President Jacob Zuma cuts a cake as crowds gather to celebrate Freedom Day at the Union Buildings. Picture: Skyler Reid

Johannesburg -

‘The precious right to vote was gained through relentless struggles and sacrifices. On May 7, let us go out in our millions to vote and celebrate our hard-won freedom and democracy.”

This was President Jacob Zuma’s plea to the nation on Sunday as he led the Freedom Day celebrations at the Union Buildings.

He said South Africa had vastly improved over the past 20 years, building a buoyant economy, deepening democracy and combating crime and corruption.

Although thousands of people turned up for the celebrations, just 10 days before the country’s fifth democratic elections, the lawns of the Union Buildings were far from crowded, and the event was more like an ANC rally, with people dressed in party T-shirts and regalia.

Many wore T-shirts bearing Zuma’s face and there were plenty of red berets - but adorned with ANC badges, rather than those of the Economic Freedom Fighters led by expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.

Volunteers and ushers wore ANC clothes adorned with the name of their branches. One of the thousands who made their way to the Union Buildings to celebrate was Sibongile Mtshali, who travelled from Sebokeng in the Vaal.

“This is a big deal for us as a country.

“I remember the day I voted for the first time as if it was yesterday. We cannot take the celebrations lightly.

“We have done well on all of these pillars in the past 20 years.

“We have moved closer to our cherished dream of a united non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.”

Mtshali was among those who cheered as the president said South Africa had a good story of progress to tell.

Zuma said: “We have managed to build strong institutions.

“Every five years we continue to hold regular elections.

“As a country, we have done much for ourself.

“We have healed the wounds of our brutal past. We are gradually moving to achieve a common national identity, built on respect and love for our country.

“Our country continues to build a better life for our people in Madiba’s vision.”

South Africans owed their democracy to people in the country and on the continent who had sacrificed their lives during apartheid.

“Indeed, that has happened. South Africa is a much better place to live in,” he said.

“The precious right to vote was gained through relentless struggles and sacrifices.

“On May 7, let us go out in our millions to vote and celebrate our hard-won freedom and democracy.”

The matric pass rate had been steadily increasing, and there had been a “phenomenal expansion” in enrolment at institutions of higher learning. Zuma acknowledged there was a long way to go in fighting poverty and unemployment.

“The next decade of democracy should be about economic freedom.

“We still have a lot of work, but we will succeed if we work together,” Zuma added.

“Our precious right to vote was gained by relentless struggle.

“Let us go out in our millions to vote.

“As we did in 1994 and subsequent elections, let us deliver free and fair elections.”

Unlike Freedom Day commemorations in previous years, opposition parties were not given the opportunity to address the crowd.

However, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba spoke.

He commended South Africa’s interventions in Africa and global political and trade issues.

“We recognise the leading role that this great country continues to play in the Southern African Development Community region, on the continent and the international community.

“South Africa is making an immense contribution to international peace and security, suitable economic development and the creation of fair global trade.”

l Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula was escorted from an election rally at Freedom Park in North West yesterday when Amcu members turned violent, the SABC reported. Mbalula was taken away in a bullet-proof vehicle when members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) threw stones at cars.

Mbalula had been conducting a door-to-door campaign in the area.

Members of Amcu at Lonmin, Impala Platinum and Ango American Platinum have been on strike for the past three months, demanding a monthly salary of R12 500 for entry level workers. On Thursday Amcu rejected the latest offer from the platinum producers. According to the report, Mbalula said afterwards that the ANC would not be intimated through lawlessness.

Pretoria News