Celebrate democracy by voting tomorrow

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Standing on the lawn of the Union Buildings on 27 April 2014, President Jacob Zuma proudly said it had been 20 years since the dawn of freedom and democracy.   As he addressed the crowd on the occasion of this year’s Freedom Day celebrations, thoughts inevitably turned to the momentous happenings of 27 April 1994, when South Africans came out in their millions, forming long queues in villages, townships and suburbs, to cast their votes for the first time.

The President told the crowd:   “Most importantly, 1994 ushered in a new era of hope for all South Africans - a hope that the lives of the people would improve and that South Africa would be a better country than it had ever been.”

He emphasised that this has indeed happened, and that the vision of building a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist society, as envisioned by  Nelson Mandela remains on track.

Our democracy has been substantially strengthened since 1994. The supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law remain paramount. Courts function without fear or favour in accordance with the law and the Constitutional Court- the highest court in the land continues to safeguard our democracy. At the same time there is a clear separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.  

Our hard-fought democracy remains a beacon of what can be achieved when a nation comes together to build a new society from the ruins of the past.  The spirit of freedom and democracy which runs through our veins must be defended at all costs. 

Tomorrow, citizens will once again cast their vote in the nation’s fifth national and provincial democratic elections.   They do so assured that the election will be free and fair and knowing that their vote will be counted and their voice heard.

The government urges all South Africans to heed the call to vote as expressed by the President Zuma on Freedom Day.

“The precious right to vote was gained through relentless struggles and sacrifices. Therefore, on 7 May, let us go out in our millions to vote and celebrate our hard-won freedom and democracy.

“Let us vote to consolidate democracy and all the achievements of our young nation. And, as we did in 1994 and in subsequent elections, let us deliver peaceful, free and fair elections.”

Regular national, provincial and municipal elections are among the most notable characteristics of a democracy. However, elections do not take place in isolation, and are but one part of a thriving democracy.

Democracy in South Africa has many layers and has become part and parcel of the very fabric of our society.  It can be seen in our assurance of freedom of expression and the press. It is evident in our commitment to ensure that all are equal before the law, that all citizens have human dignity, the right to privacy, freedom of movement, religion and belief.

Built in our democracy is a system of checks and balances.  No institution or arm of government has absolute power; they are accountable at all times.  There are state institutions - Chapter Nine institutions - that serve to strengthen constitutional democracy.   

These institutions are independent and subject only to the Constitution.  They are impartial and must at all times exercise their powers and functions without fear, favour or prejudice.

The Auditor-General, Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector and other Chapter Nine institutions ensure that organs of state and the private sector are held accountable.  They have become a vital part of our democracy that along with a vibrant civil society continues to provide oversight.

As we look ahead to the next 20 years of freedom and democracy, we should rightly celebrate our achievements but never lose sight of those who sacrificed so that we may be free.

Twenty years on it might be easy to forget that South Africa is a better place to live. Our freedom was not free; it came through untold sacrifice by countless South Africans, many whom paid the ultimate price.

We should also recognise that we cannot claim to be truly free if countless fellow South Africans suffer the burden of poverty, inequality and unemployment.  Our common struggle now is to defeat this scourge as we enter the next decade of freedom. 

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)


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