Apr 272017

Today is Freedom Day in South Africa, a national public holiday. It celebrates freedom from apartheid and commemorates the first post-apartheid elections held on this day in 1994. The elections were the first non-racial national elections where everyone of voting age (over 18) regardless of former racial designation, and including foreign citizens permanently resident in South Africa, were allowed to vote. Previously, under the apartheid regime, non-whites had only limited rights to vote.

On the first commemoration of the holiday, President Nelson Mandela addressed Parliament:

As dawn ushered in this day, the 27th of April 1994, few of us could suppress the welling of emotion, as we were reminded of the terrible past from which we come as a nation; the great possibilities that we now have; and the bright future that beckons us. And so we assemble here today, and in other parts of the country, to mark a historic day in the life of our nation. Wherever South Africans are across the globe, our hearts beat as one, as we renew our common loyalty to our country and our commitment to its future.

These are fine sentiments, of course, and we should all rejoice that apartheid was destroyed. HOW apartheid began and how it was ultimately set aside is fairly easy to document; WHY it ended is not so easy to explain. A codified system of racial stratification began to take form in South Africa under the Dutch Empire in the late 18th century, although informal segregation was present much earlier due to social cleavages between Dutch colonists and an ethnically diverse population which included slaves. With the rapid growth and industrialization of the British Cape Colony in the 19th century, racial policies and laws became increasingly rigid. Cape legislation that discriminated specifically against black Africans began appearing shortly before 1900. The policies of the Boer republics were also racially exclusive. The Transvaal constitution, for example, barred nonwhite participation in church and state.

The first apartheid law was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, 1949, followed closely by the Immorality Act of 1950, which made it illegal for most South African citizens to marry or pursue sexual relationships across racial lines. The Population Registration Act, 1950 classified all South Africans into one of four racial groups based on appearance, documented ancestry, socioeconomic status, and cultural lifestyle: “black”, “white”, “coloured”, and “Indian,” the last two of which included several sub-classifications. Places of residence were determined by racial classification. From 1960 to 1983, 3.5 million nonwhite South Africans were removed from their homes, and forced into segregated neighborhoods, in one of the largest mass removals in modern history. Most of these targeted removals were intended to restrict the black population to ten designated “tribal homelands”, also known as bantustans, four of which became nominally independent states. The government announced that relocated individuals would lose their South African citizenship as they were absorbed into the bantustans.

Apartheid sparked significant international as well as domestic opposition, resulting in some of the most influential global social movements of the 20th century. It was the target of frequent condemnation in the United Nations, and brought about an extensive arms and trade embargo on South Africa, as well as travel restrictions and limitations on participation in international events. During the 1970s and 1980s, internal resistance to apartheid became increasingly militant, prompting brutal crackdowns by the National Party administration and protracted sectarian violence that left thousands dead or in detention. Some reforms of the apartheid system were undertaken, including allowing for Indian and colored political representation in parliament, but, because of very limited involvement and power, these measures failed in appeasing most activist groups.

Between 1987 and 1993 the National Party entered into bilateral negotiations with the African National Congress, the leading anti-apartheid political movement, for ending segregation and introducing majority rule. In 1990, prominent ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela were released from detention,  and apartheid legislation was abolished in mid-1991, pending multiracial elections set for April 1994. Outside influences from the West were probably the biggest factors in the ending of apartheid. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the decline of Communist influence on nations in Europe left Western nations freer to turn their attention to apartheid and increasingly spoke out against it, encouraging a move towards democracy and self-determination.

From the 1960s, South Africa experienced economic growth second only to that of Japan. Trade with Western countries grew, and investment from the United States, France and Britain poured in. In 1974, resistance to apartheid was encouraged by Portugal’s withdrawal from Mozambique and Angola, after the 1974 Carnation Revolution. South African troops withdrew from Angola in early 1976 after failing to prevent the black MPLA from gaining power there. The Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith, signed by Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Harry Schwarz in 1974, enshrined the principles of peaceful transition of power and equality for all. Its purpose was to provide a blueprint for South Africa by consent and racial peace in a multi-racial society, stressing opportunity for all, consultation, the federal concept, and a Bill of Rights. It was the first of such agreements by acknowledged black and white political leaders in South Africa.

