President Zuma told the crowd that South Africa has become a better place to live in 20 years after democracy
PRETORIA - South Africa celebrates on Sunday its 20th Friday Day, which marks the first time blacks exercised their right to vote in South Africa's first non-racial elections which laid the foundation for a democratic and inclusive state after years of oppression under the white minority rule.
"Compatriots today mark exactly 20 years since the dawn of freedom in our nation," President Jacob Zuma told a crowd of South Africans who gathered to listen to his address at the union buildings in Pretoria.
"As we celebrate the achievement of our freedom, we remember those who fought for our freedom," he added.
Zuma recalled that after he had cast his ballot at the age of 75 in 19940, Nelson Mandela went to the grave of late African National Congress leader John Langalibalele Dube and said: "Mr. President I have come to report to you that South Africa is free at last. Indeed we were free at last. We gained equal citizenship in the land of our birth."
Zuma also paid homage to those who died in massacres across the country and beyond the borders during the battle against the racist apartheid white government which dehumanized African people.
"We pay tribute to those who were brutally executed by the apartheid regime in Pretoria," he added. "We remember the political prisoners who served time at Robben Island and many other prisons."
The South African leader said all these painful incidents remind South Africans that "our freedom was not free but came at a cost and that is why it must be defended."
He said South Africa’s liberation was for all, citing contributions by progressive journalists who exposed the brutality of the apartheid regime as well as support from the international community and neighboring African countries.
The 1994 election paved the way for the creation of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
President Zuma told the crowd that South Africa has become a better place to live in 20 years after democracy.
"Our country has done well since 1994, and we all have a good story to tell," he said.
"We are celebrating the fact that more girls are in schools and tertiary institutions than ever before," added Zuma.
"Since 2009 we spent 115 billion rand in education and training."
He also said that his government has built more than 1500 new health facilities for the people.
The South African president said the country was succeeding in its fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic with one of the largest treatment campaigns in the world.
South Africa has one of the highest HIV infections in the world.
"We are building a South Africa that freedom fighters fought for building a better life for all," said Zuma.
He urged South Africans to turn up in huge numbers on May 7 and exercise their hard-earned democratic right by voting for the parties of their choice.
Nearly 20 million South Africans are registered to elect lawmakers for the National Assembly and nine provincial legislatures.
Namibia President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who attended the anniversary ceremony, recognized the role played by South Africa in international, regional and continental affairs.
"I am most honored to deliver a message of solidarity on my behalf as chairperson of SADC’s committee on politics, defense and security on 20 years of freedom," he said.
Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency