Johannesburg - Freedom Day was celebrated across the country on Saturday, with some political parties saying South Africa had come a long way since democratic rule in 1994.
At the main event in Pretoria, President Jacob Zuma said significant economic improvements had been made since the attainment of democracy.
“While income inequality remains high, the expansion of our social grant system from 2, 7 million in 1994 to 16 million currently has contributed to a significant reduction in the proportion of households living in poverty,” he told a large crowd who braved the heat at the Union Building.
“There are many achievements on the economic front as well. The South African economy has expanded by 83 percent over the past 19 years.”
He said despite numerous “trying” moments, South Africans stood together in unity.
The Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) called on South Africans to commit themselves to the pursuit of social cohesion, active citizenry, and democratic freedom.
General secretary Dennis George said every citizen had a role to play in helping the country.
“It is important to recognise that it is through people that development will take place in this country, not through markets.
DA leader Helen Zille said democracy was not about a slavish devotion to a particular political party.
“Democracy is about the freedom to choose; the freedom to change your mind,” she said at a rally in Inanda, KwaZulu-Natal.
Zille said individuals and political parties, who championed the values of the open, opportunity society for all, were now in the DA.
Congress of the People leader Mosioua Lekota paid tribute to South Africans of all races who made sacrifices for democracy to become a reality.
“To all of them, those who paid the supreme price with their lives, those who spend years of their lives in South Africa's prisons, those who were banned and silenced... we take the moment to stop and pay homage to them.”
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said Freedom Day should be used to take stock of what could still be done to ensure a better future for all.
“To get stuck in fights on this day about a better past does not make any contribution to a better future,” Mulder said in a statement.
He said South Africa was a country with unbelievable potential and talent.
“If it is utilised properly we will create room for all the residents in the country and the different communities to live prosperously and in peace and harmony with each other.”
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said the commemoration of Freedom Day should be a reminder of the heavy price struggle heroes and heroines paid.
“This day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made since the advent of democracy in 1994 as well as the challenges we face today,” he said at a rally in Vhembe, Limpopo.
“Today, South Africans have to put up with a faltering and underperforming economy that seems incapable of growing at the levels required to reduce unemployment, to eradicate poverty and inequality.”
Young Communist League national secretary Buti Manamela said South Africa was freed of the apartheid regime because of the millions of lives lost. He praised former president Nelson Mandela for his role in South Africa's unity.
“We have racially integrated schooling, college and university systems. We go to the same social and recreational places and are not hindered by racial laws.”
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said there was no lack of political interest among youth in South Africa.
“The problem, though, is that young people are not turning up at the polling stations in numbers that reflect the size or interest of the youth demographic.
“When it comes to the crunch, when it comes to voting day, too
many young people don't go and vote. I wonder if this reflects apathy, or if it speaks of a generation that is not convinced of its own power.” - Sapa