Address by the President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, at the Freedom Day Celebrations in Durban, 27 April 2009
Programme Director; Minister Pallo Jordan; Premier S’bu Ndebele; Mayor of Ethekwini, Mr Obed Mlaba; Excellencies; Comrades and friends; Ladies and Gentlemen; Fellow South Africans:
I am honoured to address our nation on this historic day, April 27; the day that echoes the triumph of freedom over oppression.
I am equally honoured to celebrate this important day on our National Calendar in the province of KwaZulu Natal.
For it is also here in this beautiful land of our forefathers that the struggle for liberation was fought by generations of heroes and heroines - fearless warriors, brave students, determined workers, powerful men and women, who believed that it was their mission to bring us our freedom.
And fear of death itself would not stop them. This movement took on greater strength as new generations joined them. Their only purpose was that the next generation would live to taste the fruits of freedom.
On this special day we should all celebrate our maturing constitutional democracy whose seeds we planted back in April 27 1994.
This nation has indeed trudged a very long way from an embittered and divided past to a society based on equality, dignity and respect for human rights.
Our Constitutional order has proved itself to be not only rugged and enduring but impregnable too.
On this special day we celebrate the continuing hope and resilience of our people, working together to achieve the vision in our Constitution.
Fifteen years ago, South Africans queued in every part of our villages, townships and cities - proud to make history through putting their mark on a ballot paper, an act that would bring us freedom from more than 300 years of colonialism and segregation and more than 40 years of apartheid.
Fifteen years later, and following our fourth general election, we can and should as a country, celebrate the achievements that have been made in entrenching democracy and creating a better life for all.
April 27 is the day on which for the first time all our people exercised their democratic right to cast their votes for the party of their choice.
We all know that this was the first time in our country that all South Africans could exercise this right regardless of race and gender.
Essentially, this day, April 27 1994, marked the unity of our people and a beginning of a long journey from our divided past.
Much has been achieved since that epoch-marking day in the evolution of our nation’s history.
These achievements flow from policies developed by the democratic government to address the all-pervasive legacy of apartheid, which had virtually affected all facets of our people’s life.
Necessarily, government set about addressing these vast and daunting challenges in the knowledge that freedom means recognition of necessity.
Freedom means freedom from ignorance, diseases, want, landlessness, homelessness, joblessness, poverty and fear.
In this connection, government is amply aware that despite all the gains made during the 15 of Democracy, much more still needs to be done to roll apartheid legacy backwards, and especially, pushing back the frontiers of poverty.
Government is similarly conscious of the scale of work still to be done further to uproot this odious legacy of apartheid, whose pronounced effects can be felt in terms of service delivery, employment, social cohesion, transformation, empowerment, education and skilling of our people, among other things.
In this regard, the democratic government had clearly understood that our people cannot enjoy full and meaningful freedom without development, reconstruction and growth, which are the key elements of prosperity for our people.
Conscious of our divisive history, we are also keenly aware that unity among all the people of our country constitutes a key priority that must be addressed with the proportionate vigour.
Therefore government remains seized with the important matter of social cohesion.
In much the same way our nation, including government, interest groups, stakeholders, and all key role plays have to work harder to consolidate participatory democracy in our country.
One of the revelations of this campaign is that it is possible to mobilise the entirety of our people on key issues of the day (decent work, employment, and housing).
Participatory democracy requires much more than just trooping to the polling stations to cast votes at the end of every five years.
As South Africans we need to embrace the reality that only collective efforts from all sections of society can enable us to deal with our unique challenges in a way that yields results.
Five days ago, once more our people gathered in great numbers at every polling station across the length and breadth of this country.
Our youth came out in full force to add their voice to continue to build this democracy and to bring their passion and energy into the making and shaping of this country.
Grandmothers and grandfathers once more made their mark and took their place as those who had seen dark days, but had fought long and hard and won their dignity and now live in the cool climate of freedom.
As a country that is just a mere 15 years into the cut and thrust of democracy, we should deservedly celebrate our remarkable maturity as reflected in our largely free and fair election, with very few and insignificant reports of violence.
Until now four successful democratic elections have been held, with each successful democratic election reflecting the further deepening of democratic culture in our country.
With this progressive consolidation of our democracy we have equally been able to create a government that represents the will of the people of our country.
Accordingly, and on behalf of government, I wish to thank all South Africans for the overwhelming response to our fourth democratic election.
In addition, I wish to thank the Independent Electoral Commission for such an outstanding performance in the face of a challenging task.
The fact that we had a demanding but successful Election Day, which was followed by a normal working day, without any interruption to our daily life shows that our electoral system is intact and improving.
The IEC displayed the ability to organise the election in a way that could not be questioned by anyone.
This in itself was an indication that South Africa as a country has the potential to unite all its people behind common national interests.
Nevertheless, the voting patterns in this year’s national poll disturbingly reflected our old divided past; which only goes to show that more work still needs to be done to de-racialise our society in all its essentials.
Our history is etched with the footprints of those who planted the seeds of freedom, of those who laid the foundations for equality.
It is our generation that has succeeded in giving the dream of freedom a concrete reality.
The theme under which we are celebrating this Freedom Day, appropriately called ‘Together celebrating our democracy and building a better life for all’, at once urges us to celebrate our democracy as well as continue striving for creating conditions of a better life for all our people.
Indeed this is so because the struggle against apartheid and the struggle for freedom are meaningless outside the context of improving human condition.
Apartheid sought to and succeeded in depriving the majority of a decent living.
This historical reality has been the driver behind government’s efforts at reversing the legacy of apartheid and creating a better society.
The last 15 years of our democracy has seen considerable achievements for the masses of our people, despite serious challenges and fortuitous developments in the global economic arena.
Now our weapons are non-racialism, non-sexism, building democracy and achieving victory through the ballot-box – the renewal of a mandate through citizens recommitting themselves to a democratic present and future.
Today the battle takes place in the realm of ideas – as we proceed to improve the conditions of life for all citizens of our country.
Our nation has been in dialogue in the last months preceding the election. Today we celebrate the decisions of our people.
We exercise the right to freedom of speech and movement. We are free to congregate and to gather together and to dance in celebration of our diversity and of our unity.
Today the battle is the fight to end poverty and to work towards sustainable development.
Today our struggle is and must be a social contract between the government and the people to improve health care, to achieve universal access to education, to expedite the delivery of housing, to strengthen the provision of free basic sanitation, electricity and clean water and to create decent work.
Today we need to unite in a common cause of fighting vestiges of racism and inequality.
Last week we participated in the United Nations Durban Review Conference in Geneva where we gave our full support for national governments and world society to address racism and to recommit to practical measures to address racism, racial discrimination and divisions.
South Africa will continue to take the lead to demonstrate to ourselves and the world that we can build a society which is truly non-racial, non-sexist and democratic.
As a member of the international community of nations we also need to act in a way consistent with the creation of a humane world.
However, we also need to question global policies that run counter to our cherished ideals of a better Africa and a better world.
We therefore have to ensure that global institutions of governance, whether political or economic, reflect these necessary changes that add to a better world.
Our history impels us to build a new, inclusive world where multilateralism is the weapon with which the world promotes peace and harmony among people.
Let this be our way of intervening in our times to promote peace, justice and equality.
Let those who look back at us in a hundred years time be able to say that we have achieved our goals.
Today on this fifteenth celebration of Freedom Day, we recommit ourselves to strengthening this culture that is uniquely South African and African.
Perhaps beyond the symbolic traction of April 27 is the underlying imperative of reanimating the dream of building a thriving society free from all forms of oppression.
Central to this vision has been and remains the building of a free and prosperous society driven by the impulse to harness our differences into a formidable force for development and growth.
This vision, holds out the prospects of a prosperous South Africa defined by the bonds of a common destiny as we work together to do more to reach our goals
Today the battle is about striving to close the gap between rich and poor, to provide the necessary skills to all our youth, to provide all our people with productive lives in service of national and continental economic development and in pursuit of a golden Age for Africa and the developing world.
We have recently participated in the summit of the G20 in London which has sought to put in place a plan to restore global growth and to ensure sustainable development in developing countries.
We shall continue to be part of these dialogues but we shall also continue to work with labour, with women’s organizations, with our youth, to strengthen our efforts to deracialise the economy and to encourage a more unified society in which social cohesion should be the order of the day.
We shall continue to focus on rural development and urban renewal so that all our people benefit from the fruit of our labour.
For what we seek and must achieve is a sense of common belonging, an identity that is dependent on what we do for ourselves as a nation and as a people.
Today we are proud that a culture of democracy prevails and is strengthened and that we are well on the way to nurturing a distinctly South African culture, which does indeed reflect our hopes and achievements.
The attainment of prosperity in South Africa depends on our continuing to act in ways that are true to our people and that together we safeguard each other’s future by fighting crime and protecting the foundations of a secure life.
It is the selfless actions of men and women that will continue to give this nation its lifeblood.
A generation of youth sacrificed their lives knowing that they did not have the right to grow up and grow old and to live long and productive lives.
Let us remember them and be thankful for their sacrifices, heroism and selflessness, which often included loss of life and limb, and invariably, loss of youth, all for the noble cause of freedom.
So in celebrating this day we fully honour the commendable heroism and sacrifice over years of the struggle to win our freedom, with the solidarity of people from across the globe.
In honouring the memory of these great South Africans let us recommit ourselves to continue with the struggle for the improvement of the lives of all our people, irrespective of race, gender or station in life.
These individual and collective acts, by each and every adult South African who supported non-racialism and full equality, ushered in a new era of peace and democracy, and brought dignity and equal rights to every household in this land.
On Freedom Day Government reaffirms its commitment to consolidate democracy and create a South Africa united in diversity.
Two months from now our country will host the Confederations Cup ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, in which all different people of the world will converge here at home.
Our task is to welcome them to our shores and give them a truly South African experience.
Let us continue to transform this South African reality into a space in which our children can thrive and lead creative and fulfilling lives.
Warriors have died for us. Youth have given their lives for us. Generations have fought for this precious and treasured fifteen years of freedom.
Let us pledge to past generations that we shall build a better world for South Africans.
Freedom is a lived reality. Let us all work together to improve the quality of life for all so that the fullness of freedom becomes our lived reality as a united and prosperous people.
I thank you.