Freedom Day or Just Another Saturday?

The 27th of April 1994 is so infused with ideologies of Mandela, the Rainbow Nation and the new South Africa that 25 years later, it’s begun to feel a bit underwhelming. After all, Mandela is dead, many of us pronounce “Rainbow Nation” with irony and now that the hype over political freedom’s died, there’s not much about South Africa that feels new anymore. To add insult to injury, the public holiday falls on a Saturday this year and so the 25th anniversary of South African democracy will fade into just another weekend, unnoticed and uncelebrated. It’s a sad predicament for any commemorative holiday.

Freedom Day was established to mark South Africa’s first democratic, universal elections. It was the culmination of decades of anti-Apartheid struggle and centuries of opposition to colonialism. It was a definitely a landmark in South Africa’s history. According to South African History Online, the public holiday was established as “an annual celebration of South Africa’s first non-racial democratic elections of 1994”. Clearly, this is a day we are supposed to remember and celebrate.

A few years ago, Freedom Day did really mean something to me. It spoke about the transformation that allowed me to have diverse friends and allowed my grandparents to move into the leafy suburbs, a revolutionary idea they had scoffed at for more than half a century. It was very emotional: there were these stories about how South Africans just came together to pull off a much-longed for democracy. Some of the most moving of these stories were featured on Miracle Rising: South Africa, a History Channel documentary on the transition to democracy. As so many people showed up to vote, the formerly oppressive SANDF flew ballot papers around the country. The IFP was convinced to abandon separatism and IFP stickers were hastily added to the ballot papers. It’s the classic South African story of pulling off miracles in spite of African time and bureaucratic mess-ups. With such narratives, I could be emotional about everything Freedom Day had given me: my whole life really. So I thought.

A lot has happened since that time. Things feel different now. A decade coming-of-age during Zuma’s presidency couldn’t have failed to have an effect on a naïve girl who once saw South Africa as a real-life fairy tale. So much happened during those ten years, not all as a result of Zuma’s leadership but simply because our past was catching up with us. If something seems too good to be true, it’s probably the ideology of South African democracy. It was a happily-ever-after peace that could never last.

It’s so easy to imagine that our problems have contemporary origins when in fact they’re centuries-old and never really went away. Because ours is not a happy, unified country; it’s a divided nation grappling with hundreds of years’ pent-up anger and unresolved issues. Perhaps it’s a good thing that we talk about the Rainbow Nation with pursed lips and have to bite our tongues in a check for political correctness before almost every statement. We’re being realistic and we’re being sensitive to each other – things we urgently need in a fast-paced world where sensationalism and populism seem to be on the rise.

South Africa is in a state; elaborate celebrations cannot mask that. But there are ways to meaningfully celebrate Freedom Day and build on the shaky foundation that was laid down 25 years ago. From this point of view, it’s appropriate that Freedom Day will not give many of us that extra day off. Freedom was not given out as a reward after a long fight; it was a hard-won struggle that must continue today if we are to derive meaning and reward from it. Perhaps Freedom Day being just another day 25 years after democracy emphasises that there is much we need to do in our everyday lives to find the meaning in that freedom.


Freedom Day Events in Cape Town

This Saturday marks 25 years since the first democratic elections in South Africa! Most of the celebrations taking place are political and the official national celebration is in Makhanda. There are, however, events taking place in Cape Town that support the values underpinning our 25 year old democracy. These events don’t offer opportunities to wave the South African flag around but they are committed to nation building through interaction, dialogue and community development.


Spice Mecca Ramadaan For All

This food festival aims to foster an inter-faith spirit of community. Live entertainment, lucky draws and yummy food are all promised but what I’m really excited about is that this event is underpinned by principles enshrined in our democratic Constitution: freedom of religion and association, and equality. The market is also dedicated to promoting small-scale entrepreneurs. Sounds like a perfect way to celebrate 25 years of democracy!



Promising a full-scale festival at Gugulethu Stadium, KulcaFest is another great event to attend to commemorate Freedom Day. There’ll be a sequence of live performances with everything from music to fashion shows, a food and beer garden, and an arts and crafts market. The festival is geared towards community development and nation building, making it an ideal place to be come the 27th!

  • When: 27 April
  • Where: Gugulethu Stadium
  • Tickets: R250-R750



The Suidoosterfees is a long-standing festival in the Cape Town calendar that aims to develop new artistic talent. In light of our upcoming elections, Die Gangsters sounds particularly relevant. Some other appealing shows are My Miriam Makeba Story and The Music of Legends: Celebrating SA’s Music Makers. 

  • When: 25 April – 1 May 2019
  • Where: The Artscape
  • Tickets: starting at just R50


Iziko Museums

The majority of Iziko museums are free on public holidays. This year, the Iziko South African Museum is hosting a special celebration of Freedom day in the morning. Consider joining the Friends of the South African Museum to support the museums endeavours, in exchange for free entrance year-round! The National Gallery has a separate funding body, Friends of ISANG, which also offers annual membership.

  • When: 10:30- 13:00, 27 April 2019
  • Where: Iziko South African Museum
  • Tickets: Free


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Jenna Solomon

Jenna is a journalism, African studies and social development graduate. She writes about active citizenship and lifestyle in South Africa.

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