For those old enough to remember watching the moment live, there would have been fewer geopolitical moments as poignant as South Africa’s first free elections in 1994. That this seminal event is now three decades old, an entire generation – is a sobering reminder of the inevitable passage of time. 

However, this anniversary is not just an invitation to sombre reflection for South Africa but a point of inflection for the rest of Africa and her global Diaspora. That reflection should help realign our relationship with and understanding of the notions of freedom. What does it mean to be free as Africans today? How does freedom manifest itself in our economic, social, political, and cultural spheres? What price are we willing to pay to protect them? How are we directly complicit in the erosion of our freedoms at all levels of our polities, by being dismissive of the recognition that while any of us are not free, none of us are?  

Of course, this is not an occasion for unabashed celebration either. South Africa certainly has not got everything right since its independence from the tyranny of apartheid. It was only two years ago when a World Bank report described South Africa as the most unequal country in the world. Nevertheless, we should also be considering how we utilise our freedoms in a way that infuses us with a renewed sense of purpose, optimism, and even, pride. And yes, with the determination to protect freedoms and human rights for all. 

It is also poignant to reflect on the fact that South Africa’s freedom anniversary this month coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. These two moments provide an opportunity to reflect on the different dimensions of freedom. We must equip the younger generation with appropriate tools to access histories of how their freedoms were fought for and won, and the role they need to play in using yesterday’s successes as tomorrow’s platform for true independence and human development across the continent. Additionally, it is also of course going to be imperative that we define freedom for ourselves as the opportunity for the intellectual and emotional emancipation that will help us to cast off unhelpful but deeply ingrained notions that in many ways are the biggest challenges to the continent reaching the fullness of its potential. These are the premises at the heart of our Elimu Education programme. It is apt that a South African is supporting us in raising funds for this effort by completing the London Marathon last weekend – thanks and well done, DJ MDKay!

And so, I raise a glass to South Africa, and to all our elders and ancestors whose collective struggle across the global African Diaspora gained the freedoms that we enjoy today. May their inspiration be a light that guides us through our challenges to the manifestation of joy.

The path to freedom is always difficult, but it is worth fighting for." - Kenneth Kaunda, First President of Zambia.

Coincidentally, it's Dr Kenneth Kaunda's birthday centenary celebration this weekend, 28th April. Zambia also celebrates its 60th independence anniversary this year. Just a month after attaining independence in 1964, newly elected President Kaunda was in London and officiated the opening of The Africa Centre's old home in Covent Garden!

Olu Alake


Other Big Moments of the Past Month:

  • Nigeria and Cameroon have signed a historic cooperation framework agreement to enhance transboundary ecosystem conservation and sustainable management of forest and wildlife resources.
  • DRC appointed their first female Prime Minister – Congratulations Madam Judith Tuluka! 

In Culture:

  • Congratulations to all the African exhibitors at the Venice Biennale. Nine African nations—Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Cameroon, South Africa, Namibia, Uganda, Nigeria, and Egypt—were present at the ‘Olympics of the contemporary arts’ this year. 
  • And congratulations to Soul II Soul on the 35th anniversary of their ground-breaking Club Classics Vol 1 album. We were pleased to have the opportunity to discuss The Africa Centre’s role in supporting the emergence of Soul II Soul in the 1980s.