Deputy Chairperson, hon members, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to participate in the Freedom Day debate in the NCOP on the eve of our 18th Freedom Day celebrations. We all become extremely emotional when we recall the events of that historic day, 27 April 1994, when former President Mandela cast the first vote in a free, united, democratic, nonracial, nonsexist and prosperous South Africa. We recall the dignity and expressions of joy on the faces of the millions of South Africans who patiently waited their turn in the long voting queues for that defining moment when we collectively exercised our fundamental right to determine our common destiny.
This national day also gives us an opportunity to pay tribute to the heroes and heroines who fearlessly sacrificed in pursuit of a free and democratic South Africa. We remember the prisoners and detainees who suffered greatly within the confines of torturous prison walls, and our brothers and sisters who were banished from the land of their birth and exiled from their loved ones. We salute these men and women, past and present, for it is through their selfless struggle that South Africans enjoy the benefits of a constitutional democracy.
Eighteen years later we must also reflect on the gains we have made and be mindful of the journey that still lies ahead in strengthening our democratic nation. As former President Nelson Mandela reminded us on 27 April 1995, on the occasion of the first year of celebrating our hard-won freedom:
We have learnt, over the first years of freedom, that there is no short- cut to making South Africa the country of our dreams.
It requires hard work by those entrusted with positions of responsibility in government.
It demands that workers and employers work together to produce efficiently and compete with the best in the world, to achieve equity and to help create more jobs.
It requires hard work on the part of farmers and farm workers, to feed the nation and provide raw materials, even in the face of adversity.
It requires hard work by students and teachers to build a literate, skilled and learned nation.
It requires greater exertion by our sportspersons and artists to always offer the best for the country and its people.
It demands of all of us, wherever we may be, to exercise our rights as citizens; and do so without infringing on the rights of others.
South Africa is firmly set on the road to peace and prosperity. In the spirit of Masakhane we must, as a nation, strive to do better, and even better, all the time.
The theme for today's debate is "Working together to build unity and prosperity for all". Freedom Day gives us the opportunity to give effect and meaning to the preamble of our Constitution by, among other actions, honouring those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land, respecting those who have worked to build and develop our country and believing that South Africa belongs to all of us who live in it, united in our diversity.
The motto of the South African coat of arms so succinctly captures what bind us together as a nation: "!ke e:/ xarra // ke" is written in the San language of the /Xam people and the literal meaning is "diverse people unite". It addresses each individual effort to harness the unity between thought and action. On a collective scale it calls for the nation to unite in a shared sense of belonging and pride.
As we celebrate Freedom Day, it is necessary to reflect on the history that made our constitutional democracy a reality. We should take pride in our national anthem, our national flag, our national coat of arms, our national orders and our national symbols, as they are all intertwined and linked. Each has its own rich and unique story and place in the history of South Africa.
The national orders, the highest awards that the country, through its President, bestows on its citizens and eminent foreign nationals, range from the Order of Mapungubwe, awarded for excellence and exceptional achievement, to the Order of Luthuli, awarded to South Africans who have made a meaningful contribution to the struggle for democracy, human rights, nation-building, justice and peace, and conflict resolution. As we celebrate Freedom Day, the President will also recognise and honour people who have made and are making a contribution to the rebirth of our country.
As hon members are aware, more than 500 persons who played a role in the struggle for freedom went missing and were reported to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC, as being unaccounted for. The burning memory of lost loved ones is a painful and necessary reminder of why Freedom Day is so important. A special missing persons task force has been established under the auspices of the National Prosecuting Authority to attend to the tracing, exhumation and reburial of such persons. The investigations have already led to the discovery and reburial of the remains of 53 missing persons. The forensic examination and identification of a further 24 missing persons are also in progress.
Most recently, on 3 April 2012, Minister Radebe addressed the cleansing ceremony and spiritual repatriation of Oupa Ronald Madondo. Oupa Madondo was recruited into the ANC in the early 1970s, where he was known as MK Scorpion. In July 1979, he was detained under the Terrorism Act and later released after being severely assaulted and tortured. During that same year he was shot dead by the security police and his mortal remains were blown apart in the middle of the Jozini Dam by a bomb attached to his body.
Minister Radebe reminded the community that during that same year yet another young soul lost his life, namely Solomon Mahlangu, whose words continued to ring as an inspiration to many other freedom fighters when he declared that his blood would nourish the tree that would bear the fruit of freedom. Countless others lost their lives in the struggle against apartheid, which left the chairperson of the TRC, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and many others in tears at the brutality revealed in some of the confessions.
In our 18th year of freedom, we have made steady progress towards achieving peace and prosperity, as President Jacob Zuma said at the 17th Freedom Day celebration last year:
We are proud of the substantial progress we have made together since 1994. In comparison to many countries that have deteriorated after liberation, we have done exceptionally well, against all odds, in only 17 years.
At the national Human Rights Day celebration, held in Kliptown, Soweto, the President elaborated further on this journey of freedom since 1994:
To give meaning to our freedom and to implement the provisions of the Constitution, from 1994, the democratic government immediately focused on building a new nonracial, nonsexist, democratic and prosperous society.
