Address by President Nelson Mandela at Freedom Day celebrations, Umtata

27 April 1999

Master of Ceremonies;
Premier of the Eastern Cape;
Cabinet Ministers;
Chief of the SANDF;
Friends and Compatriots.

On this Freedom Day, one short month before our second democratic elections, the sense of history is overwhelming.

We have gathered in Umtata to celebrate our nation's five years of freedom with you: the people of a region that has helped shape our nation with all the pain and suffering; with all the courage and heroism that have marked our country's path to democracy.

On the horizon lie the rural hills amongst which generations of South Africans began on that long walk to freedom that has taken our nation ever closer to the fulfilment of our dreams.

It was there in the hills and valleys of Qunu; in the rolling hills of KwaDlangezwa; in the Genadendal settlement; and along the Gariep, the Lekoa and the Luvuvhu Rivers, that we first understood that we are not free.

It is there that we were inspired with pride in our history. There, among the humble but proud rural folk, we learnt of the courage of our forebears in the face of superior force.

We meet today in the town that not long ago hosted the first of the bantustans that were created to suppress the proud resistance of South Africa's rural masses.

It is from this soil across the rural areas of our land, washed bare by the erosion of over-population and over-grazing, that we converged in our millions to the mines and factories that consumed our labour and spawned the towns and cities of South Africa.

It is from surroundings such as these, that we understood that we were in the grip of a system that divided us one from the other; a system that set a few above the majority by virtue of skin colour alone.

Millions were deliberately reduced to poverty. And to perpetuate itself, a system that claimed to be ordained from on high, could be sustained only by brute force, robbing us all of our humanity - oppressed and oppressor alike.

The Eastern Cape knows this fearful history as well as any other part of our country. Amongst the sons and daughters of this province are many who helped open the way for our freedom.

It is therefore a weakness on our part, that we have yet to create a monument to remember them and all South Africans who sacrificed so that we should be free. With the recent Cabinet decision on this matter, the day should not be far off, when we shall have a people's shrine, a Freedom Park, where we shall honour with all the dignity they deserve, those who endured pain so we should experience the joy of freedom.

On April 27 five years ago, we knew that nothing could stop the people's declaration that the time had come to govern ourselves. We had then fully understood that none of us could be free unless we were all free; and that none of us could enjoy lasting peace and security while countless South Africans were cursed by hunger, homelessness and ill-health.

When for the first time we voted in our millions, as equals - men and women of every colour, language and religion; rich and poor - our nation was reborn.

As we pledged to undo the legacy of our divided past, we rekindled the hope of a South Africa that would rise from the ashes of apartheid.

We gave new life to the world's hopes that peace and unity will everywhere prevail over division and conflict, and that justice, freedom and dignity will everywhere prevail over oppression, poverty and discrimination.

Today in Umtata, as everywhere in our land, we celebrate five years in which we have tasted peace, freedom and dignity. We recommit ourselves to make a reality of the vision that lit the dawn of freedom.

Fellow compatriots;

In these five years we have as a nation laid the foundation for a better life.

Increasingly South Africans are reaching out to one another to make ours a winning nation. Across the land our communities are seizing responsibility for their own upliftment, in partnership with government.

It is right on this day that we honour communities that distinguish themselves as nation-builders in the spirit of Masakhane. That is why, three years ago on Freedom Day, we launched the Presidential Award for Community Initiative.

It is with admiration and pride that I announce today eight of the nine provincial winners of the award for this year. They have been selected from over 500 nominated community projects. Their presence here today tells us of a nation that has its shoulder to the wheel to change life for the better.

I therefore have the privilege to acknowledge: the Lerato Feeding Scheme from Campbell in the Northern Cape; Itsuseng Self-Help Organisation in the Free State and the Khanyisa Day Care Centre in the Eastern Cape, all of which look after and train disabled children; Multi Purpose Centres of the Makgaung community in the Northern Province, the Koinonia Centre in Paarl in the Western Cape and Bhongweni in KwaZulu-Natal; as well as the Doornkop Environmental Community Organisation in Gauteng, all of which created jobs and services to their communities; and the Sizi Misele Project for the Disabled in Mpumalanga which provides jobs for the disabled and services local schools with uniforms and other needs.

The Northwest Province's submission will be made in the next few days. And the national winner from amongst these nine communities will be announced by our new President at the opening of the first session of the Parliament which you will elect on the 2nd of June.

Fellow South Africans;

Even as we take pride in our progress, we know it is only a start. Though many are feeling the fruits of government programmes, there are many needs still to be met.

We must improve service delivery to the people. We must improve our attitudes towards citizens, as public servants. Together, we must work harder to root out crime and corruption, and to create jobs.

We must fight the scourge of AIDS by breaking the silence that encourages its quiet devastation. We must fight the fear and prejudice that can only worsen the suffering of those who live with AIDS.

Great as these problems are, we draw hope from the way that all sectors of our society are now joining hands to tackle them; in the Jobs Summit; in Business Against Crime and Community Policing Forums; in the Partnership Against AIDS; in the Morals Summit of Religious leaders; and the Anti-corruption Summit.

Out of these partnerships is born the hope that we can and shall succeed. It is this hope and warmth that I have felt wherever I go, as I visit communities across the land.

And, though the end of our first democratic government is near, the task of building a better life for all cannot stop, even for a single day.

In the five weeks before the elections, we must build more houses to provide shelter to the homeless beyond the three million houses since 1994. We must make clean water accessible to more people beyond the three million who have gained access since 1994. More houses must be connected with electricity and telephones beyond the millions connected since 1994. We must continue the work of building relations with the world. From this gathering I will be going on a visit to countries that are home to more than a billion of the world's population: to Russia, China, Pakistan and Hungary. Through these visits we strengthen friendship with nations that are our partners in building a better world. We expand economic ties to our benefit and theirs, and strengthen our partnership for a better quality of life for all.


The achievements we have made would not have been possible without the staunch loyalty of our armed forces; without their unwavering dedication to the country and its people.

Like our new democracy, the South African National Defence Force is today five years young. This morning it was my privilege as Commander-in-Chief of the SADF, for the last time, to take the national salute of our armed forces.

And today we pay tribute to all the members of our Defence Force. They have distinguished themselves not by conquest or suppression. We are proud of them for their success in uniting former foes in an integrated force, and by their contribution to crime-fighting and regional peace. Residents of this region, among others, will attest to the role of the armed forces in disaster management when natural tragedies struck towns and villages. We thank them, along with tens of thousands of civil servants and many members of the public for their assistance to the IEC in the registration of voters.

We know that we can count on our defence force and all our security services to safeguard our second democratic elections.

They will do so because they know that, as we come out in our millions to vote on the 2nd of June, we will be confirming our commitment to democracy. We will emerge strong and more united, true to our pledge that, whatever our political affiliation, we are one people with one destiny - ready to speed up the changes that we started in 1994.

Together let us make a reality of the hopes to which we gave birth five years ago.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website