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Freedom Day: The Faces of South Africa's Freedom.

Freedom Day: The Faces of South Africa's Freedom

As South Africa celebrates Freedom Day, nine citizens with different lived experiences open up about what freedom looks, and feels, like for each of them.

South Africa's Freedom Day, celebrated annually on April 27, is a national holiday that commemorates the first democratic and post-Apartheid elections that ushered in its first Black president, the late Nelson Mandela. And while South Africa has been 'enjoying' its fledgling democracy for 27 years, freedom remains a markedly varied experience for different South Africans.

From differently abled individuals and Black women to members of the queer community, we spoke to nine South Africans from multiple walks of life to find out what freedom looks like for them and others like them. We also asked whether they feel free in South Africa, and what the country can do better going forward to ensure that the freedom they have always imagined can be realised during their lifetimes.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


​YoungstaCPT​ on South Africa's race-based freedom 

YoungstaCPT, Rapper

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"Freedom is a state of mind but also a very real reality. What freedom is, is a multi-loaded question and answer depending on which side of the fence you're standing on. Sadly, a lot of the answers are based on race, especially in South Africa. Personally I've only ever seen it in other parts of the world when I have travelled. Granted there is systemic oppression and inequality everywhere in the world but none quite like South Africa where it seems we keep going back further into turmoil.

Individually I feel free, but not as a people. All you have to do is look at the housing development crisis and the prison system to see who's free and who's not. Based on my observation, people of colour across the world are still very much oppressed, mentally and physically.

My 2019 album 3T spoke a lot about this but sadly, as a young man, I'm not even sure where to start sometimes. I do think our governmental structure has to change. At some point, those in power need to take responsibility for the nation's problems. If finances can be used for their actual purpose and put back into infrastructure, resources, education and healthcare, people will be able to overcome their daily challenges."

Thandi Skade on the strong link between freedom and inner peace

Thandi Skade, Content and communications specialist.

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"For me, freedom means not only finding, but attaining inner peace. Growing up, I can't say that I felt truly free. I only started experiencing true freedom the moment I let go of my constant pursuit of approval from others. That desperation to fit in and be accepted disappeared and suddenly I was comfortable in my own skin. Freedom, for me, is not being weighed down by the shackles imposed on you as a result of others' beliefs.

From a human rights perspective, I am free because I have access to certain liberties that were previously denied but speaking as a woman in this country, I don't feel free at all. With the scourge of gender-based violence occurring every single day, I feel that my agency to do live out my desires as and when I want to, has been taken away from me. I have to think through potential scenarios and weigh up the risks just to decide whether I should leave the house or not.

I think the journey to freedom is constant. It evolves and it requires continuous learning. It also requires a willingness to be open-minded and willing to try and see life from a wide range of perspectives."

Phuti Mosetloa on freedom being synonymous with access 

Phuti Mosetloa, Founder of Boswa Ke Bokamoso, an NGO that aims to bridge the gap between basic education and higher education, particularly in rural areas.

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"One thing I've learnt is that you never really see yourself as lacking until you learn of other people's experiences and compare them to yours. Poverty may seem normal. As a child, of course, you're not conscious to the concept of lack because a lot is provided for you and your sole purpose is to be a child.

I only became aware of what I had and what I lacked in high school — that five rand pocket money you received once, or twice, weekly and had to save in case there would be no pocket money the following week or those school trips that made you feel out of place because you were wearing your only 'good' clothes from last Christmas. Now as an unemployed graduate and single mother, I constantly have to negotiate between buying data and a pack of diapers.

For me, freedom looks like access — access to information, resources and opportunities. I want to walk into a local library and find content that speaks to me as a Black womxn. I want internet that connects effortlessly regardless of my geographical location. I want job prospects that are considerate of my socioeconomic background. I don't feel free with a life where I have to constantly negotiate living and surviving.

What this country needs is to account for its blunders and see us as worthy. Worthy of quality education, worthy of security, worthy of financial freedom and worthy of good healthcare."

Makgosi Letimile on the urgent need for accessibility and inclusivity

Makgosi Letimile, Disability Inclusion Consultant and Intergration Consultant.

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"I'm not free as a disabled person and Black woman in South Africa. Freedom is supposed to come with some sweet rewards but I don't get to enjoy any of those privileges. South Africa is not free for people living with disabilities, especially if you're Black. My hope is accessibility — I could never say this enough! Accessibility to everybody else might be just be about the road, the store or the area that you live in, but true accessibility also encompasses conversations, businesses and inclusivity in decision-making.

At the moment we're waiting for vaccines. The government had promised that the disabled, those living with co-morbidities and the elderly would be prioritised. However, our current reality has made me realise that it was all talk.

