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Hope, Frustration As South Africa Marks Freedom Day

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Wednesday, April 27th, 2016
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South Africans celebrate Freedom Day on April 27 to commemorate the first post-apartheid elections in 1994. The ruling ANC will seek to boost its image while other groups protest against the government.

On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first free election where all residents, regardless of race, could vote freely. Nelson Mandela was voted into office with 62 percent of the vote as the head of the African National Congress Party (ANC).

More than two decades later, the ANC is still the ruling party in South Africa. Though President Jacob Zuma remains popular with party supporters, he has come under fire over the last few months after charges of corruption and the personal use of public funds to upgrade his personal home in Nkandla. Many South Africans are disappointed with the direction the country is heading and the many struggles that have become a part of daily life.

“We have not attained economic freedom yet we have attained political freedom,” said Bongamusi Shangase from Durban. “But things are still the same, people are still poor, people are still suffering, people still live in shacks, yet the president of the country lives in a 246 million rand ($17 million) house.”

Accusations of government corruption are coming at a time when the South African economy is struggling. The South African rand is at the lowest exchange rate versus the dollar in over ten years. Many also claim there has been a deterioration in health and education services which affects mainly the poor and the unemployed. They are also concerned about rising unemplopyment and see a connection between the president’s actions and investment in the economy.

“If you can look at the current statistics, I have never seen our currency doing so badly. The Dollar against the Rand is so unfavorable, the Rand is so bad. The President must step down. We must look for another fit president,” Lucas Khuzwayo, a security officer from Durban told DW.

Protests planned

Mark Heywood of the organization Section 27 said that protest marches planned for Freedom Day will highlight the disappointment of the people over the lack of values and principles among some leaders.

“People are angry. People feel that the president has treated them with contempt. People are also angry because of the conditions in which people are living. The hunger, the unemployment and the poor education feels like it is getting worse every day,” Heywood said.

People’s Assembly, a civil society group made up of 75 organizations ranging from trade unions to social movements and political parties hope that those who are disenchanted with President Zuma and what many consider the failures of the ANC to get rid of him will join the Freedom Day protest marches in many parts of the country.

“This will be an ongoing campaign until Zuma steps down – we can’t wait for an exit plan to start only in September, we have to force Zuma to step down now,” the movement said in a statement.

The Constitutional Court last month ruled that Zuma broke the law after he ignored an order to repay $16 million in state funds he used for upgrades on his private estate. He later survived an impeachment vote.

Meanwhile, South African police have announced that they will be investigating opposition leader Julius Malema for an “inflammatory” comment where he threatened to remove President Zuma’s government using force during a television interview.

“We have noted with serious concern, reckless and inflammatory statements that have been ascribed to leaders of some political parties,” Police Minister Nathi Nhleko told reporters.

Malema, the leader of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, spoke to Al Jazeera television on Sunday and said that his party’s protest marches were often violently broken up by security forces.

“We will run out of patience very soon and we will remove this government through a barrel of a gun,” he said.

Malema investigation

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