‘South Africa, look how far we’ve come’

27 April 2011

President Jacob Zuma, speaking during the Freedom Day celebrations in Pretoria on Wednesday, reminded South Africans of how far their country had come since they voted in the country’s first democratic elections 17 years ago, while acknowledging that much work remained to be done to reverse the long legacy of apartheid.

Addressing a large crowd gathered on the lawns of the Union Buildings, Zuma said that Freedom Day “marked the liberation of blacks from subjugation and of whites from guilt and fear, leading to the formation of one South African nation, united in its diversity, colourfulness and vibrancy.

“We are celebrating a freedom and democracy that were obtained through the blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifices of scores of freedom fighters, ordinary South Africans and freedom loving people in Africa and the world,” Zuma said.

“Each Freedom Day, we remember that scores of South Africans laid down their lives so that we could be free.

“We must therefore commit ourselves to not allow anyone or any grouping or structure in our society, to trivialise our freedom or to reverse the gains of our hard-won democracy.”

‘We’ve done exceptionally well in 17 years’

Reminding South Africans of the suffering caused by apartheid laws “that stripped away the dignity of millions of South Africans”, Zuma said the country had done “exceptionally well against all odds in just 17 years” in reversing this legacy.

“We have established a solid, sound, stable, functional constitutional democracy” based on a Constitution that “enjoins all of us to heal the divisions of the past and to establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.”

The Constitution also enshrined socio-economic rights, Zuma said, including the rights to water, sanitation, electricity, roads, medical care, quality education and economic opportunities.

“We are pleased with the achievements scored thus far in the provision of these basic services, although much more still needs to be done.

“In 1994, only 62% of households had access to clean drinking water – today 93% do. In 1994, only 50% of households had access to decent sanitation – today 77% do. In 1994, only 36% of South Africans had access to electricity – today 84% do.”

Service delivery achievements

The majority of South Africans were now provided with free basic services in water and electricity, Zuma said, while by 2010 close to 15-million people, mostly orphans and vulnerable children, pensioners and people with disabilities, were receiving social grants.

At the same time, the government was upgrading informal settlements in municipalities in order to provide security of tenure and access to basic services, and had committed to building 80 000 mixed-income rental housing units in the next five years in order to enable low-income earners to live closer to where they work.

To broaden economic empowerment, the government was encouraging various forms of collective ownership of the economy, such as employee shareholding schemes, co-operatives and public ownership. “There is also increased assistance to small and micro enterprises, in both rural and urban areas.”

Zuma said the government continued to expand access to education and to declare no-fee schools for children of the poor, while more than eight-million children benefited from school-feeding schemes, and more than 400 000 children had received a R12 to R15 subsidy for attending a government-registered Early Childhood Development Centre.

At the higher education level, Zuma said, student loans were now being converted into bursaries for qualifying final-year students, while students in further education and training colleges who qualified for financial aid were now exempted from paying fees.

Local government ‘needs fixing’

However, much work remained to be done, particularly in improving service delivery at the local level.

“Our research has indicated that we have to do a lot more to improve the way local government works,” Zuma said, adding that a number of issues would need to be attended to after the 18 May municipal elections in order to implement the local government turnaround strategy recently adopted by the Cabinet.

“We have to provide more effective and direct support to municipalities in distress, in line with the needs of each municipality,” Zuma said. “We have to ensure the appointment of qualified and experienced personnel, the transparency of tender and procurement systems, and also improve the levels of financial management and accountability.”

Urging South Africans to come out in numbers to vote in the 18 May elections, Zuma said that all South Africans, “black and white, must continue to work together to deepen the reconciliation and unity of the rainbow nation.

“We must work together to create a more prosperous South Africa, which will be the best place to live in on earth, for all of us.

“Happy 17th Birthday to a free South Africa!”

SAinfo reporter

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