Quotes | SA leaders on freedom: ‘We all still carry scars that remind us that our freedom was never free’

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Nelson Mandela casts his vote in the 1994 national elections. Picture: David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Nelson Mandela casts his vote in the 1994 national elections. Picture: David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images


The liberation struggle for South Africa from the clutches of apartheid was long and costly. On April 27 1994, black South Africans got their first taste of the freedom that was long fought for as 19.7 million citizens cast their votes in the first national democratic elections.

The election was won by the ANC with 62.65% of the vote.

The National Party received 20.39%, IFP 10.54%, Freedom Front 2.2%, Democratic Party 1.7%, Pan Africanist Congress 1.2%, and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) 0.5%.

Here are top quotes from the country’s leaders and political figures over the years on what freedom for the country means and the struggles are still faced today:

1. April 27 1994 - The late former president Nelson Mandela after voting in South Africa’s first democratic election:

“We have moved from an era of pessimism, division, limited opportunities, turmoil and conflict. We are starting a new era of hope, reconciliation and nation building. We sincerely hope that by the mere casting of a vote the results will give hope to all South Africans and make all South Africans realise this is our country. We are one nation.”

2. June 1956 - Then ANC president-general Albert Luthuli called for the country to mark Freedom Day:

“Let us in all humility remember that we of this age and hour are not the first and only ones who have struggled for the liberation of the people of our land and it behoves us to recall the men and women who, in defence of freedom, sacrificed most devotedly. We should recognise June 26 for what it truly is a symbol of something real and continuous; a spirit, which having its roots in the past, is sustained in the present by an undying common hope of a glorious future.”

3. January 27 1987 - Anti-apartheid stalwart and president of the ANC from 1967, Oliver Tambo speaking at Georgetown University said:

“The fight for freedom must go on until it is won; until our country is free and happy and peaceful as part of the community of man, we cannot rest... We seek to create a united democratic and non-racial society. We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity. Using the power you derive from the discovery of the truth about racism in South Africa, you will help us to remake our part of the world into a corner of the globe of which all of humanity can be proud.”

Oliver Tambo. Picture: Filed

4. April 27 1995 - As the country marked the first year since the democratic elections, Madiba said:

“As dawn ushered in this day, few of us could suppress the welling of emotion as we were reminded of the terrible past from which we come as a nation; the great possibilities that we now have; and the bright future that beckons us. Wherever South Africans are across the globe, our hearts beat as one, as we renew our common loyalty to our country and our commitment to its future. The birth of our South African nation has, like any other, passed through a long and often painful process. The ultimate goal of a better life has yet to be realised.”

Nelson Mandela casts his vote in the 1994 national elections. Picture: David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

5. April 2008 – Thabo Mbeki said this during Freedom Day celebrations in his last year as president:

“There are other problems we must confront together as they impact negatively on the standard of living of the people. These include the national electricity emergency, the high food and fuel prices, and high interest rates. Effectively to respond to all these challenges, we must act according to the call – Business Unusual: All hands on deck to speed up change! The brutalities of the past – detentions without trial, disappearances of our people, deaths in detentions, hangings of those opposed to apartheid, imprisonment, exile, massacres, assassinations, forced removals, banishments, the Group Areas Act and many more laws that made the lives of black people unbearable – are testimonies that our freedom was never free.

Although today we walk tall because our collective efforts culminated in the 27th of April being our Freedom Day, we all still carry scars that remind us that our freedom that is at times taken for granted, was never free.”

6. April 2009 – Former president Kgalema Motlanthe:

“This nation has indeed trudged a very long way from an embittered and divided past to a society based on equality, dignity and respect for human rights. Freedom means freedom from ignorance, diseases, want, landlessness, homelessness, joblessness, poverty and fear. In this connection, government is amply aware that despite all the gains made during the 15 years of democracy, much more still needs to be done to roll apartheid legacy backwards, and especially, pushing back the frontiers of poverty. Government is similarly conscious of the scale of work still to be done further to uproot this odious legacy of apartheid, whose pronounced effects can be felt in terms of service delivery, employment, social cohesion, transformation, empowerment, education and skilling of our people, among other things.”

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: Archive

7. April 2010 – President Jacob Zuma:

“Freedom Day reminds us that we should all work hard to defend the freedom for which so many have fought and lost their lives. We must work together to build our country and shape its future. We must all work for unity, true reconciliation and cohesion. There is a need for us to have a dialogue to remind ourselves why our country’s founding fathers and mothers declared us one nation united in diversity. I suggested at the time that we needed to reach out to all South Africans across the class, racial, ethnic, gender, religious and political divides. I said we must engage in a conversation about the true values that underpin our common identity and destiny. My suggestion was motivated by my deep belief and conviction that as a nation, we should yet again draw on the collective South African wisdom to understand one another.”

8. April 2011 – Then IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi at the parties celebrations to mark Freedom Day in Pretoria said:

“We believe that protecting our democracy means strengthening

opposition politics and strengthening our independent institutions

like the Public Protector and the Electoral Commission of SA. We believe that uniting our nation depends upon our ability to forge a common future in which every South African can claim a stake, regardless of race or background or economic circumstance. We believe that protecting our freedom means speaking the truth to power and ensuring that the liberties we struggled for are never taken for granted, while the power we secured is never abused.”

9. April 2013 – Former DA leader and Western Cape premier Helen Zille in a speech prepared for delivery in Inanda, KwaZulu-Natal:

“Democracy is about the freedom to choose, the freedom to change your mind. All of them also recognise that out of all the rights that come with a democracy, none is more important than the right to vote and, more importantly, the right to change one’s mind and vote a political party out of power if it is failing to deliver. If we want to honour their (Mandela and Helen Suzman’s) legacy we need to make sure we use our power to full effect and ensure that if a government is failing it is held accountable through the ballot box.”

10. April 2014 – A year after the party was formed, EFF leader Julius Malema addressed supporters at Glebelands Stadium in KwaZulu-Natal and said:

“You cannot celebrate freedom if you do not have bread on the table. We have nothing to celebrate. Our people are still staying in shacks. Our people do not have water. Our people do not have electricity. Our people do not have proper roads. Freedom means a flushing toilet. We are not going to drive white people into the sea because white people are a part of us. We want white people who are ready to share the wealth with us. We don’t want greedy white people. We don’t want greedy black people. That is why Cyril Ramaphosa is not our friend. We don’t love the Mandela legacy. They are doing everything to destroy what Nelson Mandela has achieved. All the rights given to us by the Constitution are taken away by the ANC.”

February 28.2020. The EFF march to Megawatt park,
EFF leader Julius Malema addresses protesters during the parrty's march to Megawatt Park, to protest the proposed privatisation of Eskom and the continued load-shedding the country has been experiencing. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

11. September 2017 – Former leader of Agang SA, Dr Mamphela Ramphela at a discussion on heritage and multiculturalism said:

“We carry scars in our minds and bodies as toxins. Our failure to sit together and acknowledge to one another the wounds and pain of our divided past is undermining our humanity. The hurt of the past manifests in people having a short fuse that can be seen in the destruction of property over disputes, ongoing gender-based violence, fathers who struggle to parent and have low self-esteem because they were treated like slaves.”

Dr Mamphela Ramphele, founder of the Agang. Picture: Herman Verwey

12. April 2018 – DA leader Mmusi Maimane:

“Black South Africans aren’t poor because they are black. They are poor because they are still enslaved by a system that keeps them poor. A system that denies them their freedom every day. Many white South Africans have the benefit of a head start purely through the knowledge their social network carries and I say this not to make white South Africans feel guilty about it, but to point out where we need to get to for our black sisters and brothers too.”

13. April 2019 – President Cyril Ramaphosa while delivering the Freedom Day speech said:

“As we celebrate this great human achievement, we must reflect on how far we have travelled over the last quarter century. We must reflect on the progress we have made in setting right the wrongs of the past, in bringing development to communities where there was once only neglect, in restoring human dignity where there was once only contempt. Under colonial and apartheid rule, black South Africans were reduced to servitude in the land of their ancestors. They had, as the African Claims reminds us, no freedom of movement, no freedom of choice of employment, no right of choice of residence, and – with a few exceptions – no right to purchase land anywhere, from anyone. By contrast, white South Africans reaped the benefits of full citizenship, enjoying educational opportunities, health care and basic services and sheltered employment through job reservation. Having access to land, property and other assets enabled them to accumulate the material means to sustain themselves and enable them and their children to lead lives of quality.”

14. 2020 – Desmond and Leah Tutu foundation

“The democratic South Africa that celebrates its 26th birthday today is not the fair and just country that it should be – that many in 1994 dreamed it would be. This cannot be blamed on the Covid-19 coronavirus. If anything, the virus has done the country a ghastly favour by exposing the unsustainable foundations on which it is built… that must be urgently fixed. Celebrating the spirit of Freedom Day means powerfully accelerating the need for food, security, human rights and dignity for our all our vulnerable sisters and brothers. That is the promise Freedom Day brings in the time of the coronavirus crisis, the promise of reaching beyond ourselves and rediscovering our inter-dependent soul, obligations and humanity.”

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu during a media br
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu during a media briefing at the Cape Town Civic Centre on August 11, 2014 in Cape Town.


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