South Africa marks 'Freedom Day,' 30 years since apartheid ended, amid discontent with the ANC (2024)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa—

South Africans celebrated their “Freedom Day” on Saturday, commemorating their country’s pivotal first democratic election on April 27, 1994, that announced the official end of the racial segregation and oppression of apartheid.

South Africa marked the 30th anniversary with 21-gun salutes and remembrances of that momentous vote, when millions of Black South Africans decided their own futures for the first time, a fundamental right they had been denied by a racist white minority government.

The first all-race election saw the previously banned African National Congress party win overwhelmingly and made its leader, Nelson Mandela, the country’s first Black president four years after he was released after decades in prison.


But Saturday’s celebrations of the momentous anniversary were set against a growing discontent with the current government.


From the Archives: Nelson Mandela: Anti-apartheid icon reconciled a nation

Nelson Mandela, who emerged from more than a quarter of a century in prison to steer a troubled African nation to its first multiracial democracy, uniting the country by reaching out to fearful whites and becoming a revered symbol of racial reconciliation around the world, died Thursday.

Dec. 5, 2013

Here’s what you need to know about that iconic moment and a South Africa that’s changing again 30 years on:

A turning point

The 1994 election was the culmination of a process that began four years earlier when F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era president, shocked the world and his country by announcing that the ANC and other anti-apartheid parties would be unbanned.

Mandela, the face of the anti-apartheid movement, was released from prison nine days later, setting him on the road to becoming South Africa’s first Black leader.

South Africa needed years to prepare and was still on a knife-edge in the months and weeks before the election because of ongoing political violence, but the vote — held over four days between April 26 and April 29 to accommodate the large numbers who turned out — went ahead successfully.

A country that had been shunned and sanctioned by the international community for decades because of apartheid emerged as a full-fledged democracy.


South Africa marks 'Freedom Day,' 30 years since apartheid ended, amid discontent with the ANC (1)

People queue to cast their votes in Soweto, South Africa, on April 27, 1994.

(Denis Farrell / Associated Press)


Nearly 20 million South Africans of all races voted, compared with just 3 million white people in the last general election under apartheid in 1989.

Associated Press photographer Denis Farrell’s iconic aerial photograph of people waiting patiently for hours in long, snaking queues in fields next to a school in the famed Johannesburg township of Soweto captured the determination of millions of Black South Africans to finally be counted. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

“South Africa’s heroes are legend across the generations,” Mandela said as he proclaimed victory. “But it is you, the people, who are our true heroes.”

Apartheid falls

The ANC’s election victory ensured that apartheid was finally dismantled and a new constitution was drawn up and became South Africa’s highest law, guaranteeing equality for everyone no matter their race, religion or sexuality.

Apartheid, which began in 1948 and lasted for nearly half a century, had oppressed Black and other nonwhite people through a series of race-based laws. Not only did the laws deny them a vote, they controlled where Black people lived, where they were allowed to go on any given day, what jobs they were allowed to hold and whom they were allowed to marry.


30 years on

Current South African President Cyril Ramaphosa — a protege of Mandela — presided over the celebrations at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of government.

“Few days in the life of our nation can compare to that day, when freedom was born,” Ramaphosa said in a speech. “South Africa changed forever. It signaled a new chapter in the history of our nation, a moment that resonated across Africa and across the world.”

“On that day, the dignity of all the people of South Africa was restored,” Ramaphosa said.

The ANC has been in government ever since 1994 and while it is still recognized for its central role in freeing South Africans, it is no longer celebrated in the same way as it was in the hope-filled aftermath of that election.

South Africa in 2024 has deep socioeconomic problems, with severe poverty that still overwhelmingly affects the Black majority. The official unemployment rate is 32%, the highest in the world; it’s more than 60% for people ages 15-24.

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Millions of Black South Africans still live in neglected, impoverished townships and informal settlements on the fringes of cities in what many see as a betrayal of the heroes Mandela referred to. South Africa is still rated as one of the most unequal countries in the world.

The ANC is now largely being blamed for the lack of progress, even if the damage of decades of apartheid wasn’t going to be easy to undo.


Another pivotal election?

The 30th anniversary of 1994 fell with another possibly pivotal election as a backdrop. South Africa will hold its seventh national vote since the end of apartheid on May 29.

Analysts and polls predict that the ANC will lose its parliamentary majority for the first time as a new generation of South Africans make their voices heard. The ANC will likely have to enter into complicated coalitions with smaller parties to remain part of the government.

South Africans still cherish the memory of Mandela and the elusive freedom and prosperity he spoke about in 1994. But the majority of them now appear ready to look beyond the ANC to attain it.

Imray writes for the Associated Press.

