President Jacob Zuma conveying a message during the 20th Celebration of Freedom Day held at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. South Africa. 27/04/2014. Siyabulela Duda

Pretoria - South Africans must vote peacefully during the upcoming May 7 national elections, President Jacob Zuma said on Sunday.

“The precious right to vote was gained through relentless struggles and sacrifices. On the 7th of May, let us go out in our millions to vote and celebrate our hard won freedom and democracy,” he said at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

“Let us vote to consolidate democracy and all the achievements of our young nation. As we did in 1994 and in subsequent elections, let us deliver peaceful, free and fair elections.”

Zuma was addressing South Africa's annual Freedom Day commemorations.

He said the country had made significant strides in alleviating poverty, reducing crime and fostering racial unity, since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

“South Africans have a good story to tell regarding the fight against crime, thanks to hard work by our police service assisted by communities.

“Since 1994, the levels of serious crime and property crime have declined. But we are not complacent. Work continues to build even safer communities,” said Zuma.

His administration was still concerned that crime levels, particularly offences against vulnerable groups such as women and children, were still rampant.

On the education front, Zuma said significant goals had been scored since 1994.

“Government spends R1.3 billion on early childhood development centres, subsidising these centres and also subsidising fees of children from poor households.

“Government pays R15 per day per child from poor households to prepare them for primary education and for the rest of the schooling years.”

Such an investment in education, Zuma said, was aimed at ensuring that children would not be disadvantaged by poverty from accessing education.

The matric examination pass rate had been steadily increasing, coupled with “phenomenal expansion” of enrolment of students into institutions of higher learning.

Zuma said the fall of apartheid had ushered in a new era, characterised by “hope for a better country” by all South Africans.

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

Earlier, Zuma was warmly greeted with ululations and cheering by a jubilant crowd when he arrived at the ceremony. Many people in the lively crowd were wearing ANC yellow t-shirts bearing Zuma's face.

Several giant tents and a stage had been erected, and adorned with balloons. A large public address system was used to address the crowd.

Top government officials including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane and Arts Minister Paul Mashatile were present at the event.

Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba also spoke at the ceremony.

He delivered a speech, commending 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 SADC region, continental and the international community,” Pohamba said at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

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

Unlike on previous years' Freedom Day commemorations, opposition party representatives were not given the opportunity to address the crowd on Sunday.

This year's celebrations are being held under the theme “South Africa Äa better place to live in”.