Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of Freedom Day

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27 Apr 2021

Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Premier of Free State, Ms Sisi Ntombela,
Acting Executive Mayor of Mangaung, Cllr Lebohang Masoetsa,
MECs and members of the Provincial Legislature,
Traditional leaders in our midst,
Representatives of various political formations,
Civil society representatives,
Members of the media,
Fellow South Africans

Dumelang. Sanibonani. Molweni. Lotjhani. Ndi masiari. Goeie dag. Good afternoon.

I want to especially greet the people of the Free State who have welcomed us so warmly to their province.

It was right here in the Free State that many struggles were waged against colonial rule and later the apartheid regime.

It was here in the Free State that the South African National Native Convention was convened in 1909 by leaders like John Langalibalele Dube, John Tengo Jabavu and others to mobilise against the Union of South Africa.

The Free State is the birthplace of the South African Native National Congress, which later became the African National Congress.

It was in the Free State that the historic African Claims document was adopted in 1943, setting out the demands of the South African people for the realisation of their rights.

And it was the people of the Free State who bore the brunt of the racist pass laws, and who actively resisted them.

We particularly salute the resistance of the women of the Free State, who embarked on a campaign of defiance against the pass laws in 1913.

This campaign, led by Charlotte Maxeke, Katie Louw, Catharina Symmons, Cecilia Makiwane and others, set in motion a movement that would soon spread to the rest of the country.

After Sol Plaatje visited some of the protestors in jail in Kroonstad in 1913 he wrote in the newspaper Tsala ya Batho:

“They are determined to fight the pass laws no matter where they might be. They are fighting for the freedom of women in the Free State.. they don’t care even if they die in jail.”

Such was their determination and their courage.

They were prepared to resist no matter the cost.

They stood for what was right, not for themselves, but for their fellow man and woman.

Mbokodo, we salute you!

We salute all the men and women of this great land whose sacrifices have made it possible for us to be free today.

We salute today’s generation of men and women who have taken up the cause of freedom, equality, non-racialism, non-sexism and human rights for all.

They are the worthy inheritors of the baton of struggle passed to them by those who came before.

This year marks 27 years since we attained our freedom from apartheid rule.

On this day we recall the historic events of the 27th of April 1994 when we voted for the first time.

There are celebrations taking place across the land, and we will be waving the national flag and singing our national anthem.

We will share stories with the younger generation of where we were on that day, and the experience of standing in the voting queues.

Today we have a country where all enjoy human rights and freedoms.

We have a Constitution that is a shield and a protection for all.

We have made great progress towards realising the rights of our people to a better life and in advancing human dignity.

And yet, even as we have lived in a democratic country for the past 27 years, we know that across many parts of South Africa, the promise of 1994 has not yet been fulfilled.

Millions of South Africans still live in conditions of poverty and deprivation.

For those who continue to suffer from lack of basic of services like running water; for those living in fear every day from violence and crime; and for those who have no jobs to support themselves and their families, true freedom remains elusive.

The legacy of apartheid remains a defining feature of our land.

Even after nearly three decades, it continues in many ways to determine where people will live, what assets they own, what schooling they receive, what jobs they can do, and how safe they feel.

As we celebrate this Freedom Day, we can point to the great progress we have made in confronting the apartheid legacy – from the provision of water and electricity to millions, to opening the doors of learning to the children of the poor, to the provision of health care, to lifting millions of people out of poverty.

But we cannot celebrate Freedom Day without acknowledging how much further we still need to go.

It cannot be that 27 years into our democracy that our people are being deprived of even the most basic services like water and sanitation because of poor planning, incompetence, mismanagement or corruption.

It cannot be that access to housing, education and decent health care is being undermined because those tasked with service delivery do not care enough.

In exactly, six months from today we will be holding our sixth local government elections since the advent of democracy.

We will be going to the polls at an immensely difficult time in the life of our country.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact not only on public health, but on our economy.

Many people have lost their jobs. Businesses have been forced to close.

Families are struggling to make ends meet.

The task of rebuilding our society and our country is a great one.

Every South African will need to be part of the great effort to restore our economy to health, to create more jobs, and to grow more businesses through the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.

Every South African will need to remain part of the fight to overcome COVID-19.

We are still in the midst of the pandemic, and the likelihood of a third wave of infections remains ever present.

This means that we cannot let down our guard for a moment.

We need to continue to practice social distancing, avoiding crowds and closed spaces.

We must continue to wear masks whenever we are in public spaces, and we need to continue to wash our hands regularly or sanitise.

If we remain vigilant, if we exercise caution, if we act responsibility, we should be able to delay a resurgence of infections and save lives.

In the coming weeks, we will be launching the second phase of our national vaccination programme, which will focus on the most vulnerable in our population.

This is a massive undertaking that will need the support and participation of all South Africans.

In its size and complexity, in its reach and its impact, the national vaccination programme will be similar in many ways to the first democratic election that we held 27 years ago on this day.

The success of our vaccination programme is vital not only to overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, but also to enabling us to continue with our struggle for the realisation of the rights of all South Africans.

Fellow South Africans,

Democracy rests on the beliefs of free will and free choice.

Our vote is the most potent weapon through which we can improve our lives and transform our communities.

Whether you are in a village, a town, a city, a metro or a farm, I call on you to exercise your right in the upcoming local government elections.

I call on you to decide who among the many candidates has the ability and the determination to work tirelessly on your behalf.

I call on you to determine the future of your family and your community by putting your confidence in those parties that have the best policies and the will and the means to implement them.

I call on you to demonstrate, with your vote, your intolerance for corruption, theft and mismanagement of the funds that are meant for the benefit of you, the citizen.

These elections are an opportunity to make your voice heard and to be part of the change you want to see.

Of the many great facets of democracy is that we are able to exercise our right to protest.

But when we resort to violent demonstrations, burning, looting and the destruction of property, we are undermining the very cause we seek to advance.

Exercising our right to vote is by far the most powerful form of protest.

If those who claim to serve you are not doing so, vote them out.

Over the passage of time our democracy has grown and matured.

So too should our approach to exercising this important right.

Let us be guided by one loyalty alone, and that is to this country.

The struggles waged by our forebears were not for themselves alone; they were for the generations yet to come.

We must take a firm stand against the social ills that prevent the men, women and children of South Africa from living lives of freedom.

We must take a firm stand against violence against women and children.

We must speak out and report any instances of gender-based violence, even if the perpetrators are close to us.

As a country we must say no to homophobia and all forms of intolerance against members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Over the past few months there have been a series of terrible crimes committed against members of this community, including murder.

This is something of which we as a nation are deeply ashamed.

I want to send a strong message that hate crime will not be tolerated in our society, and that those behind these crimes will be found and brought to book.

Fellow South Africans,

Many have paid the ultimate price so that we are able to breathe the clean air of freedom today.

Over the years we have encountered and overcome many challenges.

But there are still many challenges that we are yet to overcome.

These are problems common to us all and they impact us all.

But like those who came before, we understand that no challenge is too great that it cannot be overcome.

The democratic breakthrough of 1994 liberated black South Africans from the tyranny of apartheid, but it also liberated white South Africans from the shackles of untruth and the false belief in racial superiority.

This is because chose the path of non-racialism, of reconciliation and of peace.

After 27 years we are still striving to be a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it – be they black or white, man or woman, rural dweller or urban dweller, able-bodied or living with disability, regardless of their beliefs, their language or their sexual orientation.

Let us acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate the diversity of this country, for it is what makes us who we are.

We may come from different backgrounds but we call ourselves South Africans with pride.

What is needed of us now is that we hold fast to the rope of unity as we confront our many challenges.

It is the responsibility and duty of every South African who believes in this country and wants it to succeed.

Let us not abandon hope that we can become the country our forebears fought for.

Let us not give in to doubt and pessimism. Let us keep striving.

Step by step, brick by brick, let us build this nation together.

Wherever you are today, I wish you a happy Freedom Day.

May God Bless South Africa and protect her people.

I thank you.