On Freedom Day, we as South Africans collectively reflect on our nation’s journey since democracy, celebrating our gains and assessing our role as to how we close the gaps in the many areas where our citizens, especially those from under-resourced areas, are still not reaping the fruits of that freedom. David Jacobs, our Chief Operating Officer, shares his thoughts about the day.
“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”
My first Freedom Day, 27 April 1994, was especially noteworthy for two reasons. One, I started my first job at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the vote-counting operations. But more importantly, it was both my newly retired father’s and my first vote. My father, classified under apartheid as coloured, had his voting right removed just before he turned voting age in the early 1950s by the Nationalist Party, which had just come to power. Like so many other South Africans, he spent his entire working life contributing taxes to a government he had no say in electing. Our first vote together would be two generations, one at the start of his working career and one at his end, making their mark to usher in future in South Africa where every voice would once again be heard.
Twenty-seven years later, while we can still celebrate that our democracy has held for nearly three decades, emotions across our nation are mixed as many of the great hopes and dreams that freedom should have brought have still not been realised. The key to this lies in South Africa being one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, the difference in wealth strongly correlating with race.
For this reason, transforming education remains a key priority to enact a socially just South Africa: it is impossible to make any meaningful and lasting change to land distribution, job creation and broad-based ownership of the economy unless it is accompanied by a skilled and educated citizenry that can sustain those efforts. Education needs to more than just transferring content or getting as many learners as possible onto classroom desks: true education is one that brings a wider range of skills than just academic mastery such as empathy, socio-emotional tools, an ability to self-reflect and shaping young minds to have a passion for social responsibility in their communities and the planet at large.
I am fortunate as a leader of the Global Teachers Institute to share this journey with a diverse set of colleagues and nearly a hundred aspiring teachers as we grapple with the questions of how to write a new story for education in South Africa. We are at the early stages of exploring how to educate learners, born into a constitutionally free and democratic South Africa, yet lacking many of the trappings of what a genuinely free and prosperous society should embody.
As GTI, we recommit ourselves to this journey as we celebrate the 27th Freedom Day. In the words of Albert Camus, we remind ourselves that freedom is not just a once-off event but an endless set of chances to do better.