Freedom Day on 27 April 2010 marked 16 years since South Africans of all races went to the polls to vote in the country’s first democratic elections, in 1994. This is the full text of President Jacob Zuma’s speech to the nation at celebrations marking the event at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
I am deeply honoured to address the nation on this historic day, on which South Africans buried racial oppression, and ushered in new non-racial democratic order.
On this day we remember all the brave men and women whose struggle and sacrifices made it possible for us to enjoy the benefits of democracy today.
It is a day to reflect on how far we have advanced in building a new, united and democratic nation.
Importantly, it is also a time to consider the extent to which the freedoms articulated in our Bill of Rights find expression in the daily lives of our people.
From the ruins of a racially polarised order, we have built a nation driven by a strong commitment to the values of justice and equality.
As taught by our icon, President Nelson Mandela, we must remain steadfast in our determination that never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.
And so with freedom, came the responsibility of building a non-racial, united and reconciled nation.
And we learned from the greatest, our national heroes Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu and many others.
We recall the wise words of our icon, Oliver Reginald Tambo who said:
“It is our responsibility to break down barriers of division and create a country where there will be neither whites nor blacks, just South Africans, free and united in diversity.”
This powerful vision can be achieved, in line with the preamble of our Constitution which states clearly that: “South Africa belongs to all those who live in it”.
When celebrating the notion of a country that now belongs to all who live in it, we recall that on this day, sixty years ago, the apartheid government introduced the Group Areas Act.
This marked the institutionalizing the racial partition of our cities and towns.
That law and the impact it had on our society, illustrates the legacy we have to deal with. And there are many others.
Sixty years later, and nearly 20 years after it was repealed, our people still have to daily confront the impact of that law. Many still live in areas once designated for black people on the periphery of our towns, far away from economic opportunity and civic services.
The cost of transport alone takes a heavy toll on the lives of the poor. This is only one example among many of the work we still need to do to ensure that our people enjoy the fruits of freedom.
These laws may have disappeared from the statute books, but their effects are still felt across the country. Freedom imposes on us a responsibility to work together in the process of changing such conditions.
And we must do this fast, because in four year’s time we will have been free for 20 years. We will not have much sympathy for any reasons advanced to explain the failure to make a difference in the lives of our people.
When I spoke in Parliament earlier this year I stated that we are entering a new era, an era of doing things differently. It is an era of ensuring that our work is determined by clear outcomes.
It is an era of increasing the pace and form of service delivery.
That is what we have begun to do during this term of government. We are changing the way government works to improve the lives of our people.
As we work to increase the pace and quality of delivery, we must also together acknowledge the progress we have made thus far as a nation, working together as government and the people.
We must note that despite numerous challenges and backlog, South Africa has provided over 2.8 million housing opportunities since 1994.
We are currently on target in terms of delivery of new housing stock in the various provinces.
We must still work further to get our human settlement model entrenched, as we now do not see housing in isolation in this administration. The provision of social services in the communities in which we provide housing is also critical.
In this regard, I have convened a special Presidential Coordinating Council meeting on the 18th of May, to discuss with all nine provincial premiers, the need for habitable human settlements throughout the country.
Together as national and provincial governments we should find lasting solutions.
In extending social services we are building on current successes.
Over 91% of households had access to piped water. South Africa has passed the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without sustainable water.
We are likely to achieve the 2014 goal of universal access to potable water, despite the challenge of ever-increasing number of households.
As of March 2009, more than 10 million households had access to sanitation compared to about 5 million in 1994. South Africa has moved closer to the target date for universal access to sanitation which is 2014.
We do not deny that there is still much more to be done, but a lot has also been achieved already.
Fellow South Africans,
If we are to make a difference in the lives of future generations, we must pay special attention on the development of our youth.
According to Stats SA, nearly 70% of all South Africans are under the age of 35, making South Africa a youthful country.
For any developing country, an
important step towards reducing poverty and inequality is to invest in education.
We want an education system that will provide opportunities for children from poor backgrounds to advance economically and socially.
The good news is that we are getting somewhere.
