President Cyril Ramaphosa marks 25 years of freedom and democracy with his keynote address at the Freedom Day national commemoration in Makhanda. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/ GCIS.
“The last time I benefited from this freedom thing was during Mandela’s time,” said Xakiwe Futshane, 54, seated outside Miki Yili Stadium in Makhanda (Grahamstown) following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Freedom Day address on the theme Celebrating 25 Years of Freedom, on Saturday.

“During Mandela’s time I got this one-room house here in Six (township). That was the last time I got anything from this government. Freedom means nothing to the people of Makhanda. We tell Ramaphosa ‘A, B, C, D’ and he must do this and that, but as soon as he goes, nothing happens.”

Nolisten Lukhwe, 90, said her house had been a sewage dump since December last year.

“The drains burst around my house. Now I suffer acute shortness of breath. No one is yet to fix this. And you call that freedom?”

Earlier, Ramaphosa delivered a keynote address that acknowledging the forebears of South Africa’s freedom.

“We have inherited this freedom from Chief Ndlambe and iqhawe (hero) uMakhanda kaNxele the warrior, the sangoma and the prophet who led the attack on the British garrison at eGazini in the Battle of Grahamstown,” said Ramaphosa, going on to list Robert Sobukwe, Saartjie Baartman, Steve Biko, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, Charlotte Maxeke, Nelson Mandela and all heroes of the Eastern Cape and beyond who fought for freedom.

He called on South Africans to reflect on the progress made in setting right the wrongs of the past, “in bringing development to communities where there was once neglect, in restoring human dignity where there was once only contempt”.

He acknowledged the divisions between the rich and poor and commended the progress made in improving people’s material conditions. In the same breath, he acknowledged that South Africans could not describe themselves as fully free “when so many still live in want”.

“We cannot be a nation of free people when so many live without enough food, without proper shelter, without access to quality health care, without a means to earn a living. We cannot be a nation of free people when the residents of places like Makhanda have to go for so long without a reliable supply of clean water. We cannot be a nation of free people when funds meant for the poor are wasted, lost or stolen.”

He concluded by encouraging people to vote on May 8 and work together to overcome the country’s challenges.

Over the past year, Makhanda has been in a severe water crisis with citizens going days without water. Taps still do not provide clean drinking water, forcing residents to buy drinking water.

Nomathemba Kele, 72, was complimentary about Ramaphosa’s speech, but went on to lambaste the Makana Municipality’s handling of the water crisis.

“Our taps were only switched on at the beginning of this month. Last week we saw refuse collection happening, something we have not seen in months. Grahamstown is clean today, but our drains are still leaking. Surely, this cannot be freedom.”

While the elderly Independent Media spoke to highlighted their material conditions as a means of defining freedom, those born after 1994 characterised what freedom means to them in terms of identity and rights.

“We are now free to be ourselves. You can even do whatever you want to do now. So we’re definitely free and I am here to enjoy my freedom day and see the president in person,” said Asemahle Tshunungwa, 17.

Siyabulela Tsani, 22, said: “Oppression ended, so we are free. We are now one nation. We are free to go anywhere now. Everyone now has their rights. Look, there are challenges like we still need houses, roads, water and many other things, but we as young people we feel good that we do not have to live under oppression of the past.”

Sunday Independent