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South Africa marks 'Freedom Day,' 30 years since apartheid ended, amid discontent with the ANC (2024)


South Africa marks 'Freedom Day,' 30 years since apartheid ended, amid discontent with the ANC? ›

South Africa marked the 30th anniversary with 21-gun salutes and remembrances of that momentous vote, when millions of Black South Africans decided their own futures for the first time, a fundamental right they had been denied by a racist white minority government.

How has South Africa changed 30 years after apartheid? ›

Thirty years later South Africa is undeniably a free country. The hidebound evil of apartheid is gone. A liberal constitution helps ensure South Africans can say what they want, move where they like and marry whom they love. A basic welfare state has raised millions out of indigence.

What happened on Freedom Day in South Africa? ›

Every year on April 27, South Africans celebrate Freedom Day. The day is in honor of the first election in which South Africans of all races could vote. In that election, in 1994, Nelson Mandela (on the right) was elected president of the country.

What was the ANC response to apartheid? ›

Under the presidency of Albert Luthuli, the ANC after 1952 began sponsoring nonviolent protests, strikes, boycotts, and marches against the apartheid policies that had been introduced by the National Party government that came to power in 1948.

What is the 30 years of freedom? ›

The aim of the 30 YEARS OF FREEDOM Logo is to have a symbol that will unify us as a country as we celebrate this significant milestone in the history of our country. Objectives: Mobilising collective ownership of our 30 years of democracy by all South Africans and sectors of society.

What was been one major problem in South Africa since the end of apartheid? ›

Thirty years since the end of Apartheid, South Africa still grapples with its legacy. Unequal access to education, unequal pay, segregated communities and massive economic disparities persists, much of it is reinforced by existing institutions and attitudes.

How did South Africa gain independence from apartheid? ›

The ANC and PAC were forced underground and fought apartheid through guerrilla warfareand sabotage. In May 1961, South Africa relinquished its dominion status and declareditself a republic. Later that year, it withdrew from the Commonwealth, in part because ofinternational protests against apartheid.

Why is it important for all South Africans to celebrate Freedom Day? ›


This day represents peace, unity and the restoration of human dignity of all South Africans. It is a confirmation that we have made strides away from the past of exclusion and discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, colour and creed.

What happened on Africa Freedom Day? ›

South Africans celebrate "Freedom Day" every April 27. CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South Africans celebrate their "Freedom Day" every April 27, when they remember their country's pivotal first democratic election in 1994 that announced the official end of the racial segregation and oppression of apartheid.

What are the benefits of having Freedom Day in South Africa? ›

It is significant because it marks the end of over three hundred years of colonialism, segregation and white minority rule and the establishment of a new democratic government led by Nelson Mandela and a new state subject to a new constitution.

Why was ANC banned? ›

Before the trial was concluded, the Sharpeville massacre occurred on 21 March 1960. In the aftermath, the ANC was banned by the South African government. It was not unbanned until February 1990, almost three decades later.

Who started apartheid in South Africa? ›

Racial segregation, sanctioned by law, was widely practiced in South Africa before 1948. But when the National Party, led by Daniel F. Malan, gained office that year, it extended the policy and gave it the name apartheid.

Who created apartheid in South Africa? ›

Daniel François Malan became the first nationalist prime minister, with the aim of implementing the apartheid philosophy and silencing liberal opposition. When the National Party came to power in 1948, there were factional differences in the party about the implementation of systemic racial segregation.

What did 1776 mean for freedom? ›

The Declaration of Independence marks the beginning of the nation's freedom. Signed on July 1, 1776 and ratified on July 4, 1776, the Declaration declared the United States independent of the monarchial rule of Britain and stated that every citizen holds "...

What are the three times of freedom? ›

The first kind of freedom is “freedom from,” a freedom from the constraints of society. Second, is “freedom to,” a freedom to do what we want to do. Thirdly, there is “freedom to be,” a freedom, not just to do what we want, but a freedom to be who we were meant to be.

How many years for our freedom? ›

This means that India completes 75 years of freedom on August 15, 2022 and it will celebrate the 76th Independence Day.

How has South Africa changed over the years? ›

South Africa since 1994 transitioned from the system of apartheid to one of majority rule. The election of 1994 resulted in a change in government with the African National Congress (ANC) coming to power. The ANC retained power after subsequent elections in 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014, and 2019.

What are the three changes that were brought about in South Africa after 1994? ›

Apartheid completely abolished . South Africa became a democracy . Blacks were given right to Vote . Whites agreed to one person , one vote and basic rights of people .

How did apartheid affect the society of South Africa? ›

Millions of black citizens were forcefully removed from their homes, restricted and confined within tribal homelands according to their ethnicity, while whites remained and occupied towns and cities.

How and when did South Africa gain its independence? ›

The country became a fully sovereign nation state within the British Empire, in 1934 following enactment of the Status of the Union Act. The monarchy came to an end on 31 May 1961, replaced by a republic as the consequence of a 1960 referendum, which legitimised the country becoming the Republic of South Africa.

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