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ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA ON 2023 NATIONAL FREEDOM DAY

Today, all across the country, we are celebrating the day on which we gave birth to a new nation. 

On the 27th of April 1994, South Africans of all races, languages and creeds stood in long winding queues to exercise the democratic right for which so many have fought and for which so many have sacrificed.

On Freedom Day, not only do we celebrate this defining moment on our nation’s long journey to freedom, but we also reaffirm our shared commitment to the promise of that momentous day.

On Freedom Day, we recall the great progress that has been made in nearly three decades of democracy, but we also acknowledge that so much of the promise of 1994 still needs to be realised.

It is on this occasion that we rededicate ourselves to work with greater purpose and unity to give full effect and meaning to freedom in our land.

It is fitting that the national celebration of Freedom Day is taking place here in Matlosana, which carries both the pain of our past and the promise of our future.

The site of a concentration camp for Africans during the Anglo-Boer War, Matlosana has a history of dispossession and exploitation. 

One of the best-known sons of this area, Desmond Mpilo Tutu, was six years old when his family and many others were thrown out of their homes in the vibrant community of Makweteng to clear the area for white settlement. 

Matlosana was home to a mining industry which, under apartheid, was responsible for the exploitation of mineworkers, paying them a pittance and exposing them to terrible working and living conditions. 

It was here that the National Union of Mineworkers was founded in 1982 to fight for the rights and the dignity of mineworkers. 

It was here in Matlosana that the Klerksdorp Christian Academy was founded in 1989 as one of the first multi-racial schools in the area, only to be bombed by right-wingers during the transition to democracy.

Matlosana, like so many places in South Africa, has known great suffering, but it has also been a place of resistance, struggle and hope.

The changes that have taken place in Matlosana since the advent of democracy reflect the broader transformation underway in our country.

Today, mineworkers and other vulnerable workers have rights that those who came before them were denied. These include the right to be compensated if they are injured or become sick on duty. These include the right to organise, to full protection of our labour laws and to safe working and living conditions. 

Today, not only are all schools open to all races, but millions of learners from poor households attend no-fee schools. Every day 9 million learners receive a meal at school.

Last year just over 900,000 young people sat matric and more than 80 per cent passed. And more and more of the learners achieving bachelor passes are from no-fee schools. 

Today, through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme more than 700,000 young people from poor, working class backgrounds are being funded for tertiary studies. 

Since the advent of democracy, access to health care has improved. Many more South African households live in formal dwellings and have access to basic services. Social grants support around 18 million poor and vulnerable people.

This is what progress looks like. These are some of the fruits of democracy.

And yet, as every South African knows, we have still much more work to do.

Poverty, unemployment and inequality still define the lives of millions of our people.

At this time in particular, families across the country are experiencing great hardship and uncertainty.

Our country has been hit by a global financial crisis; political, social and economic shocks; worsening natural disasters; and the most severe global pandemic in over a century.

These setbacks have made the devastating apartheid legacy of inequality worse.

We are also now counting the cost of years of under-investment in our electricity, water, rail and port infrastructure. We are feeling the damaging effects of state capture and corruption and concerted efforts to weaken our public institutions.

As we work to rebuild and reconstruct, we face challenges that are far different to those experienced in the earliest days of democracy. 

We have to secure our energy future. We have to adapt to climate change. We have to grow our economy and create more jobs. We have to eradicate the scourge of gender-based violence and act against crime. 

Freedom cannot be meaningful when South African homes and businesses are without electricity for several hours in the day.

That is why we are using every means at our disposal to restore Eskom’s power stations and build new generating capacity as a matter of the greatest urgency.

The benefits of the progress we have made are not yet felt – load shedding has not abated – but we will soon experience the impact of the unprecedented investment being made in new power generation.

When we emerge from this crisis, our energy system will have been fundamentally transformed. It will be more stable, more reliable, more affordable, and more sustainable.

Freedom cannot be meaningful when more than 10 million South Africans are out of work.

That is why we need to pursue the far-reaching reforms we are undertaking to make our economy more competitive, more inclusive, and more attractive to investors.

It is because South Africans need jobs that we have raised our ambition in the next phase of our investment drive, to raise R2 trillion in new investment over the next five years. Having surpassed our investment target for the last five years, we are now working with all social partners to create conditions for businesses – both big and small – to thrive.

Freedom cannot be meaningful while communities live in fear of gangsters and women live in fear of men.

We have done much to improve the effectiveness of the police and strengthen the criminal justice system, but we need to do much more. 

In particular, we need to build durable partnerships of respect and cooperation between the police and communities, between the dedicated police officers and the people they have sworn to serve and protect.

We need to unite as a society to end the violence that is perpetrated by men against women and children. This is a fight that we must all take up – both men and women – if we want to achieve equal rights, freedoms, and opportunities for all.

As we undertake these great and difficult tasks, we are encouraged and inspired by those who brought freedom to our country and built our democracy.

Unlike so many had predicted, we have not turned on each other.

As South Africans of all races, we remain committed to working together to build the country of our dreams. 

Re sa ntse re tsamaya tsela mmogo.

We are still walking this path together.

Our Constitution is a shelter for all. 

It is a shelter for black and white; men and women; for different languages, cultures, and beliefs.

It is a shelter for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities; for urban and rural dwellers; and for those born in South Africa and those from elsewhere who have sought refuge here. 

As the words of the preamble to our Constitution declare: 

“South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” 

We should think of our country as a large South African family. 

There are quarrels, disagreements, and fights. There are seasons of plenty, but also times of scarcity. Sometimes things are good and other times they are bad. 

But even when times are bad, a family pulls together. 

Like all families do, let us come together to sort out our differences and solve our problems. 

We cannot build a better South Africa of equality, freedom, and social justice for all if we are a family that turns on itself. 

Let us focus on what unites us. Let us always remember just how far we have come. 

Let us take counsel from the elders among us, understanding that it is a desire to be of assistance that motivates them. 

As elders, let us listen to the hopes and dreams of the young, and take their concerns seriously. 

Family is family. 

Let us stand firm against the behaviour of those that want to destabilise the family.

Let us stand firm against corruption and the theft of state resources. 

Let us take a stand against public servants who neglect their responsibilities and duties. Let us take a stand against residents who refuse to pay for basic services even when they are obliged to do so, or who pay bribes to connect electricity or to make a traffic fine go away. 

Let us take action against businesses that avoid paying taxes, cheat their workers, break the law, and overcharge consumers. 

Let us all make our contribution to the success of the family. 

As citizens, especially as young South Africans, let us all register to vote next year. 

Just as the veterans of 1994 voted for transformation, so too must we. 

We must exercise our civic duty to ensure there is no place in this country for those who want to steal, loot and plunder. 

We must embrace the diversity that makes us strong, instead of fomenting hatred just because we disagree with each other. 

Let us safeguard our gains. Let us build on them. 

We owe it to the generations to come. 

Long may freedom reign in this land.

May God bless South Africa and protect her people. 

SOURCED FROM THE PRESIDENCY WEBSITE.

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