Accessibility is good for everybody because inclusivity means that the able-bodied get to live in our spaces without treating us as tokens or "feel-good" stories. When we're included as human beings, they'll see that our existence is a human experience as well. Disability is not something inspirational or that people need to be cautioned about. Being unable to leave the house, or to cross the streets, just because I'm in a wheelchair shouldn't be something that I contend with when I wake up every morning.

Freedom is accessibility and inclusivity. Until I'm able to access any place in Cape Town, or South Africa, without worrying about hurting myself, ruining my chair or not even being able to do it, I can never ever say that I'm free."

Keenan John Meyer on how liberating the mind is a pathway to freedom

Keenan John Meyer, Prized pianist.

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"Freedom, to me, is the epitome of enlightenment. If I am living free from attachments and the need to operate from a place that prizes the ego, then I am free from suffering. I am, then, exactly where I need to be with my deep faith in the Divine as my guiding light.

I don't believe I am free in South Africa. Until we are willing to accept the bitter truth regarding our relations with each other as a people, we can't be free because we are slaves to a system, and a way of thinking, that seeks to entrench divisions between us. As a queer and Coloured person, the intersectionality of my oppression in this country is not prioritised by those in power. It is utterly disgusting that President Cyril Ramaphosa has not uttered a word on the inhumane killings of members of the LGBTQIA+ community in recent weeks. Why has he fallen silent? If the person with the highest honour to serve the country can't even defend me in my time of need, then I am not free.

We have multiple bodies of work at our disposal which speak to the liberation of the mind as a means to accessing freedom. One of them was written by the late Steve Biko and that gospel still rings true — our power starts with a shift in how we view and think about ourselves."

Rofhiwa Maneta on the ever-elusive nature of South Africa's freedom

Rofhiwa Maneta, Writer.

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"Attuned to Fanon's definition of freedom as mapped out in Alienation and Freedom: "The disease is alienation. The cause is colonialism. The cure is revolution. The destiny is freedom." This is going to be a frustrating response but I don't know what freedom looks like — I'll probably know when we get there. I just know that it doesn't look like this. But, maybe in short, it's a life unencumbered by racism, capitalism, patriarchy and [insert any other -ism of your choice].

I feel free to some degree — and in some weird and perverse manner. I'm able-bodied, straight and middle-class. That makes maneuvering the world a whole lot easier. But that's also not real freedom because its foundation is made up of the bodies and lives of people with less privileges than me.

There's an album by Shabaka and The Ancestors called We Are Sent Here By History. The title alludes to the fact that history is circular — bound to repeat itself. The album ends off with a call to burn everything to the ground; burn every social structure that exists and just start from zero. I think that's the only way. There's nothing about South African life that can be reformed."

Janine Jellars on freedom being the ability to exist peacefully

Janine Jellars, Author of The Big South African Hair Book.

Image supplied.

"Freedom, to me, looks like living an existence free from anxiety around gender-based violence, crime, unemployment and poverty, and the rising cost of living. Freedom wouldn't feel like we're constantly being crushed by this massive capitalist machine. Freedom cannot be this level of despondency, pessimism and anger I feel at people in power for squandering so many opportunities to actually serve the people of South Africa. I think freedom is being able to sleep peacefully.

I don't feel free. I've said it a million times — a woman's body is one of the most dangerous places to be in South Africa. This is not to take away from the fact that the LGBTQIA+ community here is under attack. Until I am free to do something as mundane as taking an evening stroll without being accompanied by anxiety, a taser and pepper spray, how can I claim to be free?

I have little faith that any of our political leaders – across parties – have the ability to actually deliver meaningful change. Too many are in it for themselves. I think we'd need a massive change in how we think about leadership and citizenship. I was 10 years old when we had our first democratic elections in South Africa, and I remember the excitement as my mother and grandmother cast their first vote. This Freedom Day is probably the most pessimistic I've ever felt about the state of our nation."

Candice Chirwa defines freedom as a lack of worry around existence

Candice Chirwa, Menstruation Activist.

Image supplied.

"Freedom means leaving the house without thinking about whether this is going to be my last day. I am able to get in the back of an Uber or walk without having to worry about being physically assaulted, or attacked, based on my gender or appearance. I'm a very anxious Black woman who is living under the guise of being free when, in fact, that's not the case.

Freedom for me is, actually, the ability to just be free and not having to think about my existence. In the context of Freedom Day, we are all free from the the shackles of Apartheid which limited us socially and economically based on the colour of our skin. However, I think women are still experiencing some form of Apartheid based on our gender. We are told that we are free but the numbers and statistics tell us otherwise. The way we experience patriarchy tells us otherwise. The fact that a man can drive a whole car into a restaurant in Rosebank, because he can't handle rejection from his ex-girlfriend, tells you otherwise.

