20 Years of Freedom: A timeline

Thursday, May 1, 2014

From the historic Rugby World Cup in 1995 to the first ever soccer World Cup to be played on African Soil, South Africa has become the centre of attention since its democratic elections in 1994.  Chris Bathembu looks at some of the historic moments in the country’s history over the past 20 years.

1994: National Flag adopted

One of the symbolic moments in 1994 was no doubt the adoption of the National Flag.

The horizontal "Y" shaped flag with its red, white, green, yellow, black and blue colours, became a symbol of national unity. The occasion marked a new beginning for a nation bruised by years of segregation and inequality.  The flag replaced the flag that had been used since 1928.

I remember I was in standard 2 (Grade 4) when I first held the new South African flag in my hand. At the time, I had no idea if there was an old flag and it was only in later years that I was made aware of this fact.  Twenty years later, the South African flag has become a regular feature during major events hosted in the country and it can be seen flying in every state and public building.

1995: The Rugby World Cup

I was only 12 years old, but I can never forget the throngs of people at Ellis Park Stadium, who chanted ‘Nelson, Nelson, Nelson’ as Nelson Mandela entered the stadium to congratulate the Springboks on their victor over New Zealand during the 1995 Wold Cup final.

It was a big moment in South Africa, one that Mandela tactically used to unite the nation.  Black people had a historic dislike for the Springboks, a team they associated with apartheid. But Mandela chose to wear a Springbok jersey and a cap on that day to foster unity and reconciliation among South Africans of all race groups. It was a classic moment that will remain in the minds of many South Africans for many years to come.

Mandela and Springbok captain Francois Pienaar's involvement in the World Cup is the subject of the 2009 film Invictus.

1996: The TRC

It is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of 1996 that made many of us realise that the truth really hurts. But as hurtful as it was, it is probably the process of the TRC that truly made South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy the unique experience it was, one that remains the model of the continent of Africa to this day.

The TRC was based on the final clause of the Interim Constitution of 1993 and passed in Parliament as the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No 34 of 1995. It was set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with what happened under apartheid.

Even though as a country we could not undo the injustices of the past, even though families had lost loved ones, it was felt that as a country, we needed a way to heal and the only way to do that was to confront the past, ugly as it was. The TRC did provide healing for a nation wounded by years of conflict and exploitation. 

During the same year, Bafana Bafana won the African Cup of Nations tournament.

1997: National Anthem adopted

There are very few South Africans who cannot sing the national anthem in full. Even those who struggle, it’s probably a matter of pronunciation. Ask any South African, 20 years into democracy, the national anthem is a widely accepted national song. We are probably the only country in the world to incorporate five different languages in one national anthem -- another unique South African experience.  The South African national anthem is a ‘rainbow’ in its own right, as it combines the new English lyrics adopted in 1997 with extracts of the old hymn Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika and parts of the Afrikaans version Die Stem van Suid-Afrika.

1998: TRC final report

After almost three years of work, South Africa’s TRC delivered its final 3 500-page report to President Nelson Mandela on 31 July 1998. It was based on years of testimony from the people who ran the 1960-1994 white-government and their victims.

1999: Elections

President Nelson Mandela announced June 2 as the date for South Africa's second democratic election, a vote that will mark his retirement from office.  Thabo Mbeki would become South Africa’s second democratically elected President. The Democratic Party became the largest opposition party, after being the 5th largest party in the 1994 elections. The number of parties represented in the National Assembly increased to 13, with Bantu Holomisa’s UDM among the new comers.

2000: Coat of Arms adopted

On 27 April a new Coat of Arms was introduced. The motto, !ke e: /xarra //keis, is written in the Khoisan language of the /Xam people and translates literally to "diverse people unite". The new Coat of Arms replaced the one that served South Africa since 17 September 1910. The change reflected government's aim to highlight the democratic change in South Africa and a new sense of patriotism.

2001: World Conference against Racism

The country hosted the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) at the Durban International Convention Centre from 31 August – 8 September. The conference, also known as Durban I, dealt with several controversial issues, including compensation for slavery and the actions of Israel.

