Using our past to forge ahead

Freedom Month is an opportunity for us to remember our fallen struggle heroes, especially those whom we lost recently. They include former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, Alf Kumalo, Professor Jakes Gerwel and Amina Cachalia. Last week we commemorated the death of Mr Chris Hani twenty years ago.

We are forever indebted to these heroes and many others who fought selflessly against the apartheid regime in their own unique ways.

Throughout Freedom Month, we will celebrate our victory over the unjust apartheid system. On April 27, 1994, South Africans from all walks of life made history by turning our backs on a painful past and started to build a democratic nation.

Last week at the launch of Freedom Month, President Jacob Zuma stated: “April is the month of freedom. It is the month during which South Africans elevated reconciliation and forgiveness, and we decided to emphasise our unity in diversity and minimise that which divides us.”

The President added that during April, “South Africans from all walks of life, regardless of the role we played in history or what we believed in then, have a responsibility to respect and acknowledge the past, celebrate the present and build the future together”.

As part of celebrating “the present” we should celebrate our achievements since 1994. South Africa has undoubtedly come a long way and we can rightly be proud of our advances in building a new nation out of the divisions of the past.

The country has steadily been moving forward in building a new culture of human rights and a respect for dignity, which has become part of the fabric of our society.

During Freedom Month, we should also reflect on progress we have made in achieving a better life for all. For those who passionately debate the state of our country, the Census 2011 results offered unbiased answers about the country’s progress.

These results indicated that more South Africans now have access to water, electricity and sanitation. They also showed that the average household income increased by 113 per cent over the last 10 years, well above the inflation rate.

The state of our education, however, remains a hotly debated matter. Census 2011 found that school enrolment and overall educational performance have significantly improved since Census 1996. The report also stated that “the proportion of persons who completed secondary education (matric) or higher increased from 23.4 per cent in 1996 to 40.5 per cent in 2011”.

Since 1994 the Department of Health implemented many initiatives to improve the health of all. The Medical Research Council of South Africa’s 2011 Rapid Mortality Surveillance Report showed that South Africans’ life expectancy increased from 56.5 years in 2009 to 60 years in 2011.

Moreover, South Africa was found to have the largest HIV counselling and testing programme in the world.  There are nearly 1. 9 million patients on ARV treatment. On April 8, we launched the roll-out of the Fixed Dose Combination ARV, which will greatly contribute to the quality of life for those living with HIV.

Another health intervention is the use of GeneXpert technology, which allows us to diagnose TB within two hours compared to several days or weeks as was the case previously. The government prioritised the roll-out of this technology in correctional facilities, mining and other congregating areas which have an elevated risk of infection.

We have also spent considerable effort to reducing the crime rate and ensuring that the Police protect all communities. During the past 10 years, annual statistics revealed that between financial years 2003/04 to 2008/09, serious crime declined by 25.8 per cent and with a further 8 per cent between financial years 2008/09 to 2011/12.

We are preparing to commemorate the centenary of the 1913 Land Act, efforts to undo the injustice it inflicted on millions of South Africans continue, albeit at a slower rate than anticipated. So far about 3 million hectares have been redistributed to communities, which constitute only 7 per cent of the set target of 30 per cent. However, figures from the land restitution programme show that 71 292 people have opted for financial compensation for claims over land.

In 1994 there was a massive housing backlog and the new democratically elected government prioritised the building of houses. The 2012 Midterm Review Report indicates that between 1994 and 2011 Government has created approximately 2.8 million subsidised housing opportunities.

Even though we have witnessed significant changes since 1994, we remain mindful that more needs to be done to ensure a better life for all. To achieve this, the government came up with 2030 Vision through the National Development Plan (NDP).

About it, the President said: “The Plan outlines the type of society we are striving for in 2030, where no one is hungry, where everyone is able to go to school and further their studies, where work is available, where everyone is making a contribution because each person have been provided with what they need to live their full potential.”

However, the government cannot build such a society alone. We need every South African to be involved to ensure the successful implementation of the NDP.

While we must know and exercise their rights as enshrined in our Constitution, it is essential that we bear in mind that these rights come with responsibilities. It is our collective responsibility to actively participate in building our country. We will only succeed if we work together.

Let us celebrate our successes this month and reflect on that is required to reach our ultimate goal of building a prosperous society and improving the quality of life for all.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)

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