27 April 2007

South Africa: Thousands Celebrate National Freedom Day in Bhisho

Bhisho — Thousands have braved the cold, wet weather to join President Thabo Mbeki and other high-ranking officials to celebrate National Freedom Day at the Bhisho Stadium in the Eastern Cape.

Today is the 13th anniversary of the historic day when millions of South Africans stood in long queues despite unfavourable weather conditions to cast their ballots in South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994.

President Mbeki will later in the day address the gathered masses that include the elderly - some of whom are clad in traditional Xhosa attire and the youth, some also dressed in their school uniforms.

The gathering is being entertained by a host of artists including traditional Xhosa performers, much to the delight of the people who also dance and sing along to popular songs.

Different government departments are also exhibiting and providing their services to the people from their mobile units that are strategically placed around the stadium next to the entrances.

President Mbeki will be flanked by amongst others the Premier of the Eastern Cape Nosimo Balindlela, the Minister of Arts and Culture Pallo Jordan and the Executive Mayor of Buffalo City Zinhle Peter.

The president is also to lay a wreath at the monument of the Bhisho Massacre, just outside Bhisho Stadium, before proceding to address the main event.

Freedom Day, marked annually on 27 April, is a celebration of South Africa's first non-racial democratic elections of 1994.

It marks the liberation of South Africa from a long period of colonialism and white minority domination.

This means political power is no longer exercised by a minority of our population, to the exclusion of the majority.

Since 27 April 1994, South Africans of every hue and political stance, aged 18 and older have had the right and the opportunity to vote in elections for the political parties and candidates of their choice.

Many events led up to the freedoms enjoyed by all in this country today, from colonial times with the arrival of the first white settlers to the Cape in 1652 until the 1994 elections.

These events included clashes between British and Boer forces with the local populations of indigenous people early on and the formation of resistance movements at the turn of the 19th century.

With the formation of the South African Native National Congress, which later became the African National Congress (ANC) in 1912, the resistance movement became formalised.

The election victory of the Nationalist Party in 1948 saw the tides change from colonial rule to the begining of the apartheid regime.

Apartheid gave different races different privileges, with whites who were in the minority, receiving the most power, while black, who were the majority became oppressed in various ways.

The 1950s to 1970s saw the rise of protest marches, international condemnation of the apartheid system and the loss of many lives.

By 1988 a stalemate had been reached, which resulted in the apartheid regime's government negotiations with the ANC leadership.

On 2 February 1990, the ANC, South African Communist Party (SACP), Pan African Congress (PAC) and other organisations were unbanned.

A non-racial constitution was eventually agreed upon and adopted in 1993.

The new Constitution came into effect on 27 April 1994, the day the nation cast its vote in the first democratic election in the country.

The ANC was voted into power and Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the President of South Africa on 10 May.

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