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South Africa speaks on milestone Freedom Day

Twenty years after their country's first free vote, South Africans talk about what freedom means to them.

Last updated: 27 Apr 2014 14:17
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South Africans commemorate the first post-apartheid elections held in 1994 on Freedom Day [Raeesa Pather/Al Jazeera]

South Africa - Days before South Africa's general election on May 7, the country celebrates 20 years of democracy on April 27, also known as "Freedom Day".

This milestone anniversary has prompted reflection and commentary on the South Africa that has emerged in the past two decades. It was dubbed the "miracle transition" - the peaceful process of moving from apartheid to democracy led by Nelson Mandela, but the country has since struggled with structural inequality, which has kept the majority of South Africans, mostly black, trapped in poverty.

The country has experienced expansive economic growth, but many South Africans say their freedom is still limited.

Al Jazeera asked South Africans around the country how they feel about their country today.

Elizabeth Manatha, 57, unemployed, Soweto
[Uyanda Siyotula/Al Jazeera]

For me, to be free is to be able to complain without fear of being arrested. As an old person, when I look back I can say we are free. Back [during apartheid] you could not just speak anyhow.

At school we used to be taught in Afrikaans and it was difficult for us, I did not want it. We did not queue in the same queues as white people. I remember, if we are in a long queue buying a ticket and a white person comes, they go straight to the front of the line and are able to purchase it immediately - while we have to wait there for a long time. As black people, we do not have jobs but I can go to a hospital for free.

I still have complaints; there are no jobs, but we have come a long way. The fact that I can walk in the streets freely is enough for me. Freedom Day is very important - it was the first time, for me, as a black person in South Africa to go and put my X on a paper and vote, so I will not forget that day.

Kopano Monene, 24, car guard, Johannesburg
[Aaisha Dadi Patel/Al Jazeera]

Spiritually, I'm free as long as I'm being me and I have freedom for me, then this is what matters. I was born in 1990 so I can't say much about apartheid because I wasn't there, but now since we got freedom in 1994, I think maybe there's some hope. Maybe it will have to be 30 years [after 1994] before we are truly free in every way, but at least now I can do my own thing no one can tell me anything. 

Emily Dahle, 23, Lutheran Church volunteer, Soweto
[Uyanda Siyotula/Al Jazeera]

I think to be free means you are able to do what you want, think what you want, speak your mind and not worry about what other people think about you. I think there are two ways of freedom. There's a concrete way to be free, like the government, your rights and your ability to vote. And then there is a personal freedom, like being free, confident and being able to be who you are.

I would say we have come a long way but there is a long way to go. The experiences I have, especially being a white person who lives in Soweto volunteering at the church, I get questions like why are you here, this is not where white people live. So in that way I would not say its complete freedom because we still have a mentality of thinking in a certain way about particular races. 

Yusuf Isaacs, 54, health industry worker, Cape Town
[Raeesa Pather/Al Jazeera]

There's a lot of things happening in South Africa, it's not like we can say for real that there's freedom. The ANC do things that benefit us, but you see there's poverty, there's crime, so you can't say there's freedom. Democratic rights! What rights? I don't see democratic rights. Freedom is… like I can tell you there mustn't be poverty, there must be jobs for people, they must respect each other. The killing of two-year-old kids, raping kids, that's not freedom.

Jabulile Ngcobo, 64, pensioner, Lindelani
[Rumana Akoob/Al Jazeera]

To me, as a black women, freedom means being able to express yourself without being arrested or detained. It also means the freedom to vote for the party of your choice and freedom of enterprise. Anyone can be their own boss and open up shops.

At 56 years of age, I began a successful restaurant and helped uplift my community. So it was not just me who benefited. Africans, coloured, Indians and whites who were segregated and now we are one. My grandchildren go to non-racial schools. We now all have rights, but our rights do come with responsibilities. We still need to be educated and more progress can be done.

Simekahle Manatha, 21, student, Soweto
[Uyanda Siyotula/Al Jazeera]

For me, freedom means I can do whatever I want to do, be able to go to school and finish my studies and determine my future. I think education is what makes a person free, because if you do not have education then you stay here in townships doing nothing - that's not freedom. A lot has changed. During apartheid our parents were not allowed to vote, now I can vote.

But I do not think I can say I'm really, really free. There are still a lot of things oppressing black people. White people continue to live better than us, even if you work the same job, some white people still earn more money. Freedom Day for me symbolises how hard our parents worked for us to be free today that is why I think it is important that we vote.

Naresh Ravjee, 25, business manager, Durban
[Rumana Akoob/Al Jazeera]

My family has been able to interact with every race in South Africa. I think the best thing about my freedom is to learn from other races in terms of culture. I went to school in central Durban where I studied with every race. I've been able to study and my sister is about to graduate later this year - this is freedom.

It has allowed us to grow and, despite being in a minority group, I have never felt marginalised by the barriers my parents have faced when it came to business and trade.

Shaun Thompson, 32, movie set unit supervisor, Cape Town
[Raeesa Pather/Al Jazeera]

For me there's no freedom yet. We still have racism - like here on the movie set, I can see it. For me, there's still too much racism going around. Freedom to me means being able to move around; everybody just being equal with each other. It's definitely better than what it was in the past, but not like it's supposed to be. I grew up in [Bridgetown] so I'm used to the gangs.

Being in [Cape Town] is actually a luxury. Here you don't see what you see there. If you walk around in Bridgetown you must look over your back the whole time. In town I can chill the whole day and just relax.

Patricia Nielsen, 43, full-time mother, Cape Town
[Raeesa Pather/Al Jazeera]

I think there is something to celebrate, to a certain extent. South Africa is a free country. Actually, it is a lot more free than some of the other countries I have visited.

When you speak about economic freedom, I don't think it is there yet. There's a sense of laziness also, because I think South Africa has a lot to offer for those who want to be in it. We have, to a large extent, political freedom.


Additional reporting by Uyanda Siyotula, Raeesa Pather, Aaisha Dadi Patel and Rumana Akoob from SA Votes 2014 

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