THROUGH DEMOCRATIC CHANGE, SOUTH AFRICANS ARE RECLAIMING THEIR DIGNITY

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Dear Fellow South African,

On this past Saturday, 27 April 2024, South Africa celebrated the 30th anniversary of the country’s first democratic elections. It was the day that changed our country forever.

It was the day on which the country turned its back on apartheid. Beyond the great wrong that was apartheid, it was a system designed to deny people their dignity.

This national humiliation and degradation ranged from bureaucratic pettiness like whites-only benches, restaurants and beaches, to the brute force that saw families torn apart and forcibly moved from their houses and land. People were tortured, imprisoned, exiled and killed. The so-called solution of ‘separate development’ resulted in nothing but underdevelopment for the country’s majority

As President Nelson Mandela once said, in the system of apartheid, both the oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

That is why the task of national reconciliation we embarked on in 1994 was as much about liberating white South Africans from the shackles of prejudice and fear as it was about freeing black South Africans from the indignity of apartheid.

As we continuously strive towards nationhood, it is critical that all South Africans, be they white, black, Indian and coloured, remain part of this journey.

This becomes all the more important at times of difficulty, when there is a temptation to retreat into laagers of ethnicity and race. For the sake of national unity, we should resist this temptation. We should acknowledge feelings of marginalisation and address them.

The democratic breakthrough of 1994 began the restoration of the dignity of black South Africans that had been denied and systematically eroded, first by colonialism then by apartheid.

Despite the many challenges our country continues to experience, not least of all the crisis of unemployment, South Africans are pioneering, resourceful and resilient, often in the face of great odds.

What always strikes me during my interaction with young South African men and women born into democracy is the confidence they exude, secure in the knowledge that their dignity is both respected and protected.

Democracy’s children are self-assured about their human rights, in their citizenship, of their role and place in society, and of their own potential.

During apartheid, Bantu education was served up to the country’s black majority as a reminder that there was no place for them ‘above the level of certain forms of labour’. In South Africa today, equal access to quality education has enabled black children to become CEOs of companies, professors, engineers and fighter pilots.
Young South Africans, our nation’s future, are making their mark in the workplace, in arts, culture and music, in academia, in the high-growth tech and IT sectors, and in serving their communities.

They are also politically astute and civically engaged. Some 77 percent of new voters registered in preparation for the forthcoming election are young people under the age of 29.

At times of difficulty in the life of our nation, same have found themselves tempted to question whether life has really been better under democracy. For all who experienced apartheid, there can be no doubt that democracy has restored the dignity of every South African.

Each time I meet with the many young people born into a free South Africa, when I look at the vast, profound, transformative change this country has undergone over the past thirty years, I feel a profound sense of gratitude.

I am grateful that they will never have to endure the humility and indignity of previous generations, of being forced to sit on separate park benches, dispossessed of their land, denied opportunities for advancement and of being pariahs in the land of their birth.

In this Freedom Month, when we collectively reflect on how far we have come in building a new nation, we know that we are not as far as we had hoped to be. While we have done much to undo the devastating legacy of apartheid, we have confronted other challenges, both from beyond our borders, such as the global financial crisis, and here at home.

In recent years, as we sought to recover from more than a decade of low growth and the era of state capture, our progress was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the loss of more than 100,000 lives in our country and caused the greatest contraction of our economy in decades. The public unrest in July 2021 and the catastrophic floods in parts of the country the following year led to further loss of life and destruction of property and infrastructure.

While these events severely hampered our collective efforts to rebuild the country, they also showed the resilience of the South African people. Despite these great difficulties, we have persevered with the task of reform and recovery, to grow an inclusive economy and create jobs.

We have continued to work together to overcome the crises of unemployment, poverty, inequality and underdevelopment. These challenges impact on the lives of millions of people and undermine the dignity that we have worked throughout our democracy to restore.

And yet we maintain our resolve to move forward with optimism. We have come a long, long way. And we are determined to go further to achieve the free, just and equal South Africa for which millions voted on Freedom Day 30 years ago.

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