Pastor’s Corner for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B, by Fr. Bruce Botha SJ

On Saturday 27 April South Africa celebrated Freedom Day, as it was on this day in 1994 that 19.7 million South Africans lined up to vote, most for the first time in their lives. This was the birth of true democracy in South Africa. In the three quotes below prominent South Africans share their thoughts on freedom, the freedom for which they spent their lives fighting.


“The fight for freedom must go on until it is won; until our country is free and happy and peaceful as part of the community of man, we cannot rest… We seek to create a united democratic and non-racial society. We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity.” – Oliver Tambo

“Democracy is about the freedom to choose, the freedom to change your mind. All of them also recognise that out of all the rights that come with a democracy, none is more important than the right to vote and, more importantly, the right to change one’s mind and vote a political party out of power if it is failing to deliver.” – Helen Zille

“As dawn ushered in this day, few of us could suppress the welling of emotion as we were reminded of the terrible past from which we have come as a nation; the great possibilities that we now have; and the bright future that beckons us.” – Nelson Mandela

The gift of democracy, where people participate in a meaningful way in their own governance, should not be taken for granted. Unless the gains of democracy are jealously guarded, we run the danger of becoming a kleptocracy, where the powerful and corrupt hollow out state owned enterprises and state-owned enterprises for their own benefit. This was a fate we narrowly avoided under the then president, Mr Jacob Zuma.


We also run the risk of becoming a populist totalitarian state, with little toleration for legitimate differences of opinion. If you think this is far-fetched, observe the political rhetoric of some political leaders, and how their discourse is focused on dividing people into “them” and “us”, with us being good and them being bad. It is not uncommon in such a system for the “them” to be persecuted in one way or another. Are we a China or Russia in the making?


On the 29th of May South Africans are again given the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to vote for a party of their choice to lead South Africa at national and provincial levels. In our first democratic election 87% of South Africans eligible to vote did so. In the last General Election of 2019 only 66% of those eligible to vote did so. One million fewer people voted in 2019 than in 1994.


Is the greatest danger to democracy our own apathy? Have we been disappointed so many times that we no longer have faith in the system? It is my fervent prayer that we South Africans will no longer consider voting as simply a right but as a sacred obligation. In our vote we speak for future generations, we speak for all of those who have not yet tasted the fruits of freedom.


Fr. Bruce Botha SJ