We need new leadership representation! I'm tired of old leaders rotating the same status quo — giving us the same responses when asked about women and young children dying at the hands of men. More than anything, I would love to see a fresh form of leadership that is young and representative of the youth's experiences and narratives on the ground. In terms of policy, I would love more regarding menstruation, better access to health in general, and sexual and reproductive health too."

Karabo Kobue on how a fresh start could lead to meaningful freedom

Karabo Kobue, Student leader.

Image supplied.

"Freedom for me is when, one day, the people of this land will be able to enjoy the fruits of this land — when people are given an opportunity to become anything they can possibly dream of.

I'm free to be an individual, but my freedom is restricted and threatened by various socioeconomic barriers. This shows that freedom is more than just liberation from racist past laws. For our country to achieve meaningful freedom, it means that we must start afresh. The end of Apartheid marked the first step in the realisation of freedom. For meaningful freedom to exist, we need to see more people like us being afforded opportunities to conqueror industries and spaces that are resistant to change.

We need transformation in all spheres, from our universities to the work spaces we hope to one day join. We need equity to help explore our potential and equitable socioeconomic support overall."

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Roye Okupe is Championing African Representation in Animation

We spoke with Roye Okupe about his studio, Iyanu getting adapted into an animated series, and storytelling for an African audience.

Roye Okupeisn’t holding back with African representation in the stories he tells. The Nigerian graphic novelist and filmmaker is the creator of Iyanu: Child of Wonder, which recently received a greenlight by HBO Max and Cartoon Network for adaptation into a 2D animated series.

“Growing up, I was a fan of animations, cartoons, but what I felt was missing was showing these stories [I was watching] from an African perspective,” Okupe told OkayAfrica. “So when I moved to the United States in 2002, it became a dream of mine to create superhero and fantasy stories inspired by African historical culture and mythology.”

In 2015, Okupe quit his full-time job as a web developer to pursue making comics and animation. That same year, he launched YouNeek Studios, and started bringing his vivid imaginations to life. His debut graphic novel, E.X.O: The Legend of Wale Williams, Part One, is a superhero story that blends Nigerian sensibilities with sci-fi motifs. He would also direct and produce a slew of animated projects, some of them adapted from his growing stable of comics publishing.

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Malika: Warrior Queen follows the adventures of the titular Malika, a warrior-ruler who protects her kingdom from evil forces amongst other stakes. It draws from real, historical accounts of warrior women from Nigeria, namely Queen Amina. For Okupe, telling the story was about filling in the vacuum of African representation in animation.

From weaving the YouNeek YouNiverse — his own spin on the Marvel Cinematic Universe — to scoring international deals on comics publishing and animated productions, the present moment speaks to how far Okupe has come. OkayAfrica got to speak with Okupe about his studio, Iyanu getting adapted into an animated series, and storytelling for an African audience.

As an independent creator, what has been the greatest challenge in bringing animated characters on screen, especially for a local African audience?

I think one of the biggest challenges has been financing projects. I didn’t have an investor when I started to finance my projects, but I was lucky enough to be one of the first to embrace using Kickstarter. So I financed all my books through Kickstarter, and that is a reason why I am grateful to the fanbase because they’ve been the ones that have supported my career and the company YouNeek studios as a whole.

One of the animated series I produced in 2019 was Malaika warrior queen, which was funded exclusively on Kickstarter. I did it in partnership with AntHill studios, which is one of the best-animated studios in Nigeria, and we were able to create a fifteen-minute short for Malaika, which was based on one of my graphic novels. Queen Amina of Zaza inspires the story; it’s a pre-colonial story that follows Malaika, both warrior and queen, and it focuses on that. So for me, funding and finances are the hard part.

You mentioned AntHill studios, and we know of the HBO Max adaptation of Iyanu. And with the news of the adaptation, people are worried it won’t have Nigerian and African creatives on it. Can you speak on this?

That’s a valid concern. If I weren’t part of the project, I would also have these concerns. But I am an executive producer on [the adaption], born and raised in Nigeria, which makes me a Nigerian creator. And HBO Max, Cartoon Network, and LionForge studios — who are partners and financing the project — have been kind enough to make sure I have a voice as the creator and one of the show's executive producers. So Godwin Akpan, who illustrated the books, will be our Art Director. We also have Femi Angubiade, one of the music composers, who is also Nigerian.

