Freedom Day is the commemoration of the first democratic elections held in South Africa on 27 April 1994. These were the first post-apartheid national elections to be held in South African where anyone could vote regardless of race. Prior to this, during apartheid, racial segregation which was enforced by the National Party, prevented any kind of inter-racial activity.
With new franchise rights, black Africans and other citizens elected Nelson Mandela to be South Africa’s new president in 1994. This officially ended apartheid in South Africa.
South Africans celebrate Freedom Day on April 27 every year to mark the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. A quarter of a century later, though, questions remain: how much and whose freedom is to be celebrated?
The differing answers among voters might affect the results of the national elections on 8 May.
South Africans can still not celebrate freedom from want. They are painfully aware that one cannot eat democracy. Formal political equality is rightly celebrated as an achievement by those who suffered under dictatorship, minority rule and other forms of oppressive regimes that denied them basic rights. But democracy doesn’t put food on the table. Nor does it provide decent shelter or secure a dignified living.
Former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous 1941 speech to Congress identified four freedoms: those of speech, of worship, from want and from fear.
Acutely aware of this, the drafters of the Freedom Charter – which was adopted in 1955 by the African National Congress (ANC) that now governs South Africa, among other anti-apartheid activists – included far more than just political freedoms. It also has the sharing of the country’s wealth among all people as a fundamental principle.
But these ideals, still considered a basic blueprint for the country, have – to a large extent – remained remote goals.
The South African Constitution is among the very few to recognise socio-economic rights as human rights – including the right to food, health care, shelter, water and education. But there is a huge gap between setting norms and implementing them.
Today, South Africa is one of the most consistently unequal countries in the world. More than half the population lives in poverty, while a staggering 27% of people are unemployed.
According to Eunomix, which advises some of the biggest mining companies in the country, the past 12 years saw the country suffer more declines in its socio-economic and governance performance than any other nation that’s not at war.
This is thanks largely to worsening corruption and policy paralysis during former President Jacob Zuma’s nine years in office. And, things are not about to get any better soon.
The day celebrates freedom and commemorates the first democratic post-apartheid non-racial elections that were held on April 27th 1994, which saw Nelson Mandela elected as President.
The 1994 elections were the first time everyone of voting age of over 18 from all race groups, including foreign citizens permanently resident in South Africa, were allowed to vote. Under the apartheid regime, non-whites had limited voting rights.
Freedom Day is the National Day of South Africa and is a day of glory and remembrance for all South Africans that marks the end of the period of colonialism and Apartheid.
Before the importance of Freedom Day can be grasped, it’s important to understand South Africa’s history of racial violence and segregation. Until 1994, the South African government implemented a racist segregation system known as apartheid. In Afrikaans, apartheid means separateness. This single word describes a series of policies that kept racial groups away from the white minority in South Africa.
The first apartheid policy was the 1913 Land Act. Enacted three years after South Africa gained its independence, the 1913 Land Act forced black Africans to live and work on reserves. Since these reserves offered minimal resources, this act caused many black communities to experience severe economic woes. These areas of South Africa were often characterised by extreme poverty. In many cases, these reserves were divided into subdivisions. These subdivisions divided black Africans according to tribal and ethnic backgrounds. Many historians believe that the South African government used this further division of African racial groups to reduce the political power of South Africa’s indigenous people.
By the middle of the 20th century, apartheid policies transformed into full institutionalised discrimination. The Population Registration Act of 1950 was one of the most extreme measures taken by the South African government during this period. This act was an extreme version of the 1913 Land Act. Instead of separating people with reserves, the Population Registration Act separated all people based on race, ethnicity, and religion. In many cases, mixed families were split up. Soon after this act was implemented, the majority of South African land was seized by the government and redistributed to white men. By the time this discriminatory agrarian reform was completed, over 80 percent of the land in South Africa belonged to the white minority.
Due to the many racist policies that were implemented by the white minority, black Africans began to fight back against the South African government. During the beginning of their movement for equality, black Africans formed the African National Congress to engage in peaceful protests. During a peaceful demonstration in Sharpesville, a battle broke out between black protesters and white attackers. The attackers killed 67 black Africans. After realising that peaceful protests would be met with deadly force, the African National Congress formed two military divisions. Soon after this, Nelson Mandela, a prominent leader in the anti-apartheid movement, was arrested by the South African government.
While the South African government hoped that arresting Nelson Mandela would stifle the African National Congress’ goals, it actually helped the anti-apartheid movement. After Mandela was arrested, the international community rallied to assist black Africans. The United Nations deemed South Africa’s apartheid policies to be inhumane and immoral. When the South African government did not react to this criticism from the largest international governmental organisation, the United States and United Kingdom stepped in to implement economic sanctions. These sanctions greatly harmed the South African economy, so the South African government began to implement reforms. After Nelson Mandela was released from prison, a new constitution was drafted for the South African government. This constitution granted franchise rights to black Africans and all ethnic groups.