South Africa today marks the 24th anniversary of democracy.
Known as Freedom Day and observed on the 27th of April every year, the day commemorates the first time all South Africans of legal age, across the colour spectrum, voted in the country’s first democratic general elections. Nelson Mandela became the country’s first democratically elected president.
This marked the beginning of a new chapter after decades of torturous apartheid rule, where thousands of lives were lost and many others destroyed in the struggle for equality.
On 27 April in 1994, almost 20 million South Africans queued to vote in the country’s first free and democratic elections. While the country’s citizens mark the momentous occasion with a public holiday, many will take the opportunity to reflect on the achievements that the country has recorded since 1994. The day is a time to also reflect on the work that still needs to be done to build a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
Government has indicated that this year’s celebrations will focus on five areas including deepening the understanding of where South Africa comes from and how democracy was achieved, and celebrating the legacy of struggle icons Tata Nelson Mandela and Mama Albertina Sisulu. Freedom Day will also celebrate the stories of the unsung heroes and heroines in society. It will showcase South Africa’s diverse background and culture; mobilise society around the implementation of Vision 2030, and inspire confidence and build a positive image of South Africa as a proud and caring nation.
Celebrations are taking place countrywide, with the main Freedom Day event taking place at Dr Petrus Molemela stadium in Bloemfontein, Free State, where President Cyril Ramaphosa will lead the event and deliver a keynote address.
By 07:30, locals had turned up in their numbers at the stadium ahead of the start of the event, with tight security in and around the venue.
SAnews spoke to two generations of South Africans — the pre-1994 and post-1994 (born frees) — to get their views on the state of the country 24 years into democracy. Both generations acknowledged the progress made in key areas such as health, education and access to basic services. However, they also noted the long road that lies ahead in addressing unemployment, poverty and inequality.
“Government can do more to curb poverty, crime and unemployment and [expedite land expropriation] — then we’ll be a step closer to being economically free as well,” said Vuyelwa Plaatjie, who turned up to celebrate Freedom Day.
Another youth, Tobi Kgaliya, acknowledged the work that is being done to level the playing field. “Government is really trying but the road ahead is still very long. At least there are a lot of opportunities for black people compared to the pre-1994 era. I can exercise my freedom of speech, even through social media, without having to worry about being censored.”
Others felt that government needs to put more effort into widening access and creating awareness of the opportunities available to young people to better themselves. More must be done to make rural youth aware of education and employment opportunities.
“I don’t think any of us can forget that day and where we come from as a country. We are free but still not truly free. Poverty is imprisoning us. Things are expensive and jobs are few. If government can work on that, then maybe we can celebrate better,” said Martha Molathloe.
Other residents like Lumka Mbambi raised complaints regarding poor water quality, lack of adequate sanitation, housing and evictions, as well as corruption in the province.
Freedom Day commemorations coincide with the centenary of the late former President Nelson Mandela and Mama Albertina Sisulu, a heroine of the liberation struggle. As such, the theme of the day is ‘The year of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: Towards full realisation of our freedom through radical socio-economic transformation’.