Opportune time to tell our stories of freedom

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

By Communications Minister Faith Muthambi

Franz Fanon taught us that “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it”. These prophetic words uttered many years ago came to describe the generation espoused by Nathaniel Ndazana Nakasa, better known as Nat Nakasa, for it discovered its mission and pursued it.    

Nakaza was born at a time when the majority had no rights and suffered oppression.   Those who dared oppose the unjust system would suffer the wrath of the apartheid state.  He knew this, but like Nelson Mandela and Bram Fischer among others, he dedicated his career to actively oppose an unjust system. As a journalist he understood the power of information and used his pen to tell the world about gross human rights violations.  

He exposed the atrocities and systematic violence perpetrated against black people. He wrote about being black in apartheid South Africa, questioned the status quo and advocated for a free society.

His commitment to journalistic principles by telling his perspective no matter the cost, put him in conflict with the apartheid government. It refused to issue him a passport when he was awarded the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in the United States and this led to him being unable to return to South Africa. That made him feel like a “native of nowhere” and he was only 28 when he died. He was buried in New York.

Nearly 50 years since he described himself as a “native of nowhere”, Nakasa’s remains were brought back to South Africa for reburial on 13 September.  Nakasa may have died but his legacy and contribution to the fight against apartheid will forever live on in our history books.

He will be accorded a reburial befitting an icon of his stature and the ceremony will be presided over by President Jacob Zuma. His return comes at an opportune time when our country celebrates 20 Years of Freedom which he fought for.

He returns to a country where every citizen is equal and enjoys the rights and privileges of being a South African.  His dignity has been restored and he would have been proud to see freedom of expression flourishing.  We are no longer voiceless and South Africans are now able to speak freely about the trials and tribulations they experienced during the dark days of apartheid. We are free to reflect on the sacrifices of our heroes and on the watershed moments in our struggle history.

It is incumbent on all of us to celebrate Nakasa’s legacy; his life story should serve as a reminder of the harsh realities of the time. His selfless dedication to revealing the truth should serve as a source of inspiration to people who seek to tell their how their lives have changed since the dawn of democracy.

As part of our 20 Years of Freedom celebrations, the Department of Arts and Culture has launched a campaign encouraging South Africans to tell their stories about their trials and tribulations during the dark days of apartheid. This coincides with Heritage Month which was launched under the theme: “Celebrating 20 Years of Democracy: Tell Your Story that Moves South Africa Forward”.  

This campaign provides everyone in the country with an opportunity to learn about the unsung heroes and heroines who played a pivotal role in moving South Africa forward.  It will also raise the curtain on one of the greatest theatres of struggle, victory over oppression and an iconic country renowned for reconciliation and nation-building.

The storytelling theme of this year’s Heritage Month complements our rich narrative heritage and we should use any means of expression - be it visual arts, poetry, music, prayers or the written word - to tell our stories.

The words spoken by Fanon are still as relevant today as they were all many years ago; they are a call to action. All of us share a common duty to build on the gains made over the past 20 years.  It is not the sole responsibility of government, together we have to ensure we move the country forward.

Start by telling a story about where we have come from and where we are going as outlined in our 2030 vision. The National Development Plan says by 2030 we should be living in a country would have remade. A home where everybody feels free yet bound to others; where everyone embraces their full potential, proud to be a community that cares.