On Freedom Day South Africans celebrate the miracle of our transition from Apartheid rule to one person one vote democracy.
Those of us who were there on 27 April 1994, who voted for the first time, will never forget that day. We will never forget the long lines, miles and miles long where people patiently lined up to cast their vote. Old people were brought along in wheel barrows in rural areas just to that they could do the one thing they had been deprived of all their lives – Vote.
Road to Democracy
South Africa’s road to democracy was a long and difficult one. Since the arrival of the white man at the Cape in 1652, the indigenous peoples of South Africa came under white control and domination. Over the years as the white man prospered all peoples of colour were denied the vote and hence a say in the running of the country.
The South Africa I was born into in the late 50’s was never truly independent nor democratic. Sure it was prosperous – for the white minority. (Sadly many people of my skin colour still hold on to those so called “good old days”).
The exclusion of the majority of South Africans from political power was at the centre of the liberation struggle and resistance to white minority rule.
Despite much opposition to white rule to halt white encroachment on black land in South Africa, blacks were systematically herded into restricted areas – townships – and homelands and their rights to equal opportunity denied.
On Freedom Day we celebrate the relentless efforts of those who fought for liberation, of the many men and women who took up arms and courted imprisonment, bannings and torture on behalf of the oppressed masses.
Celebration of 27 April 1994
Freedom Day on 27 April is an annual celebration of South Africa’s first non-racial democratic elections of 1994. It is significant because it marks the end of over three hundred years of colonialism, segregation and white minority rule and the establishment of a new democratic government led by Nelson Mandela and a new state subject to a new constitution.
The 1994 election paved the way towards a new democratic dispensation and a new constitution for the country. The elections took place in a peaceful and festive atmosphere, though there were threats of political violence.
Of South Africa’s 22, 7 million eligible voters, 19.7 million voted in the 1994 national election. The election was won by the ANC with 62.65 % of the vote. The National Party (NP) received 20.39 %, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) 10.54 %, Freedom Front (FF) 2.2 %, Democratic Party (DP) 1.7 %, Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) 1.2 % and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) 0.5 %. Although the ANC gained a majority vote, they formed the Government of National Unity, headed by the president of the ANC’s Nelson Mandela who became the first democratically elected President of the country.
Freedom is still in the Future
It is important to note however, that “freedom” should mean emancipation from poverty, unemployment, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. We are 25 years into our new democracy and many of these issues are still rife in our country.
We are still a long way away from solving many of the legacies of Apartheid and now face new challenges, like the growing inequality among South Africans and political and economic instability in the region caused by a new elite who are interested in pursuing their own interests.
On the first commemoration of the holiday, President Nelson Mandela addressed Parliament:
“As dawn ushered in this day, the 27th of April 1994, 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. And so we assemble here today, and in other parts of the country, to mark a historic day in the life of our nation. 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.”
On this Freedom Day 2019, we must once again pledge to devote ourselves to continue to work to wipe out the legacy of racism in our country. Inequality is our enemy, not our brothers and sisters. Together we need to ensure that all our people enjoy the long deserved freedoms not merely as theoretical rights but they must form the daily life experience of all South Africans.