South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Freedom Day was the most momentous and significant day in the history of South Africa.
The president led national Freedom Day celebrations Saturday by delivering the keynote address at a commemoration event in Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape.
“We are gathered here to celebrate the day we won our freedom,” he said, the Johannesburg-based City Press reported.
April 27 marked 25 years of democracy following decades of apartheid rule and segregation in which the majority of the country’s citizens were marginalized.
Ramaphosa began his address by asking the crowd at Miki Yili Stadium to rise and observe a minute’s silence in honor of those who perished in last week’s floods that lashed Port St. Johns in the Eastern Cape and areas around Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, and of those killed in the recent cyclone that hit South Africa’s neighboring countries.
He said this year’s celebrations were about recalling the battles, setbacks and great victories achieved along the march to freedom and democracy.
“It was here [Makhanda] on this soil that the so-called Frontier Wars with European settlers were fought in the 19th century by our people, who were determined to remain independent and free in the land of their forebears,” Ramaphosa said. “It was here, 200 years ago, that the mighty rebellion against the greatest occupation took place — here, in the battle of Grahamstown.”
He paid tribute to Makhanda ka Nxele, the warrior who led the attack on the British in the battle of Grahamstown. He also used the event to pay tribute to some of the country’s most decorated struggle icons.
“We have inherited this freedom from the hero, Mangaliso Sobukwe, a son of this province who founded the Pan Africanist Congress to push for self-determination for the country’s majority based on the principle of African nationalism, he said. “We have also inherited this freedom that we are celebrating today from our Sarah Baartman, who is buried not far from here. … We have also inherited this freedom from the hero Steve Biko, a young activist from King William’s Town whose ideas of black consciousness continue to influence generations long after his passing.”
Ramaphosa paid homage to many other South African icons such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, Charlotte Maxeke and the founding president of South Africa’s democracy, Nelson Mandela.
“It is their legacy that inspired many of our people to continue the struggle to attain the freedom that we are celebrating today,” he said.