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The Generation Of 'First Blacks' Will Never Know True Freedom Of Speech

We need to know our purpose.

16/06/2017 06:22 SAST | Updated 16/06/2017 14:29 SAST
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You have freedom of speech. Say what you feel. Fight for what you believe in. Everywhere, except at school. Everywhere, except at work. Everywhere, except.

This has been the experience of my peers since we were children. From school to university, we were the generation of first blacks. We were fortunate, lucky, excited to be "allowed in" to spaces that were not built for us. With that came a burden and a responsibility. Ours was a responsibility to pave the way for those who would come after us. But this has not always been easy and it has been met with defensiveness. We have been branded as defiant even though we have tried by all means possible to work within the confines of the systems we found ourselves navigating.

If we were the people speaking up in class about why Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment is not reverse racism, we were shut down. When we tried to fight to wear our hair as it grew, we were shut down. When we tried to fight to eat with our hands and play the games we grew up playing, we were called barbaric and unladylike. When we attempted to speak our own languages, we were silenced.

We were disobedient.

I suppose we thought things would change when we became adults. We thought: "Finally. I'm an adult, I can own my voice and speak up when I do not agree with a system and voicing that won't get me into trouble."

We were wrong.

Yet again, we are disobedient but this time the word used is insubordinate.

So we can say what we feel. We can do as we please. We can exercise our freedom until such time that those we report to don't feel offended by our stance.

We do not succumb to the culture of our superiors and they do not like it. We do not support their politics and so we are insubordinate. Over the last couple of weeks, in different spaces, I have heard stories from friends who have sadly had to part ways with their employers because they just could not exist in a space that said: "say what you want, except".

Perhaps the oddest example would be that of my friend who did not want to take part in the "Zuma must fall" protests which resulted in a heated argument where his superior threw out the f-bomb. Soon after that, the guy fired him, saying he felt there were greener pastures for my friend.

My friend was the first black employee in that company and yet, it was that very blackness, that inability to conform, that resulted in the end of him. The thing is that his performance spoke for itself, his turnaround on projects was impeccable, there was no way they could fault him on that so ultimately it was his refusal to take part in a march he felt was "in the name of whiteness" that led to his demise.

So we can say what we feel. We can do as we please. We can exercise our freedom until such time that those we report to don't feel offended by our stance. We must be aware that these positions we take result in our branding: we are militant, we are combatant we are anti-white.

And so this begs the question, do we really have freedom of speech? Do we really have freedom of expression as granted explicitly in our beautifully written and globally praised constitution?

No, we don't. And so the duty of our generation is to fight the forces around us that make it difficult for us to speak up. We need to be the generation that fights for future generations to have an actual voice but we also need to know that we will not be the generation that gets to live and see that freedom.

Like Moses, our disobedience will see us walking through the desert for 40 years only to see the promised land, the land of milk and honey, upon a mountain top from the outside.