In 1978, the defense minister of the NP, Pieter Willem Botha, became Prime Minister. Botha’s white regime was worried about the Soviet Union helping revolutionaries in South Africa, and the economy had slowed down. The new government noted that it was spending too much money trying to maintain the segregated homelands that had been created for black ethnic groups, and the homelands were proving to be uneconomical. Nor was maintaining black people as a third class working well. Black labor remained vital to the economy, and illegal black labor unions were flourishing. Many black people remained too poor to make much of a contribution to the economy through their purchasing power – although they were more than 70 percent of the population. Botha’s regime was afraid that an antidote was needed to prevent the black population from being attracted to Communism.

In the 1980s, the anti-apartheid movements in the United States and Europe were gaining support for boycotts against South Africa, for the withdrawal of US firms from South Africa, and calls for the release of Mandela. South Africa was becoming an outlaw in the world community of nations. Investing in South Africa by US citizens and others began to dry up, and an active policy of disinvestment from South African businesses ensued.  By the early 1980s, Botha’s National Party government started to recognize the inevitability of reform of apartheid although was still largely resistant. Early reforms were driven by a combination of internal violence, international condemnation, changes within the National Party’s constituency, and changing demographics – whites constituted only 16 percent of the total population, in comparison to 20 percent fifty years earlier. I wouldn’t say that any one factor turned the tide, initiating the end of apartheid, but whenever I ask the question “Why?” in significant historical developments, “Money” always seems to be the answer.

Despite its many successes South Africa still has a significant urban, black, poor population.  In 2005 they coalesced into a group called Abahlali baseMjondolo (Zulu for “Shack Dwellers”), also known as AbM or the red shirts, a shack-dwellers’ movement that campaigns against evictions and in favor of public housing. The movement grew out of a road blockade organized from the Kennedy Road shack settlement in the city of Durban in early 2005 and now also operates in the cities of Pietermaritzburg and in Cape Town. It is the largest shack dweller’s organization in South Africa and campaigns to improve the living conditions of poor people and to democratize society from below.

The movement quickly had a considerable degree of success in stopping evictions and forced removals, winning the right for new shacks to be built as settlements expanded and in winning access to basic services. But for three years it was not able to win secure access to good urban land for quality housing. In late 2008 the then AbM President S’bu Zikode announced a deal with the eThekwini Municipality which would see services being provided to 14 settlements and tenure security and formal housing to three. The municipality confirmed this deal in February 2009. However, the movement has been involved in considerable conflict with the eThekwini Municipality and has undertaken numerous protests and legal actions against the city authorities. Its members have been beaten and many of its leaders arrested by the South African Police Service in Sydenham, Durban.

UnFreedom Day, dated to coincide with Freedom Day, was started by Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban and has become a day of education in which films, discussions and performances play a major role. The purpose of the day is to demonstrate that the poor are still not free in South Africa. Abahlali uses the day to celebrate the growing strength of the movement’s struggle. Abahlali baseMjondolo now also marks the day in Cape Town and other communities and social movements such as some Anti-Eviction Campaign communities have participated in UnFreedom Day with Abahlali baseMjondolo and have also begun marking UnFreedom Day in their own communities.

In 2009 the South African police initially tried to ban the UnFreedom Day event held by Abahlali baseMjondolo, together with the Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Landless People’s Movement, the Rural Network and the eMacambini Anti-Removal Committee (all of these movements supported the No Land! No House! No Vote! campaign) in the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban. However the police ban was lifted, those who had been arrested were released and the event went ahead with a police helicopter circling low above the assembly. A number of popular musical groups performed at the event including the Dlamini King Brothers. It is vital to remember that the end of minority colonial rule, does not mark the end of poverty and discrimination – not in South Africa, and not in Africa as a whole.

South African cuisine is an eclectic mix of European and indigenous ingredients and techniques. I thought that a relatively cheap, but enjoyable, Zulu dish would be appropriate to celebrate the day. IsiJingi fits the bill, I believe. Westerners would probably serve it as a side dish, but for Zulus it is a main dish. It is traditional to use pumpkin, but you can use any winter squash.



2lbs/ 1 kg pumpkin (or winter squash), peeled and cubed
2 cups/500ml whole milk
2 cups/500ml coarse cornmeal
2tbsp/30ml cream
1 tbsp/15ml butter
salt and white pepper


Mix the milk with 2 cups of water. Cook the pumpkin in a large saucepan with the water and milk mixture until soft (30 to 40 minutes). Add the cornmeal and mix well with a wooden spoon. Simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring continuously, until the cornmeal is cooked. Add the cream, butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, allowing the butter to melt into the pumpkin and cornmeal mixture. Serve hot.


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