2002:  Hector Pieterson Museum opens in Soweto

The museum is named after one of the first casualties of the march through Soweto on 16 June 1976, when police shot at demonstrating students. Pieterson was only 13 years old when he was shot dead by the police.

In April 2002, Mark Shuttleworth became the first South African in space. He was a member of the crew of Soyuz mission TM34 to the International Space Station. Shuttleworth spent eight days aboard the space station, where he conducted scientific experiments for South Africa.

2003: Cricket World Cup

The 2003 International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup was co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. This edition of the World Cup was the first to be played on African soil. In the final, Australia made 359 runs for the loss of two wickets -- the largest ever total in a final -- defeating India by 125 runs.

2004: Elections

South Africa held its third democratic elections, which marked a decade of democracy. A total of 20.6 million people were registered to vote, making it two million more than the 1999 elections. Approximately 76% of the registered voters cast their ballots. The ANC received 67.7% of the votes. President Thabo Mbeki was inaugurated for a second term in office.

2005: 50th anniversary of Freedom Charter

The Freedom Charter was the statement of core principles of the South African Congress Alliance, which consisted of the ANC and its allies - the South African Indian Congress the South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People's Congress. It was adopted in Kliptown in 1955 and declared "The People Shall Govern!"

2006: Same-sex marriages legalised

South Africa's Cabinet gave the green light for a bill allowing same-sex marriage, which would make it the first country in Africa and fifth country in the world to accord homosexual couples the same rights as their straight counterparts to allow legal marriages between same-sex couples with the promulgation of the Civil Unions Act. On 30 November 2006, South Africa legalized same sex marriages.

The same year, South African film, Tsotsi, won an Oscar.

2007: Rugby World Cup

Springboks beat England (15-6) in the Rugby World Cup Final at the Stade France in Paris.

South Africa officially assumed its seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council following elections held on 16 October 2006 in the United Nations General Assembly.

South Africa was selected for the first time as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the period 2007/08.

2008: Xenophobic attacks

A series of attacks against mainly foreign nationals started in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, and was rapidly followed by others within northern Johannesburg. The spread of xenophobic attacks escalated to settlements in Ekurhuleni and some parts of central Johannesburg, including Randfontein, western Gauteng.

2009: Mandela Day launched

Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday also marked the inaugural Mandela Day. After the success of this first Mandela Day, the United Nations adopted it as a day for global humanitarian action, calling it “Nelson Mandela International Day”.

South Africans voted for the 4th time in general elections. Jacob Zuma was elected President.

2010: The Soccer World Cup

On June 11, the FIFA World Cup kicked off in the packed Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, with hosts South Africa taking on Mexico. Host nation South Africa got their continent's first World Cup off to a thrilling start by scoring the tournament's opening goal in a spirited 1-1 draw with Mexico. Approximately 85 000 spectators attended the match, while millions more watched on public viewing screens all over the country.

During the same year, South Africa was formally invited to become the fifth member of BRIC, the acronym for the association of four major emerging national economies including Brazil, Russia, India and China. With the addition of SA, the bloc expanded its name to BRICS.

2011: Census

South Africa conducted its third census. In October 2012, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) released the results of its 2011 census, the third official census since the advent of democracy. It revealed that between the first and the third post-apartheid census, the population grew by just over 11 million to 51.7 million and 79.6% of the population is Black.

In the same year, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was successfully held in Durban.

2012: SKA

On 25 May, the members of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation announced that the SKA telescope would be split between Africa and Australia, with a majority share of the telescope destined to be built in South Africa. All the dishes and the mid frequency aperture arrays for Phase II of the SKA will be built in Southern Africa.

2013: Nelson Mandela dies

A sad day in the history of South Africa and the world, 5 December, as South Africa’s first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela passed away. He was buried in Qunu in the Eastern Cape on 15 December 2013.

South Africa hosted the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, also known as the Orange Africa Cup of Nations, for the second time after the original host Libya was stripped of its hosting rights due to the Libyan civil war. It was the 29th Africa Cup of Nations the football championship of Africa organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

2014: Elections

South Africa will hold its 5th democratic elections on May 7, as the country marks 20 years of Freedom and Democracy.

*Additional information sourced from South African history online

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