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National & Provincial
Apr 26 2012 6:50AM
 
Celebrating hard-earned freedom
FREEDOM TO CHOOSE: ANC struggle icon Nelson Mandela mobbed by voters during the 1994 elections.
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Siyabonga Mkhwanazi

Emerging from a racially divided past, South Africa has been able to forge unity and build a non-racial society.

The past 18 years of the democratic order has witnessed widespread changes on the political, economic and social fronts.

While Parliament has passed more than 2000 progressive laws since 1994, the government has not been able to implement all of these pieces of legislation.

When Nelson Mandela took the helm of the country he inherited a country that was a pariah to the world and he focused on putting it on the global map with its policy of reconciliation.

The apartheid machinery was gone and the time had come to rebuild a new country with new systems and sets of values. As president of the country, Mandela ensured that he was laying the foundation for a society that would build a better future for generations to come.

But there were pressing challenges that the government needed to attend to that related to jobs, housing, water, electricity, healthcare and fighting crime. Another challenge was that the migration of people from rural areas to the cities in pursuit of job opportunities and a better life continued.

In these 18 years the government has delivered more than 2.6 million RDP houses, but the demand for more houses continues to grow every day.

The government has acknowledged that it would take some time before it is able to meet the backlog.

Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale has said that the government would need to have a cut-off date in building houses. Sexwale has argued that the state could not build houses forever.

Successive ANC administrations have faced the massive infrastructure backlog estimated at R1.5 trillion. To address the problem, President Jacob Zuma announced that the government was investing billions of rands in infrastructure development programmes.

The industrial plan includes the construction of roads, rail, ports and dams over the next decade.

The government would spend R3.2 trillion in the next 10 years on infrastructure development. While the state was fixing some of the country's problems, unemployment continues to plague the country, with the official figures placing the unemployment rate at 26%.

But trade unions and commentators have put the figure at 35% with mostly the youth feeling the brunt of unemployment.

The government has called on the private sector to create more job opportunities, but others argue that the country's labour laws are not flexible enough to attract more foreign direct investments.

The government provided water and electricity to millions of citizens, who were previously denied these benefits.

Political analyst Amanda Gouws of Stellenbosch University said South Africa had registered a number of milestones over the last 18 years.

She said the fact there were civil liberties, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and the right to vote, had been a significant achievement.

Gouws said she was however concerned about the threat posed by the Protection of State Information Bill in terms of encroaching on the freedom of the media.

"The major achievement for the country was the liberal Constitution that was adopted in 1996, said Gouws, adding that gay marriages law proved that South Africa ranked among the most progressive in the world.

"What is damaging that progress is the Protection of State Information Bill and the wasting of state money through corruption and fraud.

"The main thing that we need to fix is the huge gap between the rich and the poor."

siyabongam@thenewage

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