Remembering the freedom icons

09 April 2014

Phumla WilliamsThis month South Africa marks 20 Years of Freedom. It is a time when we remember and celebrate the icons that fought against the apartheid government so that we may be free. Their collective effort and sustained pressure on the apartheid regime led to the release of former President Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of political parties.

We should never forget the solidarity shown by international organisations that stood side by side with our icons and demanded a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society. International sanctions, marches and public defiance campaigns against South Africa served to decisively weaken the apartheid state.  

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary of liberation on 27 April this year, we do not only express our gratitude to South Africans but also the international community who supported us in our struggle for freedom.

There is no question that South Africa is today a better place to live in than was it was in 1994. Our accomplishments speak for themselves; they range from increased political stability, a vibrant and robust constitutional democracy, four successful national and local elections and longest economic growth interrupted only by the 2008 global recession.

Government’s Twenty Year Review indicates that we have made strides in the provision of basic services such as improving access to education, healthcare, houses, water, electricity and roads. The significant structural advances we have made have also been echoed by the global investment bank Goldman Sachs in its report titled “Two Decades of Freedom - A 20-year Review of South Africa”.

There is however consensus that despite notable progress, the country still faces the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Only those who downplay our divided past and history of oppression would expect the deep seated challenges we inherited in 1994 to have been completely resolved given the limited time. Anyone who truly understands and appreciates our history will acknowledge that the challenges we face have their roots in our divided past.

The apartheid regime systematically marginalised and exploited the majority of our people. It resulted in high levels of unemployment, abject poverty, sharp inequalities in the distribution of opportunities, income and property. Over the last 20 years we have steadfastly laid the groundwork to take us forward.

Government is responding to these challenges with a sense of urgency through the implementation of the National Development Plan, the National Infrastructure Plan, the New Growth Path and the Industrial Policy Action Plan that are all geared towards boosting investment and providing support to businesses so we can create jobs and grow the economy.  

The freedom we enjoy today must not be taken for granted; it was never voluntarily given by the oppressor. People fought tirelessly for years to free themselves of the oppressive system. Nkosi Bhambatha ka Mancinza Zondi, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Nelson Mandela Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko and Tsietsi Mashinini are some of the leaders who made immense sacrifices to give hope to our dreams and aspirations.

It is through their blood, sweat and sacrifice that we are free; the haunting last words of activist Solomon Mahlangu will forever echo through time. “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.”

As we promise to follow in their footsteps, let us celebrate their sacrifices by joining in celebrating national Freedom Day at both Freedom Park and the Union Buildings. The Department of Arts and Culture is implementing a nationwide and interdepartmental programme to give South Africans an opportunity to take part in the celebrations.

The programmes include the Freedom Fridays Campaign; members of the public have also been invited to share their comments and reflections on the milestones we have achieved thus far. Speaking at the launch of the 2014 Freedom Month celebrations, the Minister of Arts and Culture Mr Paul Mashatile said: “Our programmes are geared at reminding South Africans, especially young people, of where we come from as a nation; that our freedom was not free and that we have an obligation to defend it jealously”.

Comments and reflections by South Africans can be made through different social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. These are some of the highlights marking our twentieth anniversary of freedom and democracy celebrations. It is now up to all South Africans to be part of the celebrations to remember where we come from and more importantly to work together towards a shared and prosperous future.

Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)