Makhanda - Despite the progress made, South Africa is still confronted by sinister attempts to undermine national unity through acts of racism, attacks on foreign nationals, and the open display of the old South African flag, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Saturday.
"On this Freedom Day, we have much to celebrate. Most prominent among our achievements has been the promotion of our nationhood in a united, non-racial, non-sexist, and democratic South Africa," he said at the national Freedom Day celebrations at the Miki Yili Stadium in Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown.
"Our new nationhood manifests itself in many ways. Today the children of our land, black and white, can learn in the same schools, and study in the same universities and colleges. When democracy came, we did not sink into the abyss of vengeance and retribution," he said.
South Africa's Constitution was the main pillar of its democracy, the safeguard of independence, and expression of a commitment to human rights. It was the work of the struggles of the masses and embodied the aspirations of millions of South Africans who had a role in crafting it. It was what united South Africans, the beacon of the people’s aspirations and their shield.
"The Constitution is an enduring symbol of our commitment to heal the rifts that once divided us and to put aside the bitterness of the past to build a common future. Despite the progress we have made, we are still confronted by sinister attempts to undermine the unity of our nation through acts of racism, through attacks on foreign nationals, and in the open display of the old South African flag.
"Out of respect for our Constitution – and in defence of our freedom – we reject racism, we reject the pledging of allegiance to a racist past and its symbols, we reject attacks on those who have sought refuge in our country, and we reject violence, insurrection, and disregard for the rule of law. The sacrifices of our forebearers were too great, and the price they paid too high, for us to see our hard-won gains diminished by intolerance," Ramaphosa said.
Although much had been achieved in the past 25 years, "we still have much further to travel". The nation could only be truly united when all South Africans had a shared experience of lives of comfort and security.
"Ours is still a deeply unequal country. There are great divisions between rich and poor, between urban and rural, between men and women, between those with jobs and those who are unemployed, between those who own land and those who were deprived of it," he said.
In the past 25 years, considerable progress had been made in improving the material conditions of the people. Working together, South Africans had built housing for millions of people, provided water, sanitation, and electricity to poor households across the country.
From the dark days of Bantu education, access to education – from early childhood development through to school and to university and college had been dramatically expanded. More than nine million pupils attended no-fee schools, with an equal amount provided with a meal at school. Seven in ten South Africans made use of the country’s network of primary health care, clinic, and hospital facilities either entirely for free or for a minimal fee. More than 17 million social grants were paid to poor and vulnerable South Africans each month.
Public employment programmes had provided a basic income and work experience and training opportunities for many of the unemployed. Over the past 25 years, the economy had doubled in size and the number of people in employment had increased by eight million, Ramaphosa said.
"And yet, despite these remarkable achievements, too many of our people still live in poverty, too many are unemployed, too many are homeless, too many do not have the basic necessities of life.
"As we celebrate 25 years of democracy, we need to focus all our attention and efforts on ensuring that all South Africans can equally experience the economic and social benefits of freedom. We cannot be a nation of free people when so many still live in want... so many live without enough food, without proper shelter, without access to quality health care, without a means to earn a living. We cannot be a nation of free people when funds meant for the poor are wasted, lost, or stolen.
"And so we enter the next 25 years of freedom with a renewed determination to realise for all South Africans the promise of the democratic breakthrough of 1994. We enter a new phase in the life of our nation determined to build an economy that serves all, to create the jobs that our people need, to develop the skills and talents that the future demands, and to build stable, safe, and thriving communities," he said.
Eleven days from now, on May 8, millions of South Africans would again exercise their right to vote. Like those who went to the polls for the first time in 1994, they would hold in their hands the nation's destiny.
"It is up to each one of us to play our part in making South Africa better. As better brothers, as sisters, as husbands, as wives, as children, as classmates, as co-workers, as neighbours, and as citizens. On this Freedom Day let us, therefore, resolve that we will work to address our challenges together.
Together we can overcome the challenges of the present. Regardless of race, creed, disability, sexual orientation, religion or social standing, we share as a source of pride the name 'South African'. It belongs to each and every one of us, and we wear it with honour.
"United by our love for freedom and our commitment to see our great nation thrive and prosper, let us move forward together towards achieving a stronger, greater, more compassionate, more united and harmonious South Africa," Ramaphosa said.