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June 28, 2017

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Freedom Day shows rightful path to South Africa's future

The 20th Freedom Day was celebrated recently with great enthusiasm by South Africans who paid tribute to all those who sacrificed their lives to gain freedom. April 27 marked the inauguration of the country's first democratically elected president at the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1994. On that auspicious occasion, now called Freedom Day, former President Nelson Mandela famously stated: "Never, never again will this beautiful land experience the oppression of one by another." Today, Freedom Day represents peace, unity and the restoration of human dignity for all South Africans. It is also a reminder of the sacrifices made by countless countrymen and a chance to ensure that no one will ever take their hard-won freedom for granted.

Even though the current generation is living a better life today, they have to remember that it took their elders 350 years to get rid of apartheid. The legacy of the country's former system of racial segregation may still be around, but South Africans have already seen a lot of improvements over the last two decades. The generation born after 1994 goes to the universities they like, they don't have to apply for a Town Pass (documents used to control the movement of Africans under apartheid), they can get any job if they are qualified, they can say whatever they want to say and they vote to elect their government.

South Africa is indeed a country that is better off since its first democratic elections. The republic located in the southernmost part of Africa has risen from the ashes of apartheid and now stands proud on the world stage. More importantly, South Africans have not allowed their divided past to shape their future. Together they have built a new society on the values of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

With the recent passing of former President Mandela, the 20th anniversary celebrations have another special meaning in both South Africa and around the world: an international celebration of freedom. Mandela was a legend; one of the very few people worldwide who were able to forgive those who sinned against him. Yet, the grassroots movements in Europe and the United States succeeded in pressuring their governments into imposing economic and cultural sanctions on Pretoria starting in the late 1970s. These sanctions took nearly 10 years to seriously impact the South African economy that was also suffering from the burden of its military commitment in occupying Namibia.

After the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986, many large multinational companies then withdrew from the country and the combined effects of the end of the Cold War, internal unrest and international condemnation led to some dramatic changes beginning in 1989. The then-South African Prime Minister P.W. Botha resigned; his successor, F. W. de Klerk, announced the lifting of the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation parties, allowing freedom of the press and the releasing of political prisoners in February 1990. Eventually, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years on Feb. 11, 1990.

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