From the very early stage, HBO Max, Cartoon Network, and LionForge wanted the adaptation to be authentic. They knew that one of the ways to have authentic stories is to have authentic creators, so they’ve done their part in bringing Nigerian creatives. There’s a bunch of other Nigerian artists that are working on character designs and environment designs too. So I’ll tell people that as much as there is a concern, I feel they can rest easy knowing that Nigerians are working on this project. Our job is to create a fantastic show and something that will resonate with a global audience while staying true to Nigerian culture.

Among the graphic novels, comics, and animation under your belt, which medium do you resonate with most and why?

It’s hard to say that I resonate with one over the other because all of them offer something different. In the graphic novel and comic book space, it’s a chance to get intimate with your reader because people are taking their time to read the books and turn the pages. To some people, it can be a more immersive experience. With graphic novels, it is less expensive, so there’s a greater chance of longevity in terms of how many books you can continue to produce moving forward.

The animation medium also takes things to the next level with sound, movement, and motion; there’s much more you can do as a storyteller with animation. So I don’t necessarily have a favorite because they are two mediums I love, and they both do different things.

You created YouNeek YouNiverse to introduce audiences into a larger world of African superhero characters. How do you guide someone into this universe?

The books written in the YouNeek YouNiverse are written in a way that lets you start from any of the series. We have four graphic novels in the YouNiverse and Iyanu: Child of Wonder is arguably our most popular title. It is heavily inspired by Yoruba culture and history, and it follows the main character Iyanu as she goes on a journey when she discovers she has powers that rival the gods of her land. And it’s only with those powers that she can save her people from the corrupt; animals that have turned against humanity. Iyanu is a 13-year-old girl that wants to be normal, but she has to accept that she has an extraordinary life and step into an extraordinary journey to do what she was always meant to do, which is be the savior of Yoruba land.

So you can start from any of the graphic novels because it’s all set up in a way that doesn’t confuse you.

What’s the process behind the stories you choose to tell?

I like to center everything on character. So, as much as I like to create epic worlds and worlds that are very immersive, detailed, and deep, I always center them on character. That is, who is your character, what do they think they need versus what do they actually need, and how do you make them relatable, not just to Nigerians or black people, but to anybody that is going to be reading your book in any part of the world. Because, at the end of the day, we are all human beings, and there are certain things we all share. So to me, it’s about starting with a relatable character, fitting them into a larger-than-life world, and seeing how they deal with the struggles of those worlds and how they overcome them. It starts with that and then trying to find out from the character, where the story is, how long it would be, and what are the main arcs. Then, I try to find a villain worthy of the hero we’re creating. You want to create a villain that isn’t one-dimensional, but somebody who you can see where they are coming from and whose methods put them in the [villain] category.

Building the world with the characters comes next because once I have the story written down, I start to work with the team of artists. They also bring things to the table that I don’t see. Once we have the pages and the stories, we send them off to the publisher, Dark Horse Comics. I am fortunate to have signed a 10-book deal with them in 2020.

You mentioned signing a 10-book deal with Dark Horse Comics. What does it mean for ongoing conversation on inclusivity in comics?

Dark Horse is a fantastic company that is creator-driven. They let me do what I want with the books, and they don’t get in my way, which I am grateful for. They’re one of the companies that not just talk about diversity but put their money where their mouth is, so signing a 10-book deal with a creator is no small feat. And that goes on to show how much they believe in me, our artists, the YouNeek YouNiverse, and how much they are committed to getting stories from different voices around the world to a global audience.

It’s a partnership that has been going well, and I hope to continue to go well.

Is the freedom they give you the reason why you went with them, or are there other reasons?

Yes, the freedom to create what I want to make is one of the reasons why I went with them. Dark Horse Comics is a great company and a top publisher with a huge legacy in terms of what they’ve done in the comic books industry. Therefore, the fact they were offering a 10-book deal — which is unprecedented as they’ll usually offer a two-book deal and take it from there — showed how serious they were about the success of the YouNeek YouNiverse and YouNeek studios. And that was part of the reason I went with them.

Generally, what does your accomplishments mean for aspiring storytellers that hope to highlight their cultural backgrounds through the lens of animation?

I would say that I hope the things I have achieved open a wider door for the people that are coming after me because the accomplishments of the people that were ahead of me is why I’m here today. I’m just here to follow in their footsteps and use whatever resources I can to provide opportunities for other people — to put African creatives and creators on a global stage. I hope that is something that can spark a lightbulb in people’s heads to say that Africa is the next frontier for entertainment, not just in comics and animations, but in film and television, and video games too.


Iyanu volume 1 is out, and volume 2 will be out next month. You can grab it online, and everywhere books are sold while waiting for the animated series.

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