Address by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma on the celebration of Freedom Day, Union Buildings, Pretoria


Honourable Ministers, Premiers, Deputy Ministers, MECs and Mayors,

Honourable Leaders of political parties represented in Parliament, 

Heads of Chapter 9 Institutions, 

Fellow South Africans,

We have great pleasure to welcome you to the seat of government, the Union Buildings, for the celebration of 17 years of freedom. 

The 27th of April is a significant day of reflection and celebration for all the people of South Africa and our friends across Africa and the world. 

On this day we celebrate the attainment of freedom, democracy, national reconciliation, unity and the restoration of human dignity. 

We celebrate a Freedom Day that brought together black and white. 

It 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. 

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.

Lenkululeko yatholakala ngezikhwepha nokuchitheka kwegazi lamaqhawe amaningi. Akufanele sikukhohlwe nanini lokhu. Kufanele siyivikele kulabo abafisa ukuthi sibuyele emuva.

Indeed, we have every reason to celebrate Freedom Day. Just a few years ago, we lived in a country whose system of government was declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations.

We recall the pain caused by the legion of apartheid legislation that stripped away the dignity of millions of South Africans. 

The notorious Group Areas Act of 1950 designated residential areas according to race, and many communities were forcefully removed as they were deemed to be living in areas meant for other race groups. 

The scars caused by forced removals remain to this day, as we attempt to reverse the impact. 

Thousands more still bear the psychological scars of being bundled into Bantustans or so-called homelands.

According to the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act No. 46 of 1959, black people were classified into ethnic groups for whom a so-called homeland would be established. 

Through the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act or National States Citizenship Act No. 26 of 1970, black people were declared aliens in urban areas, and could only live there after receiving special permission. 

Urban townships were established to provide a readily available supply of labour, but had to be far enough away enough from white residential areas. 

This apartheid urban or town planning led to a situation where poor people had to travel long distances for many hours to and from work each day. 

Pre-dating apartheid, the colonial era Land Act allocated only 13 percent of the land to the African majority. 

To this day, we are still working to reverse this legacy, hence the review of the willing buyer, willing seller principle in order to accelerate the equitable distribution of land. 

You will recall as well that the education system was also used as an instrument to ensure perpetual subjugation as stated by Hendrik Verwoerd. 

In addition, the Minimum Wages Act No. 27 of 1925 gave the Minister for Labour the power to force employers to give preference to whites when employing workers. This served to institutionalise job reservation for white citizens. 

Many South Africans ended up in prison, in exile or were murdered due to apartheid security legislation that made even saying that South African belonged to all who lived in it, black and white, a crime of treason.

Many others, including Solomon “Kalushi” Mahlangu, were brutally executed here in Pretoria. 


We would spend more than a day if we were to discuss what type of society we lived in under apartheid and colonial oppression. 

Former President Thabo Mbeki described that society as follows in his 2004 inauguration speech: 
“It was a place in which to be born black was to inherit a lifelong curse. It was a place in which to be born white was to carry a permanent burden of fear and hidden rage.
“It was a place that decreed that some were born into poverty and would die poor… It was a place where others always knew that the accident of their birth entitled them to wealth.” 

When we cast our votes together for the first time on the 27th of April, 1994, we began the work of making our country the best place to live in, for all South Africans. 

President Nelson Mandela outlined this type of society in his inauguration address on 10 May 1994. He stated:
“We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity — a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” 

With these words, President Mandela committed successive democratic governments to work towards unity, reconciliation and the improvement of the quality of life of all South Africans. 

We are proud of the substantial progress we have made together since 1994. In comparison to many countries that have deteriorated after liberation, we have done exceptionally well, against all odds, in only 17 years.

We have established a solid, sound, stable, functional constitutional democracy.

In 1996, we adopted the Constitution of the Republic which 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 three arms of the State – the executive, Parliament and the judiciary – work together in a cooperative but independent relationship, implementing the Constitution, the supreme law of the land.

We have our Chapter 9 institutions which serve to protect and promote our democracy and the rights of citizens. 

These are the Office of the Public Protector, the South African Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Auditor General, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities and the Gender Commission. 

These institutions exist as part of the mechanisms of ensuring that the violation of human rights that occurred during the colonial and apartheid periods never recur in our country. 

The Constitution of the Republic also enshrines socio-economic rights. It guarantees to our people 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. Today the majority of our people are provided free basic services in water and electricity. 

Our extensive social protection system continues to be the most effective poverty alleviation programme. 

By 2010, close to 15 million people were receiving social grants, mostly orphans and vulnerable children, older persons, veterans as well as persons with disability. 

We continue to expand access to education, through building and renovating schools, the training of teachers and principals and declaring no-fee schools for children of the poor. 

