically and mentally content where access to the absolute basics of food, water, shelter and medical care is unrealisable. So here, I argue that rights are the roots for the growth of freedom, and without rights you cannot enjoy the fruits of freedom.
So here, I argue that rights are the roots for the growth of freedom, and without rights you cannot enjoy the fruits of freedom.
So the first step towards freedom has been achieved – that is that we all have rights guaranteed to us within the Constitution – the supreme law of the country. Now we are at that second step, being able to use our rights. Not every person is able to make use of their right to shelter, or every child of their right to education. Travel to the nearest robot in Cape Town’s CBD and you are likely to see a structure of weathered tents or young children begging, instead of learning. We have achieved the freedom to be free…
“The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.” – Nelson Mandela
The conceptual basis of socio-economic rights (and rights in general) create the necessary framework for its practical application. So, where there is a disconnect in its conceptual foundation, this will carry through to the workability and functioning in practice. The philosophical and sociological interpretation of a “right” must also be questioned. Do equal rights and freedom truly exist?; what defines and brings about a right’s existence?; can a right exist without the means or ability to enforce it or do rights entail action? In a legal context a right is defined as “legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory.”() It is defined in its ordinary meaning as a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something, hence that which is morally correct. ()
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.” – Nelson Mandela
However, when considering the word in its verb form, it means to restore to a normal or correct state. It is clear that the existence of a right is contingent on its procedural workability, or simply put, a right cannot be a right if it cannot be realised. The same notion lies within the commonly regarded thought experiment, “if a tree falls and no one hears it, did it really make a sound?” i.e. if one cannot hear something, one cannot know about it and thus it does not exist within one’s subjective reality. However objectively, the tree did fall, and it did make a noise.
Following this line of reasoning, if an individual is entitled to socio-economic rights that enable true freedom but it is impossible to realise such rights, does freedom truly and subjectively exist for that individual?
Rights inform the bounds of freedom in South Africa. The point is, it is so important to first be cognisant and grateful for your own freedoms, the freedom to do, to be, to see – to truly enjoy your own freedom. Then, it is important to see that the purpose of freedom is to create it for others. The second step of every person being able to use their rights seems to have fallen in Generation Z’ and Alpha’s pathway. For me, I believe our generation has the potential to eventually bring about the second step of freedom for all. We are restless and free-spirited. We are questioning and curious. It is our time to undo the work of our formers and its outdated and played out familiarity.
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