Every year on 27 April, South Africa celebrates Freedom Day. But in spite of Freedom Day celebrations being held across the country, one can’t help but ask how free the ordinary citizen in South Africa really is.
Celebrating Freedom Day in South Africa
On 27 April 1994 the world sat in tense anticipation of a civil war to break out in South Africa. However, the first democratic national election held in South Africa, took place in a peaceful and festive atmosphere and with very few incidents. The picture of a line of people, snaking through streets or bushes, waiting for their turn to cast their vote for the first time, will be burnt into the memory of humanity forever.
What was expected to be a day of violence and even the start of a civil war, saw the coming together of a Rainbow Nation, led by late President Nelson Mandela. For many South Africans, 27 April 1994 was the first true Freedom Day.
Freedom Day is the symbol of Nelson Mandela’s dream of a free nation
Nelson Mandela’s dream was that every man, woman and child in South Africa would one day be free from all forms of oppression.
Today, Freedom Day is an annual celebration of this landmark day in the history of South Africa. This day was the start of a new, democratically led country. The first post-Apartheid government, elected in 1994, was led by Nelson Mandela and aimed to correct the wrongs of the past. The struggle against Apartheid was over. There was a non-white president and a new-found freedom for all the citizens of this beautiful country, regardless of race, ethnicity, age or gender.
Speaking at the first Freedom Day celebrations, President Mandela said:
As dawn ushered in this day, the 27th of April 1995, few of us could suppress the welling of emotion, as we were reminded of the terrible past from which we come as a nation; the great possibilities that we now have; and the bright future that beckons us. Wherever South Africans are across the globe, our hearts beat as one, as we renew our common loyalty to our country and our commitment to its future. The birth of our South African nation has, like any other, passed through a long and often painful process. The ultimate goal of a better life has yet to be realised. On this day, you, the people, took your destiny into your own hands. You decided that nothing would prevent you from exercising your hard-won right to elect a government of your choice. Your patience, your discipline, your single-minded purposefulness have become a legend throughout the world…
Since that day, South Africa has had 3 presidents but no other has had as profound an impact as Nelson Mandela had on the country and the world as a whole. The whole world mourned when he passed away. He was loved by many.
Freedom Day behind barbed wire
How free is the everyday citizen in South Africa, since it has been 20 years since the first democratic elections? Opinions differ. A few feel that they are free, since they have the right to own a house anywhere in the country, their children can attend a school of their choice and all citizens over the age of 18 are allowed to vote in elections.
Talking to the man on the street, he tells you a different story. How free is he if his new house is surrounded by burglar bars and wired mesh and he always has to have the alarm system in his house activated to warn of possible intruders?
How free is the young woman who could study at any university but is now part of the hordes who just cannot find a job, no matter how menial?
How free is the person who is lucky enough to have a job but can be shot and killed for the money in the till at any point?
How free is the child who can now attend any school if his parents cannot find employment and cannot pay for even his basic needs?
How free is the person who votes in the election but the only one who is sure of a job and protection against violence and crime, is the person he voted for?
How free is the child who goes to sleep hungry in a shack, while the president of the country lives in a compound that cost more than all the children in his village put together can ever dream of?
Since political freedom in 1994, South Africans have tried to correct the wrongs of the past. Yet, they are still plagued by a number of challenges such as crime, poverty, unemployment, racism, sexism and AIDS.
Citizens of South Africa, I salute you
On this Freedom Day, I salute everyone who calls himself a South African, for his bravery and patriotism and the part he plays in making the world a better place. I was born and raised in this beautiful country and I know the steel that forged every South African.