A few weeks ago our nation came together to bid farewell to former President Nelson Mandela. It was a time of intense sorrow, but it was also an opportunity for the nation to reflect on the progress we have made since attaining democracy.
Over the next year the minds of countless South Africans will again turn to the momentous events of 27 April 1994, the moment when we emerged as a nation from the ruins of apartheid.
Some will choose to look back at our victory over apartheid and will celebrate our hard won democracy. Others may use the milestone of 20 Years of Freedom to evaluate our achievements, assess the progress we have made and contemplate the challenges which still remain.
As with most public discourse in South Africa, debates and discussions about the extent of our progress will be lively. There will undoubtedly be divergent views, however, what is indisputable is that our country is a much better place now.
Twenty years ago we were a nation on the verge of the abyss, many were convinced that our dream of a nation built on the pillars of democracy, equality and freedom would fail. Others predicted that there would be a civil war.
That none of these dire predictions came to pass bears testament to the willingness and commitment of millions of South Africans to make our new nation work. When the newly elected government took the reins of the country in 1994, they inherited morally and financially bankrupt country from the apartheid government.
Our current freedoms that many may take for granted were unheard of during apartheid. There was no freedom of speech, no freedom of association or movement.
Everything the apartheid government did was aimed at stripping black people of their human rights, dignity and humanity. Today equality, freedom and human dignity permeate our everyday lives.
Our commitment to basic freedoms was evident from the moment our new nation was born. At his inauguration as President on 10 May 1994, Nelson Mandela outlined the values which would define our new nation.
“We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world,” he said.
In his closing remarks on that most seminal of days almost 20 years ago he uttered what are now famous words: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”
Our democracy remains strong and is centred on the Constitution which was adopted in 1996. It is widely recognised as the most progressive Constitution in the world and guarantees our many freedoms along with the Bill of Rights. It is the foundation our democracy; it ensures the rule of law and stipulates a clear separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary.
Our Constitution also allows for independent bodies to support and safeguard our democracy. The so-called “Chapter 9 Institutions” are an integral part of our democracy and ensure that government, institutions and individuals act within the spirit of the Constitution and the law.
However, our democracy has never been about bodies and institutions; it has always been about ensuring a better life for all.
One of the main objectives of government has been greater and more inclusive job creation, the elimination of poverty, the reduction of inequality and sustainable growth.
More must still be done. Our nation is still confronted with the triple threat of inequality, poverty and unemployment. Our common struggle over the next twenty years will be to find ways to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality, while growing the economy faster and more inclusively so that all South Africans may benefit.
Through our long term roadmap, the National Development Plan (NDP) we are striving to build a society where citizens can contribute to the future growth and well-being of our nation.
Raising living standards to the minimum level proposed in the NDP will involve a combination of increasing employment, ensuring higher incomes through productivity and growth, ensuring a social wage and good-quality public services.
This future can be realised if we all work together. We proved the naysayers wrong 20 years ago when we forged a nation from the ashes of apartheid, our continued commitment and dedication to ensuring a better life for all will prove the doubters wrong yet again.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)