February 11 marked 23 years since Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was released from prison. His release was a historic moment as he had spent most of his adult life confined to a small cell. Despite this, Mr Mandela did not waver in his fight, and support for freedom, human rights and a better life for all.
Black people saw his release as their deliverance from hundreds of years of oppression and human rights violations. Cyril Ramaphosa, who played an instrumental role in the 1990s transitional negotiations, observed at the time of Mr Mandela’s release: “When comrade Nelson Mandela was released, as he walked out of these prison gates, we knew that his freedom meant that our freedom had also arrived. As he became free we also knew that we were now free.''
This is the man who dedicated his life to free South Africans from bondage and segregation, and fought tirelessly to ensure that everyone could have equal opportunities. The images of Mr Mandela walking out of prison were flashed on screens around the world. As he walked out of prison, people sang and chanted: ''Nelson Mandela, there's no one like him.''
His release also marked the beginning of a number of significant changes in the country, for example the adoption of the final constitution in 1996. The constitution is regarded as one of the most progressive in the world which safeguards peoples’ basic human rights and freedoms. It was as the result of intense negotiations that involved representatives of various political parties and groups.
The constitution places an obligation on the state to protect, promote and respect the rights as contained in the Bill of Rights. Enshrined in the Bill of Rights is the right to life, equality, human dignity, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association, political rights and the right to peaceful assembly and to demonstrate. It also contains socio-economic rights in terms of which government has to provide basic services like housing, running water, healthcare and education.
Apart from his fight for everyone to be treated fairly and equally, former President Mandela dedicated his life to promote education and the prevention of HIV and Aids. His dream to have a high school in his birth place, Mvezo has been realised. The Mandela School of Science and Technology is expected to open in 2014.
The building of the school was a collaborative effort between Siemens and the Mvezo Development Trust. The departments of Basic Education and Science and Technology, as well as the community of Mvezo supported the initiative. Gone are the days where the children of Mvezo have to travel long distances to attend school. This school will bring to life Section 29 of the constitution, which states that “everyone has the right to a basic education”.
Former President Mandela’s own words fittingly describe it as: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation.”
This school bears testimony to the fact that working together with the private sector we can do more to eradicate the backlogs in school infrastructure. School infrastructure development remains one of government’s top priorities; billions of rands have been invested since 1994 to upgrade or build schools, particularly in the Eastern Cape.
The province has been a major beneficiary of the government-led Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative under which government aims to build 49 new schools.
As of March, 17 had been completed. According to the Department of Basic Education 510 schools that were built with inappropriate structures are being replaced.
Also 939 schools will be supplied with sanitation and 932 schools will get electricity, while 1145 will have water. As of March, 134 schools were connected with electricity, 190 provided with sanitation and 116 had water.
On 18 July, the birthday of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, people around the world are encouraged to make a difference in the lives of others by lending a hand within their own communities. This year’s event will take place under the theme “Take action; inspire change; make every day a Mandela Day” with a focus on food security, shelter and literacy.
The government encourages all institutions to respond to President Jacob Zuma’s call to celebrate Mandela Day through an act of kindness. This can be through participating in various activities to honour our icon and his legacy, and to inculcate the spirit of volunteerism.
As we prepare to commemorate Mandela Day, we are reminded that former president is still in hospital. The Presidency has kept the nation and international community well-informed of his condition and thanked everyone who has wished him well.
President Zuma said: “We appreciate all the love and compassion. Madiba is receiving the best medical care from a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals who are at his bedside around the clock. He is well looked after.”
As we celebrate the work and legacy of our icon, we are aware of the significant strides we have made towards levelling the playing field in the provision of education, healthcare for all and equal opportunities.
Nonetheless, we remain mindful of the number of backlogs the country inherited in 1994 and that we have to do more to ensure they are significantly reduced. The government calls on all South Africans to play their part and contribute towards a better life for all.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)