White South Africans still do not celebrate Freedom Day | This is Africa

Politics and Society

White South Africans still do not celebrate Freedom Day

White people have benefited most from the dawn of freedom and democracy in South Africa. Nonetheless, at public events such as Freedom Day and the inauguration of the president, white people are largely absent. What makes white South Africans want to skip these events, and do they have a moral duty to attend?



There is a non-racial school of thought which believes it is correct to condemn whites for not attending the Inauguration Ceremony to install President Jacob Zuma for his second terms as president of South Africa. Out of the eight provinces that bussed guests and other patrons to the ceremony, it is only the Western Cape, run by the Democratic Alliance, that refused for its citizens to attend the celebrations in Pretoria on 24 May.

Of course, for the last 20 years, whites have been conspicuous by their absence at events around the country to observe and celebrate Freedom Day or inaugurate the president. In itself, Freedom Day is a significant political day that marks a break with Apartheid in the history of this country and the ushering in of a president for all the people of the land.
Indeed, for the very first time in 1994, millions of South Africans could exercise ‘one man, one vote’, irrespective of skin colour, class, status, religion or political creed. Everybody is, now, equal before the law. A real revolutionary development, if you like.

Freedom Day signifies the end of more than 300 years of colonialism, segregation and white minority rule in South Africa, as well as the establishment of a new democratic government, a new state and a new constitution. Photo: AP

But this magnificent political achievement has seen very few whites come forward to sing, dance, eat and listen to the State President deliver a key note address to put the meaning of freedom and democracy into perspective. For example, if you attended the Freedom Day celebrations or inauguration at the Union Building in April and May this year, it was easy to observe that there were few whites in the audience. You will, of course, find Coloureds and Africans who will not only have been bussed in but will have received VIP invitations to be part of the event. Most of the time the white guests are members of the diplomatic corps who are not citizens of the country.

So why are whites NOT participating in Freedom Day celebrations or the inauguration of a new president? Those with eyes to see will notice that the last 20 years of freedom have had more to offer white people, and thus more reasons for them to celebrate. They have retained their homes and businesses. They have lost absolutely no economic perks with the change of political power. In fact, their income has more than doubled. They still conduct themselves as superiors who deserve to have black servants. Most white homes – and the black middle class – have women they call ‘helpers’. They travel around the world as they like. They now have opportunities to exploit the African market anywhere they like. There are more and more South African corporates with offices and satellites all over the continent and the world.

Photo: Marco Longari – AFP/Getty Images

In fact, harsh critics of the government say blacks only hold office but are not in power. There can be no true freedom for blacks without economic justice. It is largely true that it is business as usual for a great majority of whites. Sadly, they still seem not interested to join their fellow country men to celebrate Freedom Day or the inauguration of a new president.

This, of course, does not spread the spirit of reconciliation and nation-building. In fact, this year the government under the African National Congress spent over R200 million to mobilize the people and mount a mega event to celebrate 20 years of democracy and inaugurate a new president in the person of Jacob Zuma. The gesture was to create opportunities for ALL people – not only to remember where we come from, but to celebrate the achievements of what is seen as a new beginning of yet another era that continues the political ‘miracle’ of 1994. But, sadly, this mostly happens without whites. Yet we know that this nation is incomplete without the participation of whites. White attendance at Freedom Day celebrations and or the inauguration of a new president can happen and improve when white people themselves decide to break away from regarding national events as belonging to black people. This is seen as racism that sulks at the dawn of democracy. Far too many white people believe that they need to be loyal to their ‘whiteness’, which has misled them to believe that Freedom Day or the inauguration of the president is for black people only. But this is not true.


The people who have benefited most from the dawn of freedom and democracy in this country are whites. It is time for them to express the appreciation for what they have and reveal their commitment to the constitutional ideal to build a non-racial society. Whites have got to take the lead to find new ways to forge partnerships with their black counterparts to build a new nation that will, inevitably, comprise of both black and white. It is a society where human beings will be judged by the content of character and not skin colour. The only thing that prevents whites from celebrating Freedom Day or the new president is that they hold onto outdated notions of ‘whiteness.’ This is nothing else but Apartheid baggage that draws a boundary between fellow patriots on the basis of skin colour. It is time that whites oppose the silly notion that Freedom Day, for instance, does not belong to them, too. The Constitution, including the Coat of Arms, loudly declares that South Africa belongs to everybody who lives in it, including whites.

So, my basic question would be: why are they not seen to be publicly celebrating Freedom Day or their president? If it’s white guilt that keeps them away, well, they should put all that behind and move on. After all, Nelson Mandela has long convinced blacks that they must forgive and …er, forget. If it is white superiority that tells that it would be stooping low to be seen to cavorting with blacks to celebrate this very important day, well, it is …er, a sad day in the effort to build a new non-racial society. For Freedom Day and the inauguration of a new president to truly mean something, black and white have got to celebrate it together. It will never be enough for whites to perform the fly-past in planes while they are not well represented in the frivolities that are taking place on the ground.

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