What does Freedom Day mean to you? I was asked the question… and this was my answer.
Johannesburg, South Africa (27 April 2021) – This morning we were chatting about Freedom Day on our show on Clubhouse and the entire conversation started off quite light-hearted… you know, “public holiday day-drinking vibes”, but then Nick – a co-host – asked me what does Freedom Day mean to me?
So what exactly is Freedom Day?
“Freedom Day is a public holiday in South Africa celebrated every year on the 27th of April. It celebrates freedom and commemorates the first post-apartheid elections held on that day in 1994. The elections were the first non-racial national elections where everyone of voting age of over 18 from any race group, including foreign citizens permanently resident in South Africa, were allowed to vote. Previously, under the apartheid regime, non-whites, in general, had only limited rights to vote while indigenous black South Africans had no voting rights whatsoever.”
I was 9 at the time (in 1994) and didn’t understand that even though I was white, before this monumental day, I also didn’t have the same rights that others were afforded.
You see, during that time (from 1948 to 1994), under Apartheid and South Africa’s ruling National Party, homosexuality was a crime punishable by imprisonment and torture. We had to keep who we were a secret, or we would be locked up, beaten and even forced to undergo medical “cures” like sex reassignment surgery.
Just writing that down breaks my heart. Uhhhgggg, human beings are the worst.
But in the background and for many, many years, the African National Congress (ANC) had been fighting for equal rights and freedoms FOR ALL. Even us homos.
After years of exiled struggle, during which many ANC members had been imprisoned or forced abroad, the country began its move towards full democracy.
On 3 February 1990, State President F. W. de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and released Nelson Mandela from prison on 11 February 1990. On 17 March 1992, the apartheid referendum was passed by the white only electorate, removing apartheid and allowing the ANC to run in the next election. And in 1993, in the Bill of Rights, the ANC endorsed the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, and the interim Constitution opposed discrimination based on sexual orientation.
These provisions were kept in the new Constitution, approved in 1996, and as a result, South Africa became the first nation in the world to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in its Constitution.
Ja, Freedom day celebrates freedom and commemorates the first post-apartheid elections held on that day in 1994, but there is so much more to the story, and because incredible South Africans were fighting for freedom for all, I am also free today. As a gay man, they also fought for my freedom.
So what does Freedom Day mean to me?
Everything. It means everything.
So let me ask you the same question: What does Freedom Day mean to you?