As South Africans commemorate the 22nd anniversary of Freedom Day today, Wednesday April 27, the Athlone News spent some time with Dr Franklin Sonn, who shared his thoughts on where we come from, where we find ourselves now and where we are heading to as a nation.
Dr Sonn, a former Belgravia Estate resident, former South African ambassador to America, former Spes Bona High School principal, and former rector of the then Peninsula Technikon, says he still holds Athlone close to his heart, and once in a while, he goes back there just to experience the community’s warmth.
Speaking about South Africa’s transition from apartheid to a democratic state, Dr Sonn said this was nothing short of a miracle.
“People wondered how it was possible that the transition from prison to government went so smoothly,” he said, adding however, that comrades often discussed, philosophised, and debated how to create a better world.
“We haven’t truly adopted the liberation philosophy of Oliver Tambo – which is to do everything in our power to bring about change and democracy – but with that, taking control over all aspects to elevate society to higher values and create unity among all races. Tambo wrote about it in his books – making room for everyone – and Mandela put it into practice.
“Yes, we must enjoy our freedom, but we must also take responsibility, and realise our gains come from the labour of our parents. We cannot have a continuation of our action (which was used to fight apartheid) to bring about change and act as builders of a new society,” Dr Sonn said.
Referring to recent student protests involved in the #FeesMustFall campaign, Dr Sonn said he supports the idea of using their “revolutionary spirit” to protest, but there are limits.
“We must not lose our youthfulness, passion and impatience, but we must be more creative to bring about the necessary changes in a non-destructive way. Lots of achievements have been made through non-violence. In the struggle we never agreed anyway to smash public assets, because we knew we did need them. Don’t destroy your gains.”
The one good thing about President Jacob Zuma and his Nkandla homestead saga, Dr Sonn said, was that it created awareness around the country’s constitution.
“He (Mr Zuma) made us aware that our future is in our hands. People are now more aware of the constitution since the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela used it. More and more voices must go out – to say what ought to be and what ought not to be. Our country’s education is not sufficient. The constitution makes provision for free education. We can’t have beautiful campuses, but exclude people based on economics. The governance of basic education is putrid, not just by government, but by parents and the community. You cannot destroy schools. You cannot use old methods for redress – as if we don’t have a constitution. We must help to educate people, and not just throw our hands in the air.”
And his thoughts on South Africa’s future?
“In the 1980s people also felt we were heading for a dump, and that we would destroy the country. We are going through tough times, yes, but it’s not like it’s going to be like that all the time. Young people who want to leave the country must realise that crime is everywhere, and that there’s no running away. We will survive and be great again. I don’t despair. We mustn’t participate in doomsday talk. We must retain the faith.”
* Dr Sonn has been honoured with 13 honorary doctorates. He has sat on the boards of more than 25 companies, many of them JSE-listed, and often as chairman. He also played a key role in the transformation of education in the country and in providing access to it. He has won many awards for his life’s work, including The International Salute Award in honour of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr – “For working to Keep the Dream Alive” in 1996.