Understanding freedom and liberty as a guide to responsible citizenship and Nation Building in South Africa



Written by: Zolani Nkomo

South Africa is a country which no one can claim to be from, but everyone feels like they’re entitled to it. South Africa as a promised land has failed to live up to the standard, because there still hovers over our shoulders the scary question that causes the conflict, over the most contentious issue in the history of man: Whose land is it anyway?

Nobody likes answering that. Shaka Zulu can be considered the same kind of evil as Lord Kitchener and Jan van Riebeeck; the difference becomes the method of execution and the scale of activity, depending on who you ask. Let’s use the English Empire, the Zulu Nation and the Afrikaans Brotherhood as examples of how establishing a collective consciousness formed against or in response to something, is counter-productive in fluid environments subject to competitive changes (not to trivialise colonialism).

The problems with group identity are that they create a contentious battleground for rights, claims, control, dominance and power. Whereas a collective national identity informed by shared striving and common understanding of individual struggles would lead to cohesive nation building. Nation Building can be achieved when struggles and objectives are no longer subject to racial analysis but individual decision making and agency. However acting out of self-interest and exercising your agency comes with the burden of responsibility. The responsibility to yourself, which requires a great deal of self affirmation and egocentric introspection; this is the only time to first answer “what is best for me?”

Responsibility seems much easier when it is shared; however sharing your responsibility is self-defeating. It makes you a subject to someone else’s will. And therefore negates and restricts your freedom. Responsibility becomes the responsibility of your heritage, especially if you have benefited from past injustices but also the responsibility to overcome if you have been arbitrarily disadvantaged. Responsibility is the acceptance of your “throwness” into a world which is not of your own choosing and your decisions will determine where you end up.

Freedom does not exist in a country where the government has channels to control the flow of information, in a country where even after 20 years of having the same regime in power which has, had more failures than success but the people refuse to change it because the responsibility of carrying the shame of voting those who brought you political freedom out of power. If you are bound by a loyalty which continues to disadvantage you, and you continue to act out of this loyalty, then you are in bad faith. If you cannot be free from hereditary commitments then you are irresponsible with your own freedom and you deserve all the pains that come from your loyalty.

Author: Zolani Nkomo is a third year politics student at the University of Pretoria.