20th Anniversary of Freedom and Democracy in South Africa

Soni's photoOn 27 April 1994, South Africa cast aside centuries of discrimination and oppression to form a new society built on the foundation of freedom and democracy. It marked the end of apartheid rule and an introduction of a new Constitutional order, wherein all work towards a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society based on justice, equality, the rule of law and the inalienable human rights of all. Our national symbols, our flag and our anthem are synonymous with the shared values and the unity of our nation. A national identity has emerged built on a respect for each other and our love for the country that we all call home.

However, we must never forget that our road to democracy was not easy and was achieved because of the unyielding sacrifice of thousands of patriots. During apartheid behaviour which is considered normal in a free society was criminalised. There was no freedom of speech, no freedom of association or movement. Apartheid intended to strip away every ounce of dignity and humanity of black people but did not succeed. Our freedom was not free, it came about thanks to the role of ordinary South Africans who struggled against apartheid, often at great personal cost.

The year 2014 presents an opportunity for the people of South Africa, the continent and the rest of the world to join us in celebrating the South African story. And the South African story is a good story to tell.

These celebrations offer us an occasion to reflect on how our freedom and democracy were achieved, the progress we have made during the past 20 years, and how South Africans are going to work together to implement Vision 2030, our National Development Plan (NDP).

We cannot afford to forget that our democratic birth was rightly hailed as a miracle. Doomsayers and those who wanted us to fail had predicted chaos and civil war. However, none of these things came to pass and the values of democracy and freedom of our birth still endure today.

South Africa abandoned its shameful past and has steadily moved towards building a new culture based on respect of human rights and dignity.

Compared to the times before 1994, we can now proudly proclaim that millions of people now have water, electricity, sanitation and housing. The Census 2011 figures paint a picture of a country that has increased income levels, an improvement in the roll-out of basic services and amenities and increased levels of education.

Growing the economy and creating jobs :

  • Our average annual economic growth between 1994 and 2012 was 3.2%;
  • The gross domestic product has grown to more than 3,5 trillion rands;
  • 3.7 million work opportunities were created since 2009;
  • The time it will take to start a mine from application to final approvals was brought to under 300 days;
  • Mining’s contribution to our tax revenue came to 20 billion rands during the past 5 years;
  • 700 km of pipeline move 4 billion cubic litres of fuels a year from Durban to Gauteng;
  • During 1993, South Africa counted 3 million foreign visitors; during 2012, South Africa received 13 million foreign visitors;
  • Investment in public infrastructure development since 2009 amounted to 1 trillion rands; and
  • 37 000 km fibre-optic cable was laid by the private and public sectors since 2009.

Improvements made in the roll-out of basic services and amenities include, among others:

  • 3 million housing units were delivered since 1994;
  • 500 informal settlements were replaced with quality housing and basic services since 2009;
  • The number of households that had access to piped water increased from 80.3% in 1996 to 91.2% in 2011;
  • The proportion of households that have flush toilets connected to the sewage system have consistently increased to 57% in 2011 from 50% in 2001;
  • The number of households that used electricity for lighting increased from 58.2% in 1996 to 84.7% in 2011, and households that used electricity for cooking increased from 47.5% to 73.9% over the same period.

Quality of life also continued to improve. The overall life expectancy of South Africans improved significantly between 2009 and 2011 to 62 years. Improving our healthcare services delivered impressive results :

  • 300 new health care facilities were built since 2009;
  • 160 new clinics were built during the same time and 10 hospitals were built or refurbished;
  • The tide is turning in the fight against HIV and AIDS. By March 2012, more than 20.2 million people had undergone testing since the HIV Counselling and Testing campaign started in April 2010;
  • A revolutionary “one-tablet-a-day” treatment for people living with HIV was also recently launched.

Relentless efforts to improve the quality of education are also ongoing :

  • 370 new schools replaced mud schools and other unsuitable structures since 2009;
  • 700 000 children attended Grade R (pre-primary year) between 2003 and 2011;
  • 9 million learners are currently on the government’s nutrition programme;
  • 8 million children do not pay school fees;
  • During 2013 we had a 73% pass rate in Grade 12 compared to 61% in 2009;
  • Student enrolment numbers into universities increased with 12% during the last 5 years;
  • Student enrolment numbers into further Education and Training colleges increased with 90% during the last 5 years; and
  • The National Student Financial Aid Scheme increased its budget with R9 billion during the past 5 years.

On the international arena only during the past couple of years, South Africa experienced the following successes :

  • South Africa served as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council during 2011-2012 for the second time (the first time was during 2007-2008);
  • The 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup was hosted by South Africa, the first on African soil;
  • During 2011 South Africa infused new life into the climate change negotiations when we hosted COP17/CMP7;
  • In May 2012, South Africa successfully hosted the Global African Diaspora Summit, an event of historic significance in the relations between Africa and its Diaspora;
  • South Africa hosted the historic BRICS Summit in March 2013 – the first on African soil – whose key outcomes, the Ethekwini Action Plan, is being implemented under our Chairmanship to the satisfaction of our BRICS partners (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa); and
  • South Africa is also currently the co-chair of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation, which will host the Summit in 2015.

South African – Kazakhstan bilateral relations are also becoming stronger every year. Toward the end of 2013, Kazakhstan opened its Embassy in South Africa. It is also anticipated that at least three agreements/MoUs will be signed between the two countries this year, one on the reciprocal exemption of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and official/service passports, an agreement on trade and economic cooperation and a memorandum of understanding between KazMunayGas and PetroSA.

By our own standards we declare that this is not good enough, that we must not rest until all people can claim a better life. While celebrating our achievements, we must also look forward to the next 20 years. At the centre of our democracy and freedom is our Constitution, it enshrines the rights of every South African and explains our obligations as citizens to each other and the country within those rights. Our rights, as enshrined in the Constitution come with responsibilities. It is our collective responsibility to actively participate in building our country towards reaching the country’s Vision 2030 as set out in the National Development Plan (NDP). The NDP is our roadmap, our 2030 plan. The plan outlines the type of society we are striving for in 2030, where no one is hungry, where everyone is able to go to school and further their studies if they so wish, where work is available, where everyone is making a contribution because each person has been provided with what they need to reach their full potential.

The author is the ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the Republic of Kazakhstan.

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