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In just a few days' time, South Africans will gather in centres across the country to celebrate Freedom Day. Whether they attend mass celebrations or pass the day quietly among family and friends, they will be able to reflect on 16 years of freedom, democracy and progress.
They will also, no doubt, reflect on what we still need to do to fully realise the dream that motivated millions of South Africans to patiently wait in long queues to cast their votes in the country's first democratic elections.
After he had cast his vote in Inanda, Kwazulu Natal on 27 April 1994, former President Nelson Mandela said:
"This is for all South Africans, an unforgettable occasion. It is the realisation of hopes and dreams that we have cherished over decades. The dreams of a South Africa which represents all South Africans.
"It is the beginning of a new era. We have moved from an era of pessimism, division, limited opportunities, turmoil and conflict. We are starting a new era of hope, reconciliation and nation building.
"We sincerely hope that by the mere casting of a vote the results will give hope to all South Africans and make all South Africans realise this is our country. We are one nation."
Looking back on that day, we can truly proclaim that we live in a South Africa that represents all South Africans. We are indeed one nation.
Such an outcome was never inevitable. It was never certain that the mere act of voting would produce a society in which all could live in harmony. This was achieved through the positive actions of South Africans. It was the result of a conscious decision by our people, black and white, never to return to a past of conflict and discrimination.
We should also acknowledge the contribution of the various political leaders, across the political spectrum, who, though they had a great many political differences, shared a common desire for a peaceful and stable future.
At the centre of this process was the African National Congress, whose political vision ˆarticulated in the Freedom Charter ˆ helped to shape the democratic South Africa. The ANC has been actively building a society which belongs to all South Africans. It is for this reason, among others, that South Africans have overwhelmingly voted for the ANC in four successive national elections.
So successful have we been, that many of us have begun to accept our freedom without question. Despite what sensational headlines in some newspapers may claim, South Africans are largely united behind the vision of a non-racial society. Freedom Day will be celebrated this year without any animosity or tension.
Though we have achieved so much, we should not take our freedom for granted.
It was achieved only after relentless struggle and tremendous sacrifice. It was achieved in the face of great odds, and with powerful forces determined to prevent it.
We should remember this as we celebrate Freedom Day.
No society is static. It is always changing. We must undertake to ensure that our society changes for the better. We must ensure that our freedom is advanced, not undermined.
This means that the forces of progressive change that brought us this far must not be demobilised. In fact, they must be strengthend.
Freedom does not create itself. Poverty does not simply disappear.
These require concerted, united action by all South Africans.
We should not expect that nation building will happen on its own, nor should we think that the process of nation building is complete. We still have lots of work to do to break down the economic, cultural and psychological barriers that separate black and white South Africans. We must end the practices that oppress women and hold back gender equality. We need to overcome the vastly different levels of development experienced by rural and urban dwellers. We have to bridge the massive inequality that separates rich from poor.
Though we have achieved much, there is a great deal more that we need to do.
At the heart of our nation building efforts, must be the struggle to achieve a better life for all. Though our people may be united in their hearts, in their daily experience they live very different lives. Our cities, towns and countryside look very much like they did under apartheid. Despite the progress we have made, we are still faced with a legacy of underdevelopment, poverty and unemployment.
Our efforts to build a united nation must focus on these things. We must strive to ensure that a school in a township has the same resources ˆ and that pupils have the same opportunities ˆ as a school in a formerly-white suburb. We must ensure that a young person living in a rural area has the same chance of going to a tertiary institution as a city dweller.
We must ensure that all South Africans have equal access to quality health care.
Most importantly, we must ensure that all South Africans have decent work. For that, we must work together to grow our economy, and to ensure that the benefit of that growth is broadly shared.
These are the very practical ways in which we will build national unity and social cohesion.
At his inauguration on 10 May 1994, President Nelson Mandela said:
"Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.
"Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all."
Let us draw on this spirit, striving through our daily deeds to build a better society and secure a better future, a glorious life for all.