From the first democratic election to the first ever FIFA World Cup to be played on African soil, South Africa has become the centre of attention since democracy in 1994. As the country celebrates 20 Years of Freedom, Vuk’uzenzele looks at some of the historic moments in the country’s history over the past two decades.
1994: South Africa’s first democratic elections
27 April was a defining moment in the country’s calendar, marking the nation’s first democratic elections. For the first time South Africans of all races were able to cast their vote and have a say in who would govern the country. Following the ANC’s victory in the elections, Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected President of South Africa.
1994: National flag adopted
One of the symbolic moments in 1994 was no doubt the adoption of the National Flag.
The horizontal “Y” shaped flag with its red, white, green, yellow, black and blue colours became a symbol of national unity. The occasion marked a new beginning for a nation bruised by years of segregation and inequality. The new flag replaced the one that had been used since 1928.
Over the past two decades, the South African flag has become a regular feature during major events hosted in the country and it can be seen flying at every public building.
1995: The Rugby World Cup
Who can forget the throngs of people at Ellis Park Stadium, who chanted ‘Nelson, Nelson, Nelson’ as former President Mandela entered the stadium to congratulate the Springboks on their victory over New Zealand during the 1995 World Cup final?
It was a unifying moment for South Africa. Black people had a historic dislike for the Springboks, a team they associated with apartheid. But Mandela chose to wear a Springbok jersey and cap on that day to foster unity and reconciliation among South Africans of all race groups. It was a classic moment that will remain in the minds of many South Africans for years to come.
Mandela and Springbok captain Francois Pienaar’s involvement in the World Cup is the subject of the 2009 film Invictus.
1996: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
It was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of 1996 that made many of us realise that the truth really hurts. But as hurtful as it was, it was probably the process of the TRC that truly made South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy a unique experience, one that remains the model of the continent of Africa to this day.
The TRC was based on the final clause of the Interim Constitution of 1993 and passed in Parliament as the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No 34 of 1995. It was set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with what happened under apartheid. Even though the injustices of the past could not be undone; even though families had lost loved ones, it was felt that the only way to heal as a country was to confront the past, ugly as it was. The TRC provided healing for a nation wounded by years of conflict and exploitation.
1996: Sporting victories
That same year, South Africa shone on the sports front with Bafana Bafana winning the African Cup of Nations tournament, which the country hosted.
Penny Heyns also won both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events at the Atlanta Olympic Games. It was the first time democratic South Africa participated in the Olympics and Heyns’ performance in the pool made her the country’s first post-apartheid Olympic gold medallist. On the track, Josia Thugwane also did the country proud by winning a gold medal at his first attempt. Thugwane won the gold medal in the marathon becoming the first black athlete to earn an Olympic gold for South Africa.