OUR FREEDOM TO BE HEARD MUST NEVER BE COMPROMISED

SEPTEMBER 15 was a typically pleasant spring evening in Johannesburg. The wine flowed and there was music aplenty. The event was the celebration of the 30th birthday of the South African Special Risks Insurance Association, held at Constitution Hill, the home of the Constitutional Court.

SEPTEMBER 15 was a typically pleasant spring evening in Johannesburg. The wine flowed and there was music aplenty. The event was the celebration of the 30th birthday of the South African Special Risks Insurance Association, held at Constitution Hill, the home of the Constitutional Court.

After the guests exchanged pleasantries, the lights dimmed for the opening act. Drummers, resplendent in traditional Zulu garb, beat drums with gusto that could have awakened the gods.

They were followed by a stylishly dressed BEE-type character.

The suit recited a poem the purpose of which was sadly lost to me. My mind raced back a few years. Suddenly, the only voice I heard was that of the late actor Zakes Mokae admonishing People's Poet Mzwakhe Mbuli for what he deemed to be the latter's bad verse. The worst was still to come.

We were subjected to horrific scenes of the June 16 1976 Soweto uprisings, complete with police beatings and unarmed children being shot dead. Befuddled, I sent an SMS to one of the stalwarts of the uprisings in the audience to express my disgust at the unseemly exploitation of the struggle.

By the time Cyril Ramaphosa took to the podium to put matters into perspective, I was so worked up I felt like strangling him. I was so shocked at the obscenity of the bizarre sales pitch that I could not muster the strength to boo him off stage. I was clearly the odd one out. Everybody else seemed to be having a ball. I suddenly went religious, remembering a line somewhere in the Bible about wine having been made to gladden men's hearts. I drowned my sorrows.

That, combined with the energetic dance by the sinfully gorgeous women from Umoja, completed the trick. I left just after the Class of 76 was called on to the stage to be "honoured". I was forced to remember that depressing night by columnist Oupa Ngwenya's piece in Sowetan on Tuesday: "Never forget to tell your kids: freedom was never free."

Ngwenya, whom I've known since our struggle days in the Black Consciousness Movement, was praising Ramaphosa for "being in the politics of business without forgetting" the truism that our freedom was bought with the blood of thousands.

All that my comrade and I agree on is that the wining and dining was excellent, that Umoja's dance moves were bewitching, and that Abigail Kubeka was magical in taking us down memory lane.

Imagine how skewed the message would be if mine were the only voice on this matter. Thankfully, freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution.

The fact that we have a robust, independent media that can speak truth to power came at a huge cost. We will be forever indebted to the heroes of 1976. We would do well to redouble our efforts at ensuring that one of the freedoms they died for, the freedom to be heard, is enjoyed by all South Africans as we prepare to mark Media Freedom Day on October 19, also known as Black Wednesday.

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