Address by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma at the Freedom Day Celebrations, Union Buildings, Pretoria, 27 April 2012

The Deputy President of the Republic; Mr Kgalema Motlanthe;
The Chief Justice of the Republic, Honourable Mogoeng Mogoeng;
Honourable Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly,
Ms Noma India Mfeketo;
Honourable Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP, Ms Thandi Memela;
The Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Mashatile and all Ministers; Deputy Ministers and MECs present;
Acting Premier of Gauteng Mr Nkomfe and all Premiers present;
Representatives of Chapter nine institutions;
Representatives of political parties represented in Parliament;
Mayor of Tshwane,
Mr Ramokgopa and all other Mayors present;
Government representatives from all levels;
Religious and Traditional Leaders;
Fellow South Africans,

The free, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa is coming of age today, as it turns 18 years old.

This year’s Freedom Day theme is “Working Together to Build Unity and Prosperity’’. It takes into account our strong focus on boosting inclusive growth and prosperity. 

It also underscores the focus on heritage and the celebration of unity through celebrating the heroes of our struggle for freedom, to whom we owe so much.

The past 18 years have seen huge progress towards building a truly non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and free South Africa.

Together we have built from the ashes of apartheid a country that is dedicated to patriotism, nation-building and reconciliation.

We have built stable democratic institutions based on our country’s progressive Constitution.

We have a Bill of Rights that enshrines and entrenches a human rights culture, ensuring that we totally undo the evil of the past and promote a new society.

The creation of a stable democratic system has opened conditions for us to tackle our socio-economic development challenges.

It has been a short but very meaningful road from a pariah state to a peaceful, stable, vibrant non-racial, non-sexist, democratic country that is working hard to achieve prosperity for all.

Formerly oppressed peoples and nations celebrate Freedom Day or Independence Days for very good reasons.

As South Africans, we celebrate this significant day in order to ensure that the present does not erase the past, and in order to protect the future.

On the 27th of April, we celebrate  how as a people, we brought to a close, phase one of our struggle, as we buried colonial oppression, racism, apartheid and hatred when we cast our votes together for the first time in 1994.

Like a phoenix, a new society rose from the ashes of a system that had been declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations.

On Freedom Day we recall and celebrate a heroic and selfless struggle that was fought over more than three centuries.

It was fought in the wars against land dispossession.

It was fought in the campaigns against the pass laws, described by Lillian Ngoyi as “a badge of slavery in terms whereof all sorts of insults and humiliation may be committed on Africans by members of the ruling class”.

It was fought in the struggles against the inhumane migrant labour system which violated the right to human dignity.

It was fought in the battles of young people for education.

It was fought by the workers for a living wage, with the conditions of farm and mine workers being horrific. These are the conditions that inspired men like Selope Thema and later Gert Sibande into action, particularly in the Northern and Eastern Transvaal areas such as Bethal, to rise against these injustices.

The struggle was fought by women for their rights and dignity, and we recall how they fired the first salvo of protest against pass laws in Bloemfontein in July 1913. 

It was fought by rural communities for land, as the 1913 Land Act systematically took away 87 percent of the land from the African people.

And our people never gave up. As Lillian Ngoyi said at the third Federation of South African Women Conference in 1961, “Freedom does not come walking towards you - it must be won’’.

It has indeed been a long walk from the days of Master and Servants Act, where long hours of work, child labour, and unpaid labour were the order of the day.

And we have indeed come a long way since General Smuts’ utterance in 1906, that:  “When I consider the political future of the Natives in South Africa I must say that I look into shadows and darkness, and I feel inclined to shift the intolerable burden of solving that sphinx of a problem to the ampler shoulders and stronger brains of the future.” 

Today we celebrate that ampler and stronger brains of the future, such as the gallant leaders of the struggle for liberation, proved Smuts wrong.

On Freedom Day we celebrate our victory over racial bigotry.

We celebrate that this country produced visionaries black and white, who were determined that South Africa shall be a free, non-racial and non-sexist democracy that enshrines human rights.

We recall today that our freedom was gained through blood, sweat and tears. It is through the blood of the people of Sharpeville, Soweto, Langa, kwaMashu, kwa Zakhele, Mdantsane, and many other areas, that we gained our freedom and equality.

In essence, today we are celebrating the colossal victory over colonial oppression and apartheid, marking the end of the first phase of our struggle.

We are celebrating the unique nature of the South African struggle for liberation, which although was against racism, was never a racist struggle.

That is why there were so many white democrats and freedom lovers who sacrificed so much so that South Africa could be free.

They include heroes like Braam Fischer, Father Trevor Huddlestone and Ruth First.
It is that unique nature of the struggle, that produced the profound words in the Freedom Charter adopted in 1955 in Kliptown, when delegates proclaimed that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people’’.

In turn the Freedom Charter inspired the democratic constitution that we have today which in its preamble also declares that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.”

It is those ideals which were formalised in the adoption of a Constitution that entrenches democracy, through the Bill of Rights which enshrines rights of all people of our country, and affirms democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
We also celebrate our unique and model Constitution which is an envy of many nations all over the world.

Our Constitution is among the best in the world with equality clauses, which guarantees equality before the law, right to life, and human dignity, right to privacy, freedom of religion, belief and opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, demonstration, picket and petitions.

We are indeed a unique people and unique nation, as Chief Albert Luthuli explained in 1961 as follows;  “It may well be that South Africa's social system is a monument to racialism and race oppression, but its people are the living testimony to the unconquerable spirit of mankind.’’

He was right, because the first phase of our struggle delivered political freedom for all, black and white.

For the black majority, April 27 delivered true liberation, human dignity, full citizenship and real belonging to their motherland.

The colour of their skin no longer determined where they could live, go to school or church. Colour no longer determined the jobs they could do or the wages they should get.

For white compatriots who had benefitted from the policies of successive racist regimes, April 27 brought about the lifting of the burden of guilt or shame.

For those who believed in, and practiced racism, April 27, 1994 freed them from the fear of a black majority that could rise against them at any time.

It freed them from vengeance, as the democratic state immediately instituted reconciliation as a policy of government to heal the divisions and pain of the past.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was instituted to manage this process and help the new nation to find healing.

Indeed the first phase of our freedom was the freedom of all of us, black and white.

Following the attainment of freedom, the task of turning South Africa around began, as stated by the former ANC President OR Tambo in 1993 at the International Solidarity Conference. He said: “The challenge confronting all of us is to turn South Africa round - to make of her the opposite of what she has been”.

Work to consolidate political freedom and to achieve a better life began immediately after the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela as the first President of a democratic South Africa.

The democratisation of government, the judiciary and the legislature began, in order to de-racialise the three arms of the State, and make South Africa the opposite of what she had been.

During the first ten years of democracy, Parliament approved 789 laws or amendments to eliminate institutionalised racism from our statute books.

A lot has been achieved in the extension of basic services since 1994, in turning South Africa around, but much more still needs to be done.

The fourth democratic administration has made it its primary focus to invest in the achievement of prosperity. 

In this regard, we are leading the struggle to eradicate unemployment, inequality and poverty through promoting inclusive economic growth.

In 1994, we knew that our toughest task was to transform the economy to reflect the change to democratic governance.

The challenge has been to ensure that more of our people benefit from economic growth whilst maintaining and indeed building on the strength of our economy.

The international economic downturn in 2008 was a major setback, especially on the employment front. We are still recovering from that downturn.

Despite these setbacks, employment has risen by over a third since the mid-1990s.

Ladies and gentlemen;

The past 18 months have seen a substantial recovery. In 2011 alone, employment grew by a thousand jobs a day; investment climbed by 4%; and the GDP grew by just over 3%.

The challenge now is to accelerate our gains – to ensure above all that growth supports increased inclusion, employment and equity.

Finally, we are committed to a massive expansion in public employment programmes as a measure to support unemployed people in the short run, especially the youth.

In particular, we are working to expand the Community Work Programme over the coming two years.

This programme is critical because it provides the basis for collective action and mobilisation by communities, which determine where the employed people should work.

We are working with all South Africans to build unity and prosperity, as outlined in the State of the Nation Address in 2012, and also in 2011 when we declared that year as one of job creation and inclusive growth.

The proportion of the population living below a R422 a month poverty line decreased from 50% in 1994 to 34,5% in 2009.

In education, we have improved our school enrolments drastically since 2003 and have put 8.8 million learners on the nutrition programme.

We have allocated R8.2 billion for school infrastructure.

