Freedom Day - why do we celebrate?

2017-04-26 06:00

ON 27 April 1994 South Africa's first non-racial democratic elections were held and this day is celebrated each year to mark the culmination of the long and difficult road to democracy.

South Africa had never been truly independent or democratic - the exclusion of the majority of South Africans from political power was at the centre of the liberation struggle and resistance to white minority rule.

With the formation of the South African Native National Congress (which later became the African National Congress (ANC) in 1912, the resistance movement became formalised.

The ANC strived to improve the conditions of the blacks. Its task became more difficult after the Nationalist Party victory of 1948 - when the apartheid machinery was put into motion and became law.

Nevertheless, the ANC and its allies continued to seek the freedom of all its peoples and continued to challenge these laws. When the Congress of the People (held in Kliptown in 1955), adopted the Freedom Charter, the blue-print for a democratic South Africa was laid.

The Charter affirmed “that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no Government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people”.

In 1961 South Africa became a Republic and 31 May was declared a national holiday (Republic Day) by the National Party.

Umkonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC was formed during this period as a means of armed resistance. The Soweto uprising of 1976 saw increased militancy, trade union movements started to revive and assert the rights of workers and hundreds of residents' associations, sports, student, women's and religious organisations joined the resistance struggle.

In 1984, the government introduced the Tri-cameral parliament, giving coloureds and Indians the right to vote. The blacks, who were in the majority, were excluded from this formula. By 1988 a stalemate had been reached. The government began looking for a way out and as a result started negotiations with the ANC leadership. The ANC, South African Communist Party, Pan African Congress and other organisations were unbanned on 2 February 1990.

A non-racial Constitution was eventually agreed upon and adopted in 1993 and came into effect on 27 April 1994, the day the nation cast its vote in the first democratic election in the country.

The ANC was voted into power and Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the President of South Africa on 10 May.

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