As a South African, what does freedom or Freedom Day mean to you?
For millions of us, 27 April 1994 will forever remain etched in our minds as an epoch-making day on which the country held its first democratic elections which ushered in the post-apartheid dispensation.
We fondly remember the inauguration of Struggle stalwart Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected President of South Africa but we also recall our sadness at the high price paid by significant numbers of compatriots who had made extreme sacrifices in their fight against the apartheid system.
Today, with freedom and democracy firmly embedded in our society, we appreciate how the values of our freedom – which include equality, human rights, respect and dignity – bind us together as a peace-loving nation that is united in its diversity.
These values commit us to make a meaningful contribution towards building a country that is free of oppression and discrimination.
The Bill of Rights in our world-acclaimed Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996, ensures the protection and promotion of basic human rights for all people in this beautiful country.
To breathe life into our Constitution, it is our duty and responsibility as a nation to treat one another equally and fairly, and with respect and dignity.
We are proud of the human rights culture that prevails in South Africa today, which serves as one of the cornerstones of our democracy and as a beacon to many nations elsewhere.
We treasure – and others respect – our constitutional order based on the tireless and indomitable resistance and deep sacrifice we had to invest to dislodge the apartheid system.
Based on this history, we know our nation will not fully enjoy the benefits of freedom as long as any among us are still subjected to discrimination, oppression and exploitation.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is one challenge in our society that undermines our hard-won freedom.
We must therefore do all we can to end GBV to entrench gender equality.
Gender equality demands that men and women should be free to develop themselves and reach their full potential, irrespective of their sexual orientation and beliefs.
For gender equality to be realised, the aspirations of men and women need to be valued on an equal footing, especially in terms of socio-economic opportunities.
Our Constitution clearly states that no-one should be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, religion, national, ethnic or social origin, disability, culture, language, status or appearance.
In essence, we must secure the dignity of all who live in South Africa.
It is tragic that we experience violations of our Constitution and the law, such as we see around our schools with disturbing regularity.
Our children should be safe at schools and in our homes and communities, without living in fear of being sexually violated or killed. No one has the right to hurt, bully or intimidate others. Our Constitution states that “every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, healthcare and social services, as well as the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation”.
We need to secure a better future for our children by protecting them, spending time with them, imparting sound values to them and setting examples for them that build healthy families and communities.
One seemingly small but vitally important area in which we can help our children and our nation is to overcome the challenge of a poor reading culture in South Africa.
Reading expands our minds, our vocabulary and truly opens up new frontiers of opportunity – in our country and the world.
We can help our children by setting aside 30 minutes a day to read with them. If we do that diligently and consistently, our children will be empowered and their comprehension skills will improve.
At the other end of the scale of life, the promotion and protection of the rights of older persons and people with disabilities in our society is of equal importance. They too deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
Let us join hands in sustaining our freedom by promoting human rights in our homes, religious institutions, schools and communities.
Let us also work together to make sure that we protect our environment.
The Constitution provides that everyone has a right to an environment that is not harmful. We should all make an effort to clean the environment, reuse, reduce and recycle. Be exemplary to others in your community by picking up litter and putting it in the garbage bin.
As we mark a quarter century of freedom and democracy in April 2019, let us embrace and deepen our freedom – including the responsibility that rests on all of us to ensure that we live in a free and democratic society for centuries to come.
The world is full of examples where democracy has been replaced with systems of governance that feed off and feed into the worst inclinations of humanity.
We should never regress. Growing South Africa must remain our inspiration.