27 April 2014
After many years of white minority rule, on 27 April 1994 South Africans queued for hours to choose a new leadership.
Although I was a lot younger when we had our first democratic elections, even back then I was politically aware and fully understood and appreciated what a major event the 1994 election was. I was privileged enough to witness it.
While I was not yet old enough to vote, I remember my late father and his friends – who were politically active – overcome with emotion, many of them in tears from casting their votes.
For me, 1994, marked the end of apartheid rule and an introduction of a new constitutional order, in which all worked towards a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.
It was described as a miracle. Doomsayers and those who wanted us to fail had predicted chaos and civil war. However, none of these things came to pass, and the values of democracy and freedom of our birth still endure today.
How far we’ve come since then
Two decades later, I pause to reflect on how far we have come as a country in realising the ambitions of this young democracy and its constitution.
The release of the 20 Year Review report shows a definitive picture of a country that is rapidly changing, a country which has a good story to tell. South Africa, according to the report, has made significant strides in consolidating democracy, rolling out basic service delivery and improving the lives of many, particularly those deliberately excluded by apartheid.
In the South Africa of today, elections are commonplace. There is a democratic spirit: we have an active citizenry, a strong civil society movement, a press that is independent, and vocal opposition parties.
Since 1994, almost 3 000 new schools have been built, access to clean water has increased to 95%, and access to electricity has increased from just over 50% of households to 86%. The government has also introduced no-fee schools and the National Nutrition Programme.
South Africans are now living longer healthier lives due to better access to health care facilities, an increase in health professionals, and the country’s internationally acclaimed HIV treatment programme.
Today this is a country that can truly boast that it is a gateway to the continent for the rest of the world.
Despite this, some parts of South Africa seem to remain stuck in their racial laagers, still unable to see through the eyes of others. It sometimes still feels like a country struggling to shake off its past.
Nonetheless, there is huge optimism and determination to progress, and we are on the right track to making the dream of a truly “rainbow nation” a reality. The South African democracy is still under construction, but its foundations are sound. The national debate is about the edifice we are building on it. From our dying past, our future is becoming.
And that for me is reason enough to celebrate – regardless of which political party one follows, and what political ideology one believes in.
Looking forward to the next 20 years
While celebrating our achievements, we must also look forward to the next 20 years. If Nelson Mandela’s vision is to be achieved, I am of the firm view that we simply need to work harder, especially in closing the gap between the rich and poor. This is because inequality brings society down, creating the conditions child and women abuse, violent service protests and inflated expectations.
Business, labour, civil society, government need to come together as South Africans and decide what needs to be traded to achieve that.
I believe the National Development Plan (NDP) is a sound roadmap. 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 if they wish, where work is available, where everyone is making a contribution because each person has been provided with what they need to reach their full potential.
We are a nation, and yes, among us we may fight, argue, criticise, complain and want what we don’t have, but I know of another social structure in which the same things happen – the family.
In this way were are as much a family as a nation. We have different beliefs, expectations, goals and aspirations, but at the heart of it all, we love each other and we would be fiercely protective of each other should anyone wish to bully us.
This comes shining through in situations where we have the most to lose; just think back to the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 2010 Soccer World Cup, and the passing of our beloved Madiba. Good or bad, as a nation, as a family, we come together.
On Sunday, I personally will be celebrating being part of this big, vibrant and colourful family called South Africa.