Category Archives: Freedom Day

Freedom Day: an inconvenient truth


Freedom Day: commemorating South Africa’s first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, and celebrating freedom everywhere.  Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  A most inconvenient truth as Al Gore would say.  It does rather suggest that those who justify their conspicuous consumption, and their greedy accumulation of wealth, by telling us they didn’t endure the Struggle to be poor, have rather missed the point.

Jen and I too, no doubt, missed the point of Freedom Day by hiving off to enjoy our own private freedom, meandering up the Midlands Meander.  It was a beautiful day, spent in beautiful countryside enjoying good coffee and good food, practising the three Rs: reading, writing and relaxing.  But Mandela’s challenge is that there can be no individual freedom that ignores the freedom of others.

Companies and organisations, in pursuit of their own freedom, often ignore the freedom of others.  Signal distribution company, Sentech, has had to lower the height of the World’s View tower that provides Pietermaritzburg with its SABC TV signals (“Fuzzy TV to last weeks”, The Witness, 27 April 2012).  The process has resulted in poor reception, driving residents to TV repair shops, but their TVs have been declared satisfactory because no one knew what was going on.

The SABC didn’t bother to warn anyone because it wasn’t its problem.  “We only warn people if the problem is from our side and is going to affect the whole country.”  Forget the needs and expectations of individuals who pay for one’s product; forget the freedom of others.  We’re all right, thank you; our freedom to make money is intact.

Sentech was also not interested; they were forced to make the changes by the aviation authorities.  “Unfortunately this is inevitable.  Our guys are working there every day.”  And, almost as an aside, “reception should improve by the end of May.”

The Civil Aviation Authority, however, tells us that Sentech created the problem 40 years ago when they increased the height of the tower by 20 metres without permission.  It sounds like the classic tale from the Garden of Eden: Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Sentech and the SABC seem not to understand that while the work and the disruption may be unavoidable; failing to inform your customers is not. 

On a grander scale, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) and the Department of Transport failed to appreciate the national mood, and ignored the freedom of others.  They went ahead in the face of legal and industrial protests, with an exceptionally unpopular and excessively expensive method of tolling the national roads in Gauteng province (e-tolling).  Their actions brought business, labour and ordinary citizens together onto the streets and into the courts in an unprecedented display of solidarity and cooperation.  As a result e-tolling has been put on hold.  The battle has been won, although the war is far from over.

On the advertising front, fast-food chain, Nando’s, well known for its cheeky, in-your-face advertising, created a spoof of an advert flighted by short-term insurance giant, Santam.  Creative advertising is one thing but stealing another company’s ideas is quite another.

Santam might have risen up in righteous anger to protect its own freedom.  Instead, South Africans have been privileged to enjoy a rare exchange of banter that inhibited no one’s freedom, and from which a group of children emerged as the ultimate winners.  Santam responded with another advert inviting Nando’s to pay up for their cheek.  However, the “payment” was to be in the form of 74 specified meals donated to the Johannesburg Children’s Home.  Nando’s rose to the occasion, and rushed the 74 meals to the children almost before the advert had finished airing.  They went the extra mile, and committed to a similar delivery every month for the next year.  So Santam and the children won this battle, but this “war” is also far from over.  Nando’s marketing director Quentin Cronje is quoted as saying, “We might even be doing a little response back to them.  We might even be working on it as we speak.”

Large organisations, and many individuals, ignore Mandela’s challenge and deny the freedom of others.  But there are some who tread gently enough to protect those freedoms, and children are fed.  Neither option is inevitable; each results from choices made every day by people such as you and me.

This post was published in The Witness on Tuesday, 1 May 2012.

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