The shape of freedom during Covid-19

Janet Jackson arrives at the Pre-Grammy Gala And Salute To Industry Icons at the Beverly Hilton Hote. Photo by: Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP

On 04 April 2020, the streets of Twitter were alive with debate as American singer and songwriter, Janet Jackson, compared lockdown to Nelson Mandela’s 27 year imprisonment. Many South Africans were not impressed by the comparison, some believe it was in “bad taste”. In an attempt to encourage people to #StayAtHome, Janet Jackson put up a picture of freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, and captioned it “In isolation for 27 years. No family, luxuries, phone. Just hope and a vision. We can do this”. South Africa was not impressed.

While the streets of Twitter can be brutal and I understand the point that Janet Jackson was trying to make, it would be a blunder to dismiss the concerns of the many South Africans who responded to the Tweet. The general consensus is that Mandela’s situation was deeper than just isolation, he was dehumanised in ways that we will never understand, and to compare it to quarantine is to minimise that struggle.

In South Africa, April 27 is more than just a date that marks another public holiday. It marks the beginning of liberation and it is a commemoration of the first post-apartheid and non-racial national election that was held on the day in 1994. Since the achievement of political freedom in 1994, South Africa has been on a steady path to correct the wrongs of the past.

In 2020, South Africans celebrated Freedom day under lockdown. While our freedom of movement has been limited significantly, and certain measures that have been put in place have a potential to threaten certain human rights, it is important to remember that this lockdown has not been put in place to infringe on our freedom. While lockdown limits our freedom of movement, it has been designed to ensure that our right to healthcare is not taken away from us with the rise of this pandemic. According to the National Health Act, section 4(3), certain healthcare services should be provided free for people who do not have medical aid. If we continue as normal, and allow everyone to be infected with coronavirus at once, we risk taking away the right to basic healthcare for many South Africans. Particularly those who do not have and cannot afford medical aid.

So, while Janet Jackson’s heart was in the right place, and South African Twitter didn’t have to butcher her for what she overlooked, the debate did give me a positive perspective to the shape of our freedom during lockdown.

Yes, lockdown is the bane to everyone’s existence right now, but it is a necessary bane. Our freedom has been limited and the livelihoods of many South Africans have been negatively affected. However, it is not all doom and gloom. I watch, with renewed respect, as our government tries to make lockdown as comfortable as possible for all South Africans. The increase in child support grants and the introduction of the unemployment grant. I see transformation in our governance as the Coronavirus National Command Council adopts the 5 level phased out lockdown plan that was suggested by the DA.

Am I seeing inclusive governance or do I have too much hope in our politicians? I hope it’s the former. Until proven wrong, I will continue to celebrate our freedom every day, even during lockdown. Because, even during lockdown, our rights remain.

Anele Gcwabe, Activate Change Drivers, a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa.