Last week marked the beginning of an exciting period in our celebration of 20 Years of Freedom when the 20 Year Review Report was released to the public. The release laid to the fore the imperical evidence of the good story of South Africa in its quest to build the nation.
This year South Africa marks 20 years since its first democratic elections in 1994. For the majority of people it signified the first steps towards freedom, and gave hope for a better future.
A better life for all was premised on the restoration of human dignity, respect for human life, creation of decent jobs, building of houses, opening the doors of education to everyone and the provision of basic services.
To reflect on our journey since 1994, President Zuma released the Twenty Year Review entitled “South Africa 20 Year Review 1994 - 2014”. This Review, which is frank and honest in its approach, reflects on the progress we have made to realise a better life for all and to improve the quality of life for all South Africans. It highlights the challenges which still remain and how we could best address them as we enter the third decade of democracy. In addition, it builds on the findings of both the 10 and 15 year reviews.
The facts and figures in the Twenty Year Review reaffirms that indeed South Africa is now a much better place to live in than it was before 1994. At its release President Zuma stated that we had become a well-functioning democracy.
He further stated that “we have representative legislatures, an independent judiciary, independent public audit, an independent Reserve Bank, and independent constitutional bodies to provide checks and balances and protect the rights of citizens. Thanks to our progressive Constitution, we enjoy freedom of movement and of association, the right to own property, the right not to be detained without trial, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, religious freedom and freedom of sexual orientation. Women have equal rights before the law which did not exist before 1994”.
The Review also illustrates that the hopes and expectations of millions of South Africans have been met, although more still needs to be done to address the triple challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty. It indicates that the country has made significant progress in rolling out basic service delivery, advances made to restore socioeconomic rights, especially to communities that were deliberately excluded by apartheid. Today more people have access to safe drinking water. This places us well ahead of our 2015 Millennium Development Goal targets.
The provision of electricity has ensured a better life for the majority of households with almost 90 per cent having access. More than 12 million people now have a place to call home as government has invested billions of rands to build new homes. Government initiatives have ensured that more learners attend and succeed in school, with the matric pass rate steadily increasing over the past 20 years from 53.4 per cent in 1995 to 78.2 per cent in 2013.
Highlighting the successes in improving access to free education, President Zuma stated: “Over 8 million school children are now benefitting from no-fee policies. This has contributed to an increase in secondary school enrolment from 51 percent in 1994 to around 80 percent currently. About 9 million children are benefitting from the school feeding scheme and this has ensured that learners no longer have to study on an empty stomach.”
Speaking on the economy, he pointed out that it had shown steady growth from 1994 to 2012. Although welcoming this, he challenged business and labour to work together with government in ensuring higher economic growth rates to reduce unemployment.
The Review paints a picture of how different South Africa is now. Before 1994 life for the majority of people was not worth living and was a far cry from the thriving, vibrant society we now know. Black people were oppressed, dispossessed of their land and other means of livelihoods and systematically stripped of their basic human rights, including the right to vote and freedom of movement and association.
Services such as electricity, sanitation and water that we now take for granted were sorely lacking. People lived under atrocious and inhumane conditions. Black people in particular were treated as hewers of wood and drawers of water as the apartheid government deliberately and explicitly sought to reduce them to unskilled and semi-skilled occupations.
This is in stark contrast to the current reality. Today the voice of citizens forms an integral part of building the country. The Constitution further places an obligation on state institutions to be guided by the principles of openness and transparency, and to provide citizens with information that is accessible, accurate and timely.
The Twenty Year Review will go a long way towards promoting an active citizenry as envisaged in the National Development Plan. It allows for government’s achievements to be scrutinised and to be engaged particularly on how we should build on the gains we have made since 1994. Importantly, the review enables the country to learn from its mistakes so as to forge ahead in building a better life for all South Africans.
We need to work together to address in tackling the challenges highlighted by the Review. We encourage all South Africans to engage with the report and spread a message of hope and tell the good story of our country accurately. We similarly call on South Africans to also use the occasion of 20 Years of Freedom celebrations to renew their active participation in further building on the gains of the last 20 years.
As we look back on our achievements, it is important that all South Africans, civil society, communities and the business sector work together to move the country forward. “Play your part” to ensure that we build the country we want to live in. Let us all rise to the occasion and prove to the doubting Thomases that we are a force to be reckoned with and a country of substance and perseverance.
Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)