The Cost of Our Freedom
What happens to a dream deferred? In his poem Harlem, the American poet Langston Hughes asks this important question. He’s addressing people who have lived through strife and conflict, hoping, fighting, praying for a better day. Hughes offers scenarios: does the dream dry up “like a raisin in the sun”? Or does it “fester like a sore—And then run?”
This week, we celebrate our freedom. By all accounts, the dream was achieved. While socioeconomic factors and the fact that post-apartheid South Africa looks nothing like the Freedom Charter are realities that glare and disrupt our complacency, it’s not debatable that the dream of freedom was achieved to an extent. We are free. Every South African anti-apartheid activist did that. Part of that dream was achieved.
However, there’s one dream that was deferred during the struggle. Many of the activists — men and women — had families, not just the natural families they were born into, but families they chose to build. Many were married and were parents, which one could say was a contributing factor to their activism. These men and women had loved ones to think of and many decided that an interruption would offer little comfort to their families if the country did not change. They decided that the desire to see their children and future descendants live in a better world would be a reasonable drive.
As we remember and honour the late Chris Hani, if feels worth noting that though we were able to achieve the dream he spent his life working and fighting for – a free South Africa, there is one dream that really was deferred. His. While South Africa avoided a civil war and the country began to transition to a democratic state, Chris Hani was no longer alive. Those of us who were old enough, remember the day well.
It wasn’t just the country that lost someone who could have potentially changed the course of this democracy. A family lost a father. A woman lost her man; someone she’d probably planned to build her life with. Someone she hoped to see old age with. That was the dream.
As our leaders and elders cosigned the start of the “rainbow nation” on the proverbial dotted line and worked tirelessly to cover the country’s undressed wounds, there were other dreams blowing like tumbleweed in the periphery. On the sidelines, Umkhonto weSizwe veterans had to deal with the trauma of fighting. They came home and found there wasn’t much left of their lives.
On April 10, 1993, Chris Hani was assassinated outside his house in Boksburg. The Hani family had come home in 1990 after decades in exile. The dawn of democracy was close as the country was still being negotiated. The Hani family likely began breathing a little. They were home, at last. Maybe after the election they – Mr and Mrs Hani – would start rituals such as coffee and the newspaper on Sunday. Maybe he would take up golf after it all slowed down. They would all visit Cofimvaba, where Hani was born, often.
Outside their new home, in the suburb of Dawn Pak in Boksburg, the dream was shattered like good china. Forever.
One of the iconic moments of the South African liberation struggle happened during the Rivonia Treason Trial of 1963 – 1964 was when a young Nelson Mandela took to the dock and gave a three-hour long testimony, which he ended by stating that the dream of a free South Africa, one where all citizens were equal, was one for which he was willing to die, if necessary.
Many South African struggle stalwarts and anti-apartheid activists went into the movement with the resignation that nothing mattered if they, and their people, were not free. However, in the case of Hani, the dream had been close. The finish line was in sight. They almost had the life they had dream of and planned for.
And what does Limpho Hani have now? A member of the judiciary telling her to forgive and move on. Forgive her husband’s killers. Forgive them even though they have never shown remorse.
Maybe it just sags//Like a heavy load Hughes writes in the poem. We have all seen Mrs Hani on the news. She looks resilient and resolute. She looks strong, the sort of woman a person fighting for their country’s liberation would have needed by their side. But she also looks weary. This deferred dream has taken its toll.