In 1994, only 62% of households had access to running water, and the figure has risen to 94,5%. With regard to water infrastructure, forty-three regional bulk projects will be completed by 2014, benefiting 3.2 million people. 

In 1994, only 50% of households had access to decent sanitation, which has now risen to 82%.

By 2011, 75,8% of households had access to electricity, a huge improvement from 51% in 1994.

Our government has delivered over three million subsidized housing units since 1994 and provides one billion rand guarantee fund to help lower income earners.

Most importantly, primary health care in South Africa is now accessible to all South Africans regardless of race, background and nationality.

Through the National Health Insurance, all South Africans will have access to quality health care irrespective of their economic and social standing.

On the land issue we have transferred 6.7 million hectares of land since 1994 through restitution and redistribution. We must still do much more in this regard in order to meet the 2014 target of 30 percent.

We are working together as the national, provincial and local government in preparing for the implementation of the projects.

Since 2012 has been declared the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives, with the theme “Cooperative Enterprises Build A Better World”, we also acknowledge the central developmental role that cooperatives play, particularly in rural economy.

As government we therefore will assist the 54 000 registered cooperatives financially by increasing funds for the Cooperative Incentive Scheme and to access the markets.

Esteemed guests;

Our bid to host the Square Kilometre Array Radio Telescope   has made excellent progress and we are confident of our infrastructure, technical and scientific ability.  
At the cost of over two billion Euros, this is the biggest telescope ever built, which will create many jobs for over fifty years.  We look forward to winning this bid and thank you for your support.

There is a lot more work that is being done to extend services and improve the quality of life, as we consolidate political freedom and democracy.

Having gone far in consolidating democracy and achieving a non-racial, non-sexist society, our  fourth democratic administration has made it a priority to move to the second phase, that of achieving a more prosperous South Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The fight against crime is one of the five key priorities of our government.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In keeping with the spirit of the celebration of our 18 years of freedom, and in line with established international practice, I have decided, in terms of the powers given to me by section 84 (2) J of the Constitution, to grant a special remission of sentence to specific categories of sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees. 

This is the first time that we have taken a decision to grant such a remission under the current term of office of this Administration. 

The previous remissions, granted to coincide with key national days have been on 10 May 1994 (Madiba’s Inauguration); 27 April 1995 (first anniversary of our freedom); 18 July 1998 (Mandela’s 80th birthday) and on 30 May 2005 (First year of former President Thabo Mbeki’s second term of office).

The Ministers of the JCPS cluster will provide the relevant details and specific circumstances with regard to those offenders who will benefit from the reduction of a part of their sentence as a result of this decision.

The categories and the lengths of reduction will be based on the decision of Cabinet in relation to the previous special remission of 2005, in terms of which the following categories will apply:

  • 6 months blanket special remission of sentence to all sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees, and an additional 12 months special remission of sentence for all sentenced inmates, probationers and parolees  excluding sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees who have been sentenced for aggressive, sexual, firearm and drug related offences.
  • People who are declared dangerous criminals in terms of section 286A of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1957.

This evening, we will, with great delight, acknowledge those who in various ways contributed to the achievements that our country has enjoyed.

Special reference will be made to some of the ANC presidents who led the struggle for liberation over many years. 

As a country we will honour the following former Presidents of the ANC with National Orders Awards, Chief Albert Luthuli, Oliver Reginald Tambo, James Sebe Moroka, A.B. Xuma, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Zac Mahabane, Josiah Gumede and Sefako Makgatho, for their outstanding role in ensuring that our country became a free and democratic society.

They represented particular epochs in our country’s history and contributed immensely to the society we live in now.

We will also honour citizens in various categories from the arts, journalism, science and technology, crime fighting as well as distinguished foreign nationals who played a critical role in the advancement of the struggle.

In celebrating these achievements, and in recalling where we come from, we urge all to continue working for unity and to build a strong South African nation that is mindful of the past it has emerged from only 18 years ago.

We dare not forget. We must put the country first in everything we do, and work together to make a success of the second phase of struggle, that of working towards a prosperous South Africa. 

As we continue to work we must remember the theme for Freedom day this year: “Working Together to Build Unity and Prosperity’’.

Happy 18th Birthday to the Republic of South Africa and Happy Freedom Day to you all!

I thank you.

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa