Ramaphosa hails ANC record as South Africa marks 30 years of democracy

President Cyril Ramaphosa lauds South Africa’s achievements under his party’s leadership since the end of apartheid in 1994.

People attend Freedom Day celebrations in Pretoria, South Africa
People attend Freedom Day celebrations in Pretoria, South Africa [Themba Hadebe/AP]

President Cyril Ramaphosa has hailed South Africa’s achievements under his party’s leadership as the country celebrated 30 years of democracy since the end of apartheid.

April 27 is the day “when we cast off our shackles. Freedom’s bells rang across our great country,” Ramaphosa, 71, said on Saturday, reminding South Africans about the first democratic election in 1994 that ended white-minority rule.

“South Africa’s democracy is young. What we’ve achieved in these short 30 years is something of which all of us should be proud. This is an infinitely better place than it was 30 years ago,” he said in a speech marking “Freedom Day” at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, in Pretoria.

South African President Cyril Ramphosa
South African President Cyril Ramphosa delivers a speech as he attends Freedom Day celebrations in Pretoria, South Africa [Themba Hadebe/AP]

The first inclusive election saw the previously banned African National Congress (ANC) party win overwhelmingly and made its leader, Nelson Mandela, the country’s first Black president, four years after being released from prison.

With the ANC winning a landslide victory, a new constitution was drawn up, and it became South Africa’s highest law, guaranteeing equality for everyone, regardless of race, religion, or sexuality.

The ANC has been in government since 1994 and is still recognised for its role in freeing South Africans, but for some, it is no longer celebrated in the same way as poverty and economic inequality remain rife.

ANC struggling in the polls

Ramaphosa used the occasion to list improvements shepherded by the ANC, which is struggling in the polls due on May 29 and risks losing its outright parliamentary majority for the first time.

“We have pursued land reform, distributing millions of hectares of land to those who had been forcibly dispossessed,” he said.

“We have built houses, clinics, hospitals, roads and constructed bridges, dams, and many other facilities. We have brought electricity, water and sanitation to millions of South African homes.”

Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from the capital Pretoria, said that while there is freedom of speech, many South Africans will say there is no economic freedom.

“The country has a 32 percent unemployment rate. The World Bank describes this society as the most unequal on earth,” Hull said.

“Corruption is rife. Infrastructure is in a dire state, and in an election due just next month, polls predict that for the first time, the ANC could fall beneath 50 percent of the vote. That, if it happens, would in itself be a pretty significant milestone in this country.”

People listen to South African President Cyril President,
People listen to South African President Cyril President, right, through a screen, during Freedom Day celebrations in Pretoria, South Africa [Themba Hadebe/AP]

An Ipsos poll released on Friday showed support for the governing party, which won more than 57 percent of the vote at the last national elections in 2019, has fallen to just more than 40 percent.

Were it to win less than 50 percent, the ANC would be forced to find coalition partners to remain in power.

The party’s image has been badly hurt by accusations of graft and its inability to effectively tackle poverty, crime, inequality, and unemployment, which remain staggeringly high.

The governing party is being largely blamed for the lack of progress in improving the lives of so many South Africans.

Thandeka Mvakali, 28, from the Alexandra Township in Johannesburg, said life is no different from the time of her parents during apartheid.

“It’s almost the same. You can see, we are living in a one bedroom, maybe we are 10 inside the house, for my family, we are 10 and then maybe two is employed, like my mother [and] my brother,” Mvakali told Al Jazeera.

“All of us we are not employed, we did go to school but there’s no job in South Africa.”

Mvakali added that she will vote for the first time in the May 29 elections because she is “hoping” her vote will count this time.

Ramaphosa acknowledged the problems, but denounced critics as people who wilfully “shut their eyes”.

“We have made much progress and we are determined to do much more,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies