K’naan’s evocative lyrics for Waving Flag start with the phrase: “When I get older, I will be stronger/They’ll call me freedom just like a waving flag.”
Many Khulumani members are much older now, but they’re not stronger –many are quite frail – and they’re not experiencing a waving flag of freedom, but ongoing poverty.
Unlike the sanitised Coca-Cola/World Cup version of the song, the original lyrics to K’Naan’s song, which is a reflection on his own childhood in war-torn Somalia, go on: “so many wars settling scores/bringing us promises, leaving us poor/i heard them say love is the way/love is the answer that’s what they say/but look how they treat us/make us believers make we/fight their battles then they deceive us . . .”
K’maan’s reflection on the broken promises made to his generation could well be sung about the promises made to Khulumani members – they or their families were part of the freedom struggle against apartheid. Promises were made about reparations and that perpetrators who had not received amnesty would be prosecuted. The reparations were not adequate and not what the TRC recommended. Government broke that promise. Government has taken so long to start prosecutions against the perpetrators, that many of these crimes have now “expired”. Only murder does not expire as a crime. Another broken promise of Government. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should have initiated these prosecutions in consultation with the victims of the crimes immediately after the closure of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). They did not, and now they may have delayed too long.
When K’naan sings that “i heard them say love is the way/love is the answer that’s what they say”, in South Africa what they said was “the TRC is the answer”. But many people couldn’t access the TRC, and those that did, have been profoundly let down – not in the least by it’s inability to ensure government followed up and secured adequate justice, tangible reparations and corporate accountability.
For most Khulumani members, those who went to the TRC and those who didn’t, the waving flag of freedom hasn’t “opened happiness” (as Coca Cola may have you believe) but has been only a small victory in the ongoing, everyday struggles for justice. Aluta continua!