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Reflecting on 30 years of democratic gains

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While South Africa’s democracy is young, the significant strides made by government to improve the the lives of its people since 1994, cannot be denied.

Marking the historic milestone of reaching 30 years of democracy, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africans should not let detractors, whether they are abroad or in the country to diminish what government has achieved in 1994 and in the years that have followed.

“Over the course of three centuries, the dignity of the black inhabitants of this land had been deliberately and cruelly denied, first by colonialism and then by apartheid. Millions of black South Africans – African, coloured and Indian – were at the mercy of laws and practices that were enforced to serve the interests of a white minority.

“Their land was taken, their labour was exploited, their prospects were stunted,” the President said on Saturday in Pretoria.

On 27 April 1994, South Africa changed forever as millions of people went to the polls to cast their vote in the first democratic elections.

“Exactly thirty years ago on this day, freedom’s bell rang across our great land. On that day, as we cast our votes for the first time, a great heaviness lifted from our shoulders. Our shackles had been cast off. The weight of centuries of oppression was no longer holding us down,” the President said at the commemoration of Freedom Day held at the Union Buildings.

Today, thirty years later, the people of South Africa gathered as a united people of all races at the same Union Buildings that once symbolised pain and oppression.

“The progress that has been made in a relatively short period of thirty years is something of which we can and should all be proud. We have established a society founded on the rule of law and the premise of equality before the law.

“We have built democratic institutions and have rid our statute books of racist and sexist apartheid laws. As the democratic state, we have worked to restore the dignity of all the South African people, particularly the dispossessed, the marginalised and the vulnerable,” the President said.

To achieve this, government has sought to implement policies and programmes that advance equality and human dignity in areas like economic empowerment, education, health care, social support, and the provision of basic services.

Addressing challenges

“Although there have been setbacks, although we have faced challenges both beyond our borders and at home, our economy has tripled in size since 1994. While unemployment still remains our greatest and most pressing challenge, the number of South Africans in employment increased from eight million in 1994 to over 16.7 million now.

“Through affirmative action, broad-based black economic empowerment, worker share ownership programmes and progressive labour laws, we have brought about transformative change in South Africa’s boardrooms, in workplaces and on the shop floor,” the first citizen said.

In South Africa today, more than half a million workers are part-owners of the companies they work for. This is about one in every 20 workers in the formal private sector.

“The proportion of black people in senior management position in both government and business has increased many times over. Today, our social development system benefits all, providing vital support to the poor and vulnerable, women and children.

“The democratic state has, through its health care programmes, brought down child mortality, improved life expectancy and made important strides towards overcoming the HIV/Aids pandemic. Working together, we have opened the doors of learning and culture.

“We have invested in improving and building new schools, colleges and two new universities. We have vastly increased the number of matriculants, graduates and young skilled people. Although we have much further to go, we have worked to ensure that poverty is no barrier to a decent education,” the President said.

Government has also introduced no-fee schools and the school feeding programme. In addition, it has expanded funding to students from poor and working class families and are now focused on early childhood development.

Equality

“In South Africa today, our Bill of Rights is the foundation for a society rooted in equality regardless of race, gender, sex or sexual orientation. Women in South Africa today enjoy full equality before the law.

“As a society, we have made significant advances in giving effect to the rights of women. We have worked together to ensure that women are empowered in the home, in communities, in society and in the economy. [Women] have fought for equal representation in positions of responsibility in the state, in academia, in business, in sport, in culture,” the President said.

Close to half of the Members of Parliament, judges and magistrates are women. More than 60 % of public servants are women.

“In South Africa today, girls learn alongside boys in our primary and secondary schools and receive equal education. South Africa is a beacon of hope for the protections it affords to the LGBTQI+ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and intersex] community. Although we have much further to go, we have worked to overcome prejudice throughout society.

“We have sought to affirm the rights and improve the circumstances of persons with disabilities. We are still working to remove the barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from realising their full potential and living lives of comfort, security and material well-being,” he said.

Progress

Since the advent of democracy, government has pursued land reform, distributing millions of hectares of land to those who had been forcibly dispossessed and providing security of tenure to many others who had lived on the land for generations.

“We have built houses, clinics, hospitals, roads and bridges. We have brought electricity, water and sanitation into millions of homes.

“All those who cast their vote for a better South Africa in 1994 laid the foundation for a democracy that enhanced South Africa’s standing in the international community and opened up opportunities for engagement and cooperation,” the President said.

As a democratic country, the new South Africa was able to build alliances, negotiate trade agreements and participate in international organisations to advance the interests of its people.

Various sectors of society attended the celebrations including musicians Yvonne Chaka Chaka, PJ Powers as well as Ministers and Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi. Lesufi joined the President in dancing to the tunes of Grammy Award winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo who entertained the crowd at the festivities.

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