S Africa marks democracy anniversary

Ceremonies held to mark first democratic election on April 27, 1994, that ended decades of apartheid.

Zuma led the main festivities at the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria [AFP]

South Africa is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first ever all-race, democratic election that ended decades of racial oppression under the apartheid system.

Sunday’s celebrations have been marked by street parades, speeches, prayers, music and military salutes and displays.

President Jacob Zuma led the main festivities at the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria, where generations of apartheid leaders penned many of the racial laws that South Africa’s first black leader Nelson Mandela fought most of his life.

Al Jazeera’s Tania Page, reporting from Pretoria, said Zuma, the third black leader since the end of apartheid, ran through a list of achievements the ANC-led government had managed to accomplish.

“He talked about housing, water, electricity, sanitation, free education; starting to win the fight against HIV/AIDS and also the improvement of women’s rights – far more women in power and business now,” she said.

“He also made a little dig at some of the oppsition leaders sharing the stage with him saying,’You can’t deny or downplay our achievements; the facts are facts.'”

Since the historic April 27, 1994 election, the day has been retained as a holiday and named Freedom Day.

For many South Africans, who will be going to polls in May to choose a new president, the day brings back sweet memories of the euphoria as black, Indian and mixed-race voters stood in long meandering lines – alongside whites – to cast their first ballots.

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu said the day felt like “falling in love”.

FW de Klerk, apartheid South Africa’s last president, described the day as “our proudest moment as South Africans”.

But 20 years on, the euphoria has died down and the country is counting both the gains and failures of the democratic era.

South Africa boasts among other things, one of the strongest constitutions in the world, an independent judiciary and is probably the most developed country on the continent.

But the successes are tainted by mismanagement and high level corruption blamed largely on the ANC-led administration.

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera