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African National Congress President Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd in Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberley, South Africa, before a forum on Feb. 25, 1994.
David Brauchli/AP
Citizenship

Democratic South Africa Turns 25 Years Old Today. Here’s How Things Are Changing for the Better.


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Global Citizen campaigns on the 17 UN Global Goals that work together to end extreme poverty. Promoting and protecting human rights for all people is vital to achieving the targets laid out by these goals. You can join the movement to end extreme poverty by taking action here for a world that’s equal.

South Africa is one of the most vibrant democracies in Africa, with what is considered to be one of the best constitutions in the world for promoting freedom for all people. 

But Nelson Mandela’s country has not always been a beacon of hope for the continent or the world.

South Africa has a long history of institutionalised racial oppression and inequality — particularly throughout the oppressive era known as apartheid, which denied black citizens access to quality education, health care, jobs, and land. 

Take action: It's Time to Raise the Grade. Ask the South African Government to Invest in Education.

Essentially, black people, who make up the majority of the population, had no rights at all and those who fought against apartheid — like Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe — were arrested.

But everything changed on April 27, 1994 when black South Africans voted for the first time, ushering in a democratic South Africa.

It has been 25 years since that historic day, and while South Africa is still battling the legacy of apartheid, including high levels of inequality and one of the highest unemployment rate in the world, there is no doubt that the country is in a much better place than it was. 

Here’s a look at how things have changed in relation to the UN’s Global Goals — 17 goals working together to end extreme poverty:


1. Equal rights

The Global Goals for quality education (Goal 4), gender equality (Goal 5), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), and reduced inequality (Goal 10), collectively call on society and leaders to invest in girls, women, the youth, and other marginalised groups of people to ensure equal and fair treatment for everyone.

This has not always been the case in South Africa. 

But now, not only does the constitution protect these rights, it was also among the first constitutions in the world to decriminalise same-sex relationships in 1996 when it was written. 

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In cases where institutions like churches have refused to recognise same-sex marriages, the courts have consistently ruled in the favour of equal rights. 

Just last month, the Gauteng High Court in South Africa ruled that the Dutch Reformed Church’s policy against same-sex marriage was unlawful and invalid.

2. Healthcare

Global Goal 3 calls for health and well-being for everyone, to ensure healthy lives and promote the well-being of people at all ages. 

South Africa is facing some serious challenges to achieving this goal. It has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world — at least 7.2 million

South Africa also has one of the highest incidences of tuberculosis (TB) in the world. 

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However, to the country’s credit, essential health care is also available free of charge, or at a significantly reduced cost, at all public clinics and hospitals.

Free antiretroviral (ARV) medicines for the management of HIV/AIDS were introduced in 2014 after the advocacy organisation Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) successfully inspired the government to provide the life-saving medicine. 

And “remarkably successful” programmes have also been launched to reduce the transmission of the virus from mother to child. 

In 2010, the first national population-based survey of the effect of the South African mother-to-child transmission programme on early HIV transmission from mother to child reported an overall transmission rate of 3.5%

When the survey was repeated in 2011, the transmission rate was found to be 2.7%, according to the World Health Organisation. 

Meanwhile, the Department of Health also offers free immunisation at all government clinics to children uner 12. 

3. Education

Nelson Mandela famously declared: “Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world.” 

Access to education is a fundamental human right, but can also help nations end poverty — if everyone has access to quality education (Global Goal 4). 

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Education, one of the key priorities of South Africa’s National Development Plan, got a boost from the Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, in his budget speech in February when he announced that more than R30 billion had been allocated towards building and improving schools. 

This increased investment in basic education comes two years after former president Jacob Zuma, and his successor President Cyril Ramaphosa, committed to providing free higher education to students whose annual combined household income is less than R350,000.

4. Citizenship

Protests are an essential part of activism in South Africa. It was through taking to the streets to rise up against apartheid, for example, that young people woke the world up to the horrors and brutality of racial oppression. 

Today, South Africans still use the power of protests to call on the government to take actions that will transform the country for the better. 

Related Stories Nov. 1, 2018 Women Just Silently Stood in Protest During President’s Speech at South Africa’s First Gender Violence Summit

Take the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). South Africa has some of the highest rates of GBV, including femicide. 

Last August, a movement of women called #TheTotalShutDown led nationwide protests against GBV and delivered a memorandum to President Ramaphosa, calling on him to act decisively to combat the scourge. 

The president held a GBV Summit two months later, where he vowed that the government would indeed take action. Then, at the beginning of April, Ramaphosa signed the Gender-Based Violence Declaration.

The declaration, which was welcomed by activists, also came two years after the #FeesMustFall movement successfully protested against university fees for students from poor and working-class families to again help drive forward Global Goal 4 for education.