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20 years of democracy, freedom and nation building

Apr 26,2014 - Last updated at Apr 26,2014

Twenty years ago, on April 27, a new nation was born out of the ashes of centuries of colonial and racist rule. And so the story of the birth of a democratic nation began.

In some respects, this moment was the culmination of decades of struggle to end racial discrimination and establish a new nation founded on the creed that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, Christians and Muslims, united in our diversity. 

A new nation was thus born, out of the ruins of apartheid, led by the global icon of liberation, Nelson Mandela.

The overarching guiding vision of the new nation was the establishment of a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

It has been 20 years since this social experiment at nation building began. Today, we can stand back and take stock, even as we have to confess that 20 years is a short time in nation building. This is especially the case, considering the centuries long regime of racial rule and discrimination.

On every occasion we celebrate freedom in South Africa we also honour those who suffered for the cause of justice and those who paid the ultimate prize for the freedom we enjoy today.

Appropriately, on Freedom Day, we honour the many who made their mark in the international anti-apartheid movement.

We are reminded that a free and democratic South Africa is the product of the heroic sacrifices of heroes and heroines of liberation, in South Africa and globally.

It is an incontestable truth that a democratic South Africa is a product and handmaiden of the labours of the international solidarity movements.

In the long history of humanity, nations have been born with high hopes only to be squashed before their maturity and, at times, dreams of freedom turn into nightmares of tyranny.

South Africa is no exception, but 20 years on, we have a good story to narrate. At its core, the story of a new South Africa is one of celebration of the triumph of idealism over tyranny.

From its early birth, the project of nation building was founded on the ideals of justice, equality, freedom, human rights, human dignity and rule of law.

Looking back over the last 20 years since its birth, we can be bold and declare that the story we can narrate is good.

Emerging from near total isolation, the new South Africa rose to the occasion and hosted three major UN conferences, major global sporting events, including the Cricket World Cup, Rugby World Cup, and the FIFA World Football Cup.

The new South Africa has claimed its rightful place in the diplomatic community. Today, the South African capital, Pretoria, holds the distinguished honour of being host to the largest number of diplomatic and foreign mission, surpassed only by Washington.

Along the 20-year journey, the new nation drafted and enacted a new constitution that serves as the supreme law and foundation stone for democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law.

The new South Africa has distinguished itself, by becoming an active and responsible member of the global community. Since coming into being, South Africa has served twice as non-permanent member of the United Security Council, several times as member of the UN Human Rights Council, and is a regular contributor to the UN peacekeeping missions.

South Africa continues to collaborate with its partners in the task of rebuilding Africa, ending conflicts, and promoting socio-economic and infrastructure development that will finally usher a new era for the African continent.

In that regard, we continue to work within the African Union to seek peaceful resolutions to conflicts in many turbulent regions of continent, such as Congo and the Great Lakes region, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Ivory Coast.

Perhaps the best chapter of the South African story is that of reconciliation of former enemies who turned into one people and one nation, united in their diversity and joined in their common vision of building a united, prosperous nation for all its people.

This project was executed through the highly respected Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which saw South Africans, who only a few years earlier were sworn enemies, face each other to confess and be forgiven, and to join together in building a prosperous nation for all.

In these 20 years, the democratic culture has been tested and survived. South Africa has held three national democratic elections, rated mong the most transparent, free and fair by all global elections observers. The South African Independent elections commission is today used as a model by many new democracies, especially those emerging from conflict.

In the Levant and the Middle East, 20 years ago, South Africa did not have a single diplomatic representation. Today, it is represented in almost every state of this area, including a permanent representative at ambassadorial level resident in Ramallah, making South Africa one of the few countries to have a representative accredited to the state of Palestine.

Relations with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan are at an all-time high, with numerous memoranda of understanding awaiting signature and reciprocal senior high-level visits between Amman and Pretoria being scheduled.

Indeed, all things being considered, we have a good story to share.

20 years is a short time in the life of nations. In some respects, our story has just begun. South Africa is still a young nation and a new democracy. It is still learning from old civilisations, such as those from the Arab world. And it is honoured to count amongst its friends many of those who continue to champion the struggle for global peace and friendship.

As we mark 20 years of democracy, we recommit ourself to continuing to be active and responsible members of the global community, shouldering our share of responsibility amongst nations and, above all, seeking to be a positive player in global mechanisms to end conflicts amongst states.

These 20-year celebrations come barely six months since the passing away of the father of our democracy and the global icon, Nelson Mandela.

Those who had the honour to live during his times, dedicate these 20-year commemorations to his memory. His work is done, but for us the work of nation building and freedom has just begun.

The writer is ambassador of South Africa to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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