OPINION: Our imperfect transition to freedom

Between you and me how desperately how it aches how desperately it aches between you and me

so much hurt for truth so much destruction so little left for survival

where do we go from here

your voice slung in anger over the solid cold length of our past

how long does it take for a voice to reach another

in this country held bleeding between us

10 April, 1993. We all knew where we were when we heard the news of Chris Hani's assassination, just as 27 April, 1994, is etched in memory. "The solid cold length of our past," as Antjie Krog puts it so extraordinarily in Country of Grief and Grace, continues to be negotiated in 2016.

Recently, that wound has been reopened as Hani's murderer Janusz Walus makes another legal bid for parole. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and of the adoption of our final Constitution. Yet, today we seem to be a country fractured and unable to reconcile. A younger generation blames Mandela for 'selling us out' and the Constitution has been the scapegoat for all that is wrong in our society. That argument often ignores the complexities and historical context of the time as well as the role those in power play (or fail to play), in implementing the constitutional promise.

Looking back on the imperfections of our transition, the only thing that can be said with certainty is that transitions are imperfect and difficult. South Africa was fortunate to have wise and decisive leadership during those years and an ANC that was clear-minded about its vision of a constitutional democracy. But it also took "the people" to be part of waves of struggle in every sense.

Yet, this month, as we celebrate 22 years of freedom, we seem slightly less optimistic and enthusiastic, we trust our leaders far less than we did in those halcyon days, and at times we seem rudderless. Deepening levels of inequality have exacerbated race and class cleavages.

Just this week, Statistics South Africa released a damning report on the status of youth in our country. It examined issues of crime, employment and health, among other things, for the period 2009 to 2014. Already the ILO has found that South Africa has a youth unemployment rate of 52%, far higher than our SADC neighbours. Stats SA found that in the 25 to 34 year old age group, only one in three South Africans had a job. Much of this has to do with the failure of the post-apartheid education system. And so, the status quo is a rather bleak one.

Is it any wonder that our dialogue is brittle and blame is apportioned readily and angrily? When we disagree, we appear to not be listening; we turn up the volume and out-shout the other. Is apartheid to blame for our current ills, someone asserts, or the corruption prevalent across so much of the government? Perhaps it is all the fault of the liberal media? And so it goes on.

There seems to be no space for middle ground, or for one finding the other, only the anger of exclusion and unfulfilled promises. The South African reality is a nearly 25 percent unemployment rate and unsustainable levels of inequality.

As a country we clearly underestimated the apartheid legacy and the ability to create a "developmental state", too little emphasis was placed on mobilising citizens' energies for change and short-termism by the government compromised sustained transformation of society. There was an assumption that elected officials and public servants were incorruptible and the unintended consequences of policy choices were not adequately recognised and consensus was often "imposed".

As the National Development Plan (NDP) also contends, without a new development trajectory, South Africans will remain unequal, poor and lacking the cohesion necessary to live together peacefully. For we remain stymied by our difference. And violence, whether by state repression at Marikana, xenophobic attacks, or from one citizen to the other (whether on our university campuses or elsewhere) becomes a means of problem solving. Of course, we wait for government to provide more than lip service to the NDP itself.

Yet, as we see time and time again, there is something at the heart of society, a resilience that has seen us wrought the impossible despite our differences.

It is that spirit which the NDP calls on us to evoke. It will not be easy. In this country of great complexity and contradiction, our freedom is linked not only to economic emancipation and opportunity but also a sense of understanding and relating to "the other" across the ingrained fault lines of race and class.

The meaning of 27 April 1994 was about creating something new, grasping the urgency of a new development trajectory and reaching across divides so that this country lies "within" and not "between" us.

That is the triple challenge of Freedom Day this year.

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february