More than eight million children at primary and secondary schools benefit from school-feeding schemes. 

In addition, Government pays a subsidy ranging between twelve and fifteen rand per child per day, for qualifying children from poor households attending government-registered Early Childhood Development centres. 

To date, more than 400 000 children receive the subsidy to enable their access to pre-school education. 

At a higher education level, student loans are now being converted into bursaries for qualifying final-year students.

Students in further education and training colleges who qualify for financial aid are now exempted from paying fees. 

During the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, we committed ourselves to ensuring that every child attends school in our country. 

We are concerned about the report of Statistics SA that there are about 200 000 children in our country who are not attending school, especially in the Western Cape Province’s farming areas. We are determined to reach these children and enrol them. 

There should be no corner of our country in which children are still denied an education, while we celebrate freedom.

As part of undoing the apartheid settlements and the Group Areas Act legacy, we are upgrading informal settlements in municipalities to provide security of tenure and access to basic services in the next five years. 

We are also committing government to construct 80 000 mixed income rental housing units in order to enable low income earners to live closer to where they work.

In this way, we shall dismantle the apartheid landscape, which dictated where people should live and work on the basis of the colour of their skin. 


Our principal intervention this year is on economic transformation and job creation.

The participation of black people in the economy during the colonial and apartheid periods was never designed to go beyond the provision of cheap labour.

We are working hard to change that fundamentally. Political freedom must be accompanied by meaningful economic transformation and emancipation.

To broaden economic empowerment to reach the masses of our people, we are 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. 

Ibaluleke kakhulu indaba yomnotho kulonyaka. Abantu abaningi abakawatholi amathuba emisebenzi, namathuba okuba namabhizinisi, ukulima nokunye okuzobaphilisa. 

Sisebenzela ukuthi lenkululeko esayithola ngo-1994, ilethe intuthuko, imisebenzi nenhlalakahle.

Uhulumeni usethule uhlelo olubizwa nge-New Growth Path, oluchaza indlela esizoshintsha ngayo indlela okuphethwe ngayo umnotho wezwe, siwenze wakhe amathuba emisebenzi. 

Sesibambe imihlangano nabezinyunyana nosomabhizinisi.

Sisazoxhumana nezinye izinhlaka zomphakathi futhi, ukuze sixoxisane ngaloludaba lomnotho wezwe nokwakhiwa kwamathuba emisebenzi. 


We have indeed done well in transforming governance in the national and provincial spheres.

However, our research has indicated that we have to do a lot more to improve the way local government works. 

On the 18th of May, we have an opportunity to take forward the transformation of local government, as we elect local government representatives. 

A number of issues will need to be attended to after the elections, to implement the local government turnaround strategy which was adopted by Cabinet. 

We have to provide more effective and direct support to municipalities in distress, in line with the needs of each municipality. The “one size fits all” approach does not work.

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. 

We must also find ways of better managing the relations between councillors and municipal officials. 

The blurring of the lines between the political and administrative aspects of governance has tended to affect service delivery in the outgoing municipal administrations. 

We urge all South Africans to come out in great numbers to vote in the local government elections on the 18th of May. 

Together we must fix local government and make it work better.


Indeed we have done well as a country in only 17 years of freedom. 

We know that many more South Africans still need water, electricity, sanitation, jobs and other basic necessities. That is why we must continue working together to expand access to services and reverse the legacy of apartheid and colonial oppression. 

When we celebrate our achievements, and ponder work that must still be done, we must never forget the huge sacrifices that were paid for our freedom.

Today we salute all South Africans. It is your resilience and ongoing quest for a non-racial, free and democratic South Africa that brought about freedom. 

We pay a special homage to the heroes and heroines who led the struggles against colonialism and apartheid. From Cetshwayo, Hintsa, Moshoeshoe, Sekhukhune and others to Charlotte Maxeke, Vuyisile Mini, Wilson Khayinga, Zingile Mkaba, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Ahmed Kathrada, Lillian Ngoyi or Solomon Mahlangu – they fought for our freedom. 

We also salute and pay tribute to the governments and people of many countries in Africa and the world who supported the South African struggle for freedom. 

We recall the scores of members of the Anti-Apartheid Movement who campaigned tirelessly for the release of Nelson Mandela and other prisoners, and for the liberation of South Africans.

We will never forget their solidarity and sacrifices.

This evening we will honour many South Africans and friends from around the world in the National Orders ceremony. They have contributed in various ways and various fields to make South Africa free, and to make it succeed. 

Fellow South Africans, 

Many South Africans laid down their lives so that we could be free. We should never allow ourselves to lose sight of the value of our freedom.

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! 

Happy Freedom Day to you all! 

I thank you!

Issued by The Presidency