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A New South Africa
by Zanele Mthembu

For decades, we as black South Africans held on to the promise that one day we would be free and enjoy the liberties that whites and other citizens were enjoying in our country. This gave us the strength to fight and endure a long and hard struggle against Apartheid. It paid off on April 27, 1994. Both young and old, we all stood in long queues to cast our first vote as South Africans. That historic day will forever remain etched in our memories. That is the day the door to freedom was finally swung open. We entered eager and with very high expectations of the new democracy. It was a wonderful feeling to know that now we had the freedom to live, socialize, go to school and work wherever we wanted. However we soon realized that things were not going to be as easy as we expected. Freedom comes at a price. A price many of us did not understand why we had to continue to pay after such a long and painful struggle.

South Africa is like a convalescent learning to walk again after a major accident. You never know how difficult it is going to be until you get up from the chair and try to stand on your own. The recovery is very painful, the muscles are weak and do not want to cooperate. You soon realize that recovery is a long and painful process. After a prolonged period of incapacitation it takes time for the body to regain its former strength. It takes patience, focus and perseverance. Your cooperation, determination and dedication will determine the speed and quality of your recovery.

We are a nation in recovery. We have been left maimed and scarred by apartheid. We are up and ready to take the first step. We know we are not strong yet and we need help from more developed nations. We especially need to learn from the experiences of our fellow brothers and sisters on the continent who have also gone through what we are only now experiencing. We have come to realize that freedom is just the beginning of yet another struggle. We are all new in this process of democracy and we have to hold hands, government and the people and make this democracy work for us. There is a Zulu saying, which goes “Izandla ziyagezana” which means one hand washes the other. The government is the one hand and ordinary citizens, are the other hand. We need both hands to wash away the legacy of apartheid. We need to remove the dirt and grime from the past so that we can sit with clean hands at the table of democracy and enjoy the fruit of our labor.

We need a reconstruction of the people’s mindsets and the development of a new and positive attitude all round. That can only be done through education. The better educated our nation; the better our future is going to be. We need to be educated about what our role is or should be in this new democracy. We need to be educated not only about our rights but also our obligations. Freedom comes with a lot of responsibilities. We are responsible for our destiny. Yes, government has a part to play but they cannot do it on their own. We have to actively participate in helping the government better our lot. Working with our leaders is not new to us. During the days of the struggle, there was always a strong partnership between the leaders and the masses. That is what made our struggle a success. We need to rekindle that partnership, so that we can reconstruct and develop our nation.


Zanele Mthembu was born and raised in Soweto, South Africa. She came to the USA in 1996 and attained her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from Howard University in December 2000. She is currently working for the Discovery Channel in Bethesda, Maryland.

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