South Africa comes of age on Freedom Day


28 April 2015

As South Africa entered its third decade of freedom on 27 April, President Jacob Zuma recommitted his government to the vision of building a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

“We recommit ourselves as government to ensure that all policies and plans that we develop and implement, build a better future for our children and the youth,” he said at the official Freedom Day celebrations on the lawns of the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Freedom Day this year was celebrated under the theme: “Celebrating the third decade of our freedom through accelerating radical economic transformation.”

The mood was more sombre than in previous years among the hundreds of people at the official celebrations, with some wearing T-shirts condemning the recent attacks on people from other African countries.

For 47- year -old Martha Mamonyane from Mamelodi, freedom means equality and expression. “For me, to be free is to be able to complain and take to the streets without fear of being arrested,” she said. “I still have complaints; there are no jobs, but we have come a long way as a country. For example, my grandchildren go to non-racial schools.”

Plenty of possibilities

Tinyiko Maluleka, 23, said he felt that he lived in a country that was alive with possibilities. “I think maybe there’s some hope. We might need 30 years after 1994 for everyone to fully see the outcomes of our freedom but I believe we are not far from the right track. For now, I am grateful that I can do my own thing and be openly gay [and] no one can tell me anything.”

Mandy Sithole, 31, was moved by how South Africans were coming together, despite some “intolerances” from a few people in the country. “No matter what, South Africans always come together. For example, people from all walks of life stood together in condemning the attacks on our African brothers and sisters in certain parts of the country,” she said.

“We united in saying not in our name and time, which is one of our best traits as a country.”

Sithole also felt that the country was doing well in promoting individual rights and freedoms. “We now all have rights, but our need to emphasise the fact that our rights do come with responsibilities. Many still need to be educated and more progress can be done in this regard.”

But not everyone was optimistic. Emmanuel Chaane (37) said there were a lot of things happening in South Africa which he felt needed to be addressed speedily. “We still have poverty, crime like we still kill two-year-old kids, rape our children and of course unemployment. that’s not freedom,” said Chaane, who attributed most of these ills to the sense of laziness.

“Having said that we have our little positives. I think South Africa has a lot to offer for those who want to be in it. We have, to a large extent, political freedom and freedom of association.”

A better future

The president told the large crowd filling the white marquee that the country was in a much better place than it was 21 years ago, despite its challenges. “Millions of people now have access to education, health care and water which they did not have in 1994. We continue to explore ways to improve quality education. We continue to implement programmes which will lead to economic freedom.”

The government would use the National Development Plan to achieve the type of society South Africa wanted in 2030. The government had also put in place other programmes to reach these goals, such as Operation Phakisa, the massive industrialisation and infrastructure programmes. These were set up to include in the economy previously disadvantaged people, women, youth and people with disabilities.

“We are still learning but we are determined,” Zuma said. “We are working to build a future where every citizen of our country lives in a community with proper infrastructure, be it a road, school, clinic, recreational facilities, a community hall, electricity, water and sanitation. We are building communities that have effective and responsive police stations and community policing forums, and where the people and the police work together to fight crime.”

Democratic elections

South Africa marked 21 years since its first democratic elections, held on 27 April 1994. This year also marks the 60th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter, the historic road-map to the country’s struggle for freedom and ultimately the achievement of democracy.

Given the country’s harsh realities, the government should make the economy receptive to employing young people. This would enable them to create their own jobs through becoming entrepreneurs. The president called on the business sector and labour to work with the government to implement the youth employment accord and to provide opportunities for young people.

“We want to end the feeling of hopelessness and frustration among the youth, particularly in the townships and rural villages.”

For his part, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said democracy was a fundamental basis to any freedom. To achieve a fully democratic country, South Africa needed to mobilise society as a whole.

It is for this reason that the country needed to rely more on the energies and intuition of its people to achieve its goals. “We have a good story to tell. However, we need a radical action to transform and tackle poverty, unemployment and inequality,” he said, adding that democracy had its own problems.

“We are coming of age, we are now much noisier. but problems should be solved through democracy and not violence.”