During the first 10 years of democracy, Parliament approved 789 laws or amendments to eliminate institutionalised racism from our Statute Book. The democratisation of the three arms of the state - the executive, judiciary and legislature - began. The Chapter 9 institutions were established to strengthen and protect constitutional democracy and human rights.
To give effect to socioeconomic rights, government, working with the people, has over the years expanded the delivery of social services. Since 1994, the national housing programme has delivered 2,8 million houses. This has provided shelter to 13,5 million people, making the programme one of the world's largest subsidised housing programmes. By December 2011, we had provided 87% of rural households with water and 75% with access to sanitation.
The Constitution specifically mentions social security as a human right. Government provides social grants to about 15 million people, mainly vulnerable groups such as children, older persons above the age of 60 and people with disabilities. Access to education is being broadened through extending no-fee schools, enabling 8 million children to obtain a free education, and also through the conversion of tertiary institution loans into bursaries for qualifying students.
With regard to health, among many improvements a total of 29 hospitals in rural and urban areas are under construction, while 17 others are in the planning and design stages. In the long term, the National Health Insurance system will improve our health care, especially for the poor.
Over 231 000 households gained access to water between 2009 and 2011. Almost 82% of households are now connected to the main electricity supply.
We have indeed done well in a short space of time. However, we are aware that as more people gain access to these socioeconomic rights many more still live in hardship, due to centuries of neglect. One of the challenges that we still face is to ensure that freedom must also mean freedom from violence against women and children in all its forms, racism, xenophobia, hate speech and discrimination against persons on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation. Government is committed to eradicating this scourge by working together with all in society, because an injury to one is indeed an injury to all. Government condemns in the strongest terms the recent spate of violence of a sexual nature against children and persons with disabilities, some of which was allegedly committed by children and young adults.
Government has established a comprehensive legal framework through a number of legislative amendments to ensure that all role-players in the criminal justice system have the necessary legislative framework within which to investigate, prosecute, sentence and rehabilitate sexual offenders. The National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, has a specialised directorate in the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit, which supports the prosecution of cases involving mainly women and children with a view to, among other goals, improving the conviction rate in gender-based violent crimes and reducing secondary victimisation.
The 30 Thuthuzela Care Centres, which provide multidisciplinary services to victims of sexual offences, are making a positive impact in the conviction rate and the roll-out of such centres is continuing. It is the intention to establish a further five Thuthuzela Care Centres by the end of the current financial year, bringing the total to 35. In the past year, Thuthuzela Care Centres have attended to no fewer than 28 000 victims of sexual offences. However, it is only through working together that we will be able to be in a position to successfully address this shameful scourge.
In a few days' time, on 8 May 2012, we will also celebrate the 16th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa here in this very parliamentary precinct where the new Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Assembly. The Constitution created a new fundamental legal order based on the principle of constitutional supremacy, in which all branches of government are bound by a Constitution that includes a Bill of Rights designed not only to end centuries of abuse of human rights but also to promote those rights. One of the pillars on which our constitutional democracy rests is the separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. This separation ensures that each branch of government does not exceed its constitutionally assigned authority. A well-developed system of checks and balances forms part of the Constitution. These include judicial review, legislative oversight over the executive and a number of independent, specialised institutions established by the Constitution to strengthen constitutional democracy.
The transition from apartheid to constitutional democracy has produced an exciting and vibrant response to the development of a human rights culture in South Africa. South Africa is party to major international and regional human rights treaties and is therefore bound by its obligations to respect human rights. Upon reflection on the provisions contained in these international agreements on human rights and taking into account the prerequisites for good governance and a constitutional democracy, we are unanimous in our view that our Constitution not only meets these prerequisites but transcends the parameters set out in these instruments.
The Constitution holds the promise of respect for human rights, freedom, equality and social justice. We know that there can never be full enjoyment of freedom and liberation by South Africa's people if the majority of her sons and daughters remain trapped in the social evils of inequality, poverty and unemployment. As we steadily move forward towards South Africa's 19th year of freedom, the responsibility rests with us to unite in action and to effect social change for the betterment of our people. We must rededicate and recommit our collective efforts to the constitutional goals we have set ourselves. To make this a reality, there rests a duty on the hundreds of thousands of public servants to commit to going the extra mile and improving service delivery to all the people of South Africa.
In conclusion, the government reaffirms its commitment to consolidating democracy and promoting cultural diversity and social cohesion in South Africa. As we celebrate living in a system that guarantees humanity, never again will humanity be taken away from any South African, irrespective of race, gender, creed or sexual orientation. The government is investing in infrastructure to develop the country while creating jobs and fighting poverty at the same time. The government is commemorating all the heroes and heroines and the role played by ordinary citizens in the country and abroad and calls upon on all South Africans to unite in creating a better future for all. Nation-building requires all South Africans to live by example, ensuring that the values and principles enshrined in the Constitution become a living reality in the development of fully functional communities.
As we celebrate the Bill of Rights, which distinguishes us from other nations of the world and guarantees all South Africans freedom from the repression and hatred that characterised our past, we have a responsibility to ensure that our democracy and freedom is maintained and strengthened for future generations. Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika, God sen Suid-Afrika, Morena boloka setjhaba sa Heso, God bless South Africa. [Applause.]