ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ANA

Cape Town - President Cyril Ramaphosa will today lead South Africa’s celebration of 25 years of freedom and democracy at the main Freedom Day event in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown).

Hundreds of thousands of South Africans stood in long snaking lines ready to cast their democratic votes, many for the first time in 1994.

“Freedom Day will be an occasion for the nation to reflect on how South Africa’s freedom and democracy was achieved and on the role all South Africans can play in growing the country together into the future,” the Presidency said.

“The national day forms part of Freedom Month... a time to honour heroes of democracy, strengthen solidarity, express pride in our national identity and promote social cohesion.”

The event comes 11 days before the sixth general election in the democratic era, on May 8. International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has urged South Africans living abroad to go to their nearest missions to cast their ballots in the national and provincial elections.

“The generation that comes after us is owed a bright future, it is owed the promises that are enshrined in the Constitution as we continuously strive to make the kind of South Africa that we have in our Constitution. Be part of that change, vote today,” she said.

Parliament’s presiding officers have also encouraged South Africans to vote and exercise their right earned in 1994.

“Since 1994 we have laid the foundations for the South Africa of our dreams...On that Wednesday, 27 April in 1994, we voted as equals for the very first time to elect the government of our choice. It was a historic turning point - away from a past of division, conflict and discrimination; towards a future bright with hope and boundless potential,” Parliament said in a statement.

As the country celebrates Freedom Day, violent service delivery protests, a 27% unemployment rate and a low crime conviction rate is a reality for many South Africans. According to the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) statistics, the number of registered voting youth has dropped by almost 50% from the last national elections.

However, Nkosi Zwelivelile from the Royal House of Mandela lauded the achievements. “Over the past 25 years, we have built more than six million houses, and millions more have electricity and access to clean drinkable water. Over 17.5million of our most vulnerable citizens receive social grants and more than 9 million schoolchildren receive a free meal every day,” he said.

Sakhumzi Khakhaza, leader of Siqalo informal settlement near Mitchells Plain, told Weekend Argus that in 25 years no real freedom has been realised.

“We are not free, we are simply able to walk and some work among white people but there is no real freedom. We are slaves in

our own country, in order for the government to serve us, we have to riot and burn things.

“This is not what we voted for. If the current government cannot provide services to its people then it is time to allow others to try. There are over 4500 households here, we will not be voting and we will chase away any IEC official who comes to set up a voting station here.”

Yesterday, residents in and around Mitchells Plain woke up to burning rubble and tyres in what was said to be a service delivery protest in the area.

Third-year public relations student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Tammy May, said freedom is nothing but a pipe dream.

“For as long as people have to fight for everything and take things to the streets before they get services, quality education and everything that was promised 25 years ago, then there is nothing to celebrate. Freedom Day is just another day,” said the 26-year-old Mandalay resident.

In a statement, former statesman FW de Klerk remembered how “all over South Africa people lined up patiently to exercise their right to vote for the government of their choice - most of them for the first time in their lives”.

De Klerk also said the event was regarded throughout the world and in South Africa as our greatest achievement. “It was viewed as the culmination of one of the most remarkable and successful conflict resolution processes - not only in the history of southern Africa - but also in the recent history of the world.

“And yet this great coming together of all our people is gradually being airbrushed out of our history and is being replaced by a triumphalist narrative that 27 April marked little more than the ANC’s revolutionary victory over a defeated and discredited enemy.”

Dr Ntsikelelo Benjamin Breakfast from the school of Security and Africa Studies at Stellenbosch University said that “freedom is not just about politics but the economy as well”.

Weekend Argus