South Africans, young and old, are reaping the benefits of living under a democratic government, with their lives improving for the better over the past 20 years.
Since the end of apartheid, the democratic government has drawn up policies, introduced programmes and set aside resources to provide South Africans with services and opportunities they did not previously enjoy.
As the country celebrates 20 Years of Freedom there is no denying that citizens now have access to better health care, homes, education and services than they did pre-democracy.
These achievements are reflected in the Twenty Year Review report, released by the Presidency in March.
The review also notes that South Africa’s economy is healthy, job opportunities are available, people of all races live together in harmony and the country is a major player on the world stage.
One of democratic South Africa’s greatest success stories has been its fight against HIV and AIDS, which was declared a government priority in 1994.
The country now has one of the largest antiretroviral (ARV) programmes in the world. This has helped reduce new HIV infections and deaths from AIDS.
Patients receiving ARVs increased from 47 500 in 2004 to more than 1.7 million in 2011, while the number of people dying annually from AIDS decreased from 300 000 in 2010 to 270 000 in 2011.
In another success, mother-to-child transmission rates decreased from 8.5 per cent in 2010 to 2.7 per cent in 2011.
The HIV Counselling and Testing campaign, aimed at encouraging South Africans to get tested for HIV, resulted in 20.2 million people being testing between April 2010 and June 2012.
Government has also thrown a lifeline to those living in poverty and with no means to support themselves in the form of social grants.
This social assistance programme – which includes child support grants, old age grants, disability grants, foster care grants and war veteran’s grants - has grown over the years, helping 2.7 million people in 1994 to more than 16 million currently.
Government, through the Expanded Public Works Programme and the Community Work Programme, has created more than three million work opportunities over the past five years.
Currently 15 million people have jobs in the country, the highest ever in history and according to Statistics South Africa, over 650 000 jobs were created in 2013.
Going forward, government wants to make more jobs available to South Africans, with Cabinet setting a target of six million work opportunities from 2014 to 2019, targeting the youth.
The country’s economy has grown at 3.2 per cent a year on average from 1994 to 2012 despite the global recession, which resulted in the loss of a million jobs.
Government has built about three million houses since 1994, giving citizens homes they can be proud of.
Those living in informal settlements have also had reason to celebrate with 500 informal settlements replaced with quality housing and basic services provided.
More than 12 million people now have a place to call home after government invested more than 100 billion in building new homes since 1994.
Another basic right that has become more readily available to citizens over the past 20 years is education.
Gross secondary enrolment improved from 51 per cent in 1994 to 89 per cent in 2012, while gross primary enrolment in 2012 was high at approximately 98 per cent.
By 2012, 78 per cent of learners (more than 8 million) in 80 per cent of public schools (close to 20 000 schools) benefited from the no-fee policy.
Not only are more South Africa children attending school than ever before, but their performance at school has also steadily improved.
While in 2009 the matric pass rate stood at 61 per cent, the 2013 pass rate was a healthy 78 per cent.
Government is also giving young people every opportunity to continue with their studies after matric, despite their financial situation.
University enrolment has almost doubled, increasing from 495 356 students (at universities, technikons and teachers’ training colleges) in 1994 to 953 373 students (at public universities and universities of technology) in 2012.
Between 1994 and 2012, approximately one million university beneficiaries received National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) loans and bursaries worth about R30 billion.
Since 1994 thousands of families who were forced to give up their land under apartheid have been compensated.
During this time about 5 000 farms, comprising 4.2 million hectares, have been transferred to black people, benefiting over 200 000 families, President Zuma said in his State of the Nation Address (SONA).
In addition, 80 000 land claims, totalling 3.4 million hectares, have been settled and 1.8 million people have benefited.
Safety and security
Over the past two decades government has also worked hard to make the country safer.
The overall crime rate has decreased by 21 per cent since 2002 and work is on-going to make communities safer.
One of government’s priorities has been to curb violence against women and children. Measures introduced to help achieve this include the re-opening of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units as well as Sexual Offences Courts.
When the democratic government took over in 1994, its first priority was to meet the basic needs of people.
The country can be proud of its efforts to ensure access to water as it met its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) – to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable drinking water – in 2008, ahead of the 2015 deadline.
Access to a basic level of water increased from just over 60 per cent of households in 1994/95 to over 95 per cent of households in 2011/12.
South Africa achieved similar success in the MDG of halving the proportion of the population without basic sanitation by 2015.
By 2011/12 about 83 per cent of households had access to a basic level of sanitation up from just 50 per cent in 1994/5.
By 2013/14, 86 per cent of South Africans had access to electricity, an increase from just over 50 per cent in 1994/5.
Reflecting on all these achievements, it is no wonder that President Zuma noted in his SONA: “As a country we have scored many successes. South Africa is much better place to live in now than it was before 1994”.