President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the keynote address during the Freedom Day Celebrations event held at Dr Rantlai Petrus Molemela Stadium in Bloemfontein. Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS​

Bloemfontein - South Africa’s freedom cannot be complete if the rising unemployment continues unabated and people struggle to acquire education so as to improve their lives, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday.

Ramaphosa, who gave the keynote address at the national celebrations for Freedom Day at the Dr Petrus Molemela Stadium in Bloemfontein, said South Africa’s political freedom which came at the dawn of democracy in 1994 will only bear full meaning when people realise economic freedom.

He said South Africa remains extensively divided along racial lines coming from the apartheid era and this has to be resolved by ensuring the black majority is supported when seeking to actively participate in mainstream economic activities.

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"There are still huge gaps in wealth and opportunity between white and black and between women and men," said Ramaphosa.

"So many of our people still experience hunger, millions are still unemployed, many still do not have houses, electricity or clean water. Our people cannot be truly free if they do not have jobs, if they do not have an education and if they do not have livelihoods. We know that the advent of democracy did not automatically heal the divisions of the past.

"We must work resolutely to remove the obstacles that still divide our society and strengthen the many ties that bind us together. Therefore, as we celebrate the freedoms we have achieved and the great advances we have made, let us use this Freedom Day to affirm our determination to intensify the struggle for economic freedom for all our people," added the president.

Ramaphosa said while government had made strides in reducing poverty through social grants as well as improving access to health care and the provision of houses to the poor, there is still need to create more economic opportunities for the previously disadvantaged.

"We need to grow our economy and create decent work. We need to attract investment on a much greater scale and we need to improve the education and skills of our people. At the same time, we need to transform the ownership, control and management of the economy so that black South Africans and women are fully represented and equally benefit,” he said.

The president said failure by state-owned enterprises to operate efficiently had a huge negative impact on the people as this resulted in poor service delivery, diminishing employment prospects and limited business opportunities for local companies seeking to do business with them.

"We are fixing our state-owned enterprises, ensuring that they can meet essential social and economic needs more efficiently and cost-effectively. We are using industrial incentives, special economic zones and local procurement requirements to expand our manufacturing capacity.

"In support of this, we are working to deracialise our economy by strengthening our broad-based black economic empowerment policies, investing in black industrialists, opening up markets for new black entrants through more effective competition policies, and using the buying power of the state to support black business," he explained.

Turning to the issue of land which remains highly topical and emotive in the country, the president said government was committed to ensuring the land redistribution exercise is successfully implemented in both rural and urban areas so that people have access to land.

"Economic freedom means that the land that was taken from black South Africans needs to be returned. We are committed to accelerating the redistribution of land, both in urban and rural areas, to ensure that poor South Africans are able to own land and have the means to work it. Among the measures we will use to accelerate redistribution is that of expropriation without compensation where it is necessary and justified.

"We call on all South Africans to be part of the broad process of consultation on how we should implement this decision in a way that makes redistribution meaningful and which contributes to a stronger economy, greater agricultural production and improved food security," said Ramaphosa.