Unlike the tumultuous scenes of unrest, looting, and violence, this year’s revolution takes place peacefully, just as it did in 1994. Despite facing socio-economic challenges such as the energy crisis, unemployment, poverty, and inequality, there is a sense of optimism as South Africa marks three decades of freedom and democracy.

This year, the focus is on reflecting on the progress made over the past thirty years and evaluating the extent to which the objectives set out in 1994 have been realised. Additionally, attention is given to finding solutions to address the remaining challenges.

The memories of the April 1994 free and fair elections, where South Africans of all racial groups were able to vote, are still fresh in the mind of the older generation that witnessed apartheid first hand and the born free some of which are turning 30 this year. It was a turning point that led to the election of Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected black President.

If Mandela were alive today, he would undoubtedly be pleased to witness the nation’s progress towards a national identity built on mutual respect, tolerance, and acceptance.

The upcoming national and provincial elections scheduled for May hold great significance this year. Unlike the landmark elections of 1994, the ballot paper is expected to be considerably longer due to the increased number of political parties vying for power.

South Africans view these elections as an opportunity to protect and strengthen their democracy. They aim to demonstrate their political maturity by voting for the political party best suited to lead the country.

Mandela’s call for a cohesive society, often referred to as the rainbow nation, still resonates today. The ideals of non-racialism, non-sexism, justice, and equality for all, enshrined in the Bill of Rights, continue to be promoted. The progress made in transforming the apartheid state into a democratic one is undeniable.

In the years before 1994, students in rural areas had to endure long walks to makeshift schools under trees due to the lack of proper classrooms. Mandela prioritised education, resulting in the construction of modern classrooms, complete with essential facilities, at various schools across the country.

The transformation extended beyond education. Under the first democratic administration, South Africa underwent a construction boom. Villages and townships that lacked basic infrastructure, such as tar roads, clinics, schools, and electricity, saw significant development.

Furthermore, the public transportation system received a complete makeover. The once overcrowded commuter trains and unreliable minibus taxis were replaced with modern, efficient options. The Gautrain, a high-speed train, revolutionised travel in Gauteng, while bus systems like Rea Vaya and Tshwane Rapid Transit improved mobility in other areas.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup, hosted in South Africa, stands as a testament to the country’s achievements in the post-apartheid era. The event brought unity and pride to the nation, breaking down racial divides and fostering a sense of togetherness.

As South Africa celebrates 30 years of freedom and democracy, it is vital for the nation to unite once again. Political differences and diverse preferences should be embraced within the thriving democracy that has been built. This year is not a time to declare freedom and democracy dead, but to recognise and honour the progress made and the potential for continued growth.


Nthambeleni Gabara is a journalist and a government communicator. He writes in his personal capacity.