More South Africans are being educated, and that is because South Africa has one of the highest rates of government investment in education in the world.
Our plan is to improve the output and the pass rates through increasing efficiency and accountability in our schools.
That is why we say our teachers should be in school, in class, on time, teaching for at least six and half hours a day. If they do that, the results will speak for themselves.
Fellow South Africans,
We reiterate that a defining feature of this administration will be its closeness to the people it serves. As you are aware, I established the Presidential Hotline last year. It has opened our world to a host of issues that are affecting our people.
I know that thousands of South Africans have battled to get through to the hotline due to the high volume of calls.
I know too that the response rate from many government departments has been very slow, and that while many callers have been assisted, many others are frustrated.
We are working hard to improve the service. You should not battle to talk to your own government. That should be corrected.
We will make formal announcements soon on how to improve your access to the Hotline, and how to ensure quicker responses from government departments, nationally and provincially.
Earlier this week we launched our new upscaled HIV and Aids prevention and treatment plan.
This is an integral part of our broader campaign to improve the health profile of South Africans. I urge all of you to heed prevention messages, and to get tested for HIV.
Through testing, you will know your status and adjust your lifestyle accordingly. Testing also helps us to deal with the stigma attached to the epidemic.
Together we must eradicate the silence and the shame that is associated with HIV and Aids. This epidemic can be beaten if we all decide to play our part and work hard.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Freedom Day reminds us that we should all work hard to defend the freedom for which so many have fought and lost their lives.
We must work together to build our country and shape its future. We must all work for unity, true reconciliation and cohesion.
In February this year, I indicated that there was a need for us to have a dialogue to remind ourselves why our country’s founding fathers and mothers declared us one nation united in diversity.
I suggested at the time that we needed to reach out to all South Africans across the class, racial, ethnic, gender, religious and political divides. I said we must engage in a conversation about the true values that underpin our common identity and destiny.
My suggestion was motivated by my deep belief and conviction that as a nation, we should yet again draw on the collective South African wisdom to understand one another.
I think such a dialogue would help us to live better with one another as South Africans.
It will help us to find a common perspective through which we can view the various backgrounds, habits, traditions, customs, cultures and religions that define who we are.
It is a modest addition to many other mechanisms we must devise as a nation to arrive at a common understanding over many issues.
It will enable us to arrive at a common perspective around the following amongst others:
The changing of certain geographical names.
The transformation in the workplace and in sport.
The songs we sing and the symbols we embrace.
Our desire to determine language policy at our schools and universities.
The slaughtering of animals to appease an ancestor which is practiced in some cultures.
It will assist us with the task we face as a country, to breathe a new life to our nation building efforts.
This national dialogue will capture the attention of all our people. Like the 2010 FIFA Soccer World, you will feel it!
We will share further information once the initial consultation phase has been concluded.
We are just 44 days away from hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
We have been offered a significant opportunity to share our humanity, heritage and the beauty of this country with the world.
We will display the rich tapestry of our culture in dance and music to show that this is a truly African World Cup.
We do not spend enough time celebrating our country, and this is an opportunity to show off. South Africa is rich in its cultural diversity. We have produced music that has earned international accolades.
We have a varied landscape with tropical, temperate and Mediterranean climate. We grow a variety of food, fruit and flowers.
Our mineral wealth is legendary. We have people who are inventors and innovators.
Our country boasts eight world heritage sites, and we must familiarize ourselves with them so that we can all become ambassadors and effective tour guides during the World Cup!
These sites are a source of pride and identity that should unite all of us. Let us make the 2010 World Cup a memorable event. Let us rally behind Bafana Bafana.
Let us celebrate our national symbols; and let us show the world that we are one nation, united in our colourful diversity.
Ladies and gentlemen before concluding let me extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the 16 people who died in a road crash in the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.
Pain suffered by any South African affects all of us. We are one nation, one people.
We extend a special happy Freedom Day to the families of four South African peacekeepers who were released after being held captive in Sudan. They are in good health and good spirit.
We thank the United Nations and the Sudanese government for working with us to secure their release.
Happy Freedom Day and a happy Soccer World Cup to you all!
I thank you.