South Africa on Saturday took stock of the progress it has made over the course of its 25 years of democracy while also highlighting the challenges that persist.
This year’s Freedom Day, held at the Mili Yili sports grounds in Makhanda, commemorates 25 years since South Africans headed to the first democratic elections in 1994.
“On this day 25 years ago, we founded a new country defined by the principles of equality, unity, non-racialism and non-sexism. Despite the passage of time, it is a day we remember vividly – the exhilaration of seeing nearly 20 million South Africans of all races waiting patiently at polling stations around the country to cast their ballots.
“For those of a certain age, we remember the moment we placed a cross on a ballot paper for the first time in our lives. I remember voting at Kloof Gold mine in Westonaria among the mine workers who built the country’s wealth, but had never before been accorded the most basic right of citizenship,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The President was speaking at a packed marquee at the sports grounds where the national Freedom Day celebrations were held.
“On this Freedom Day, as we celebrate this great human achievement, we must reflect on how far we have travelled over the last quarter century.
“We must reflect on the progress we have made in setting right the wrongs of the past, in bringing development to communities where there was once only neglect, in restoring human dignity where there was once only contempt,” said the President.
Many a sacrifice were made to attain the freedom that many South Africans enjoy today with the country remaining “deeply unequal”.
Many divisions between the rich and poor, he said, remain even though employment has increased by eight million to a total 16.5 million South Africans being in employment.
“In the past 25 years considerable progress has been made in improving the material conditions of our people,” he said, adding that more than nine million learners today attend no-fee schools.
Among the many aspects of progress made, are that seven in 10 South Africans make use of the country’s network of primary health care, clinic and hospital facilities either entirely for free or for a minimal fee.
In addition, over 17 million social grants are paid to poor and vulnerable South Africans each month.
The South African economy has also doubled in size but despite “these remarkable achievements”, too many of our people still live in poverty.
“As we celebrate 25 years of democracy, we need to focus all our attention and efforts on ensuring that all South Africans can equally experience the economic and social benefits of freedom. We cannot be a nation of free people when so many still live in want.”
President Ramaphosa also spoke out against corruption, saying it must be uprooted.
“We must rid our country of crime and corruption and gender-based violence,” he said, adding that South Africa was able to fight against the apartheid regime and can again overcome current challenges.
He said that the country fought against the odds of colonial rule and apartheid and triumphed.
“Together we can overcome the challenges of the present. Regardless of race, creed, disability, sexual orientation, religion or social standing, we share as a source of pride the name “South African”. It belongs to each and every one of us, and we wear it with honour,” he said.
At the commemoration, the President asked those in attendance to stand for a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the recent floods in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
On Wednesday, he had announced that relief funds would be made available to assist communities and families affected by the floods.
He also sent his regards to the people of Mozambique following the landfall of cyclone Kenneth.
The President’s comments were reiterated by Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle, who said that government has responded the rains that befell the provinces.
“Government is responding to the cries,” said Masualle. – SAnews.gov.za