For the first time in South African history, all citizens over the age of 18 were given the opportunity to cast their vote on 27 April 1994. The election was held after a period of protracted violence and political insecurity throughout the country.
The day is celebrated as a national holiday in South Africa. It serves as a reminder of the political freedoms and human rights which were previously unattainable for most South Africans. However, the day is acrimoniously known as 'Un-Freedom Day' by many social movements, reflecting a sense of disillusionment at the lack of material change in the lives of millions of poor and uneducated South Africans.
The 1994 election brought political freedom to the long-suffering South African population, but it could not undo the effects of apartheid; millions still suffer within a system of structural inequality. Freedom Day reminds South Africans about the struggle fought to gain political freedom and social equality. The history of human rights becomes central to this endeavour.
The cornerstone of democracy: South Africa's Bill of Rights
SAHA has created a virtual exhibition to showcase the role of the South African struggle in shaping the way in which our current democracy has been created. Through digitized original posters and photographs stored in SAHA's archival collections, reflecting images of the numerous struggles for justice that shaped the political terrain until 1994, South Africa's Bill of Rights is reconceived, and the link between history and human rights is explored.
Visit the virtual exhibition.
Related SAHA collections: a focus on freedom
The following SAHA collections which are particularly rich in material related to the transitional period leading up to, and including, South Africa's first democratic election in 1994:
AL2916 :: The Khalik Mayet Collection
As deputy legal advisor to the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) between 1993-1994, and a delegate to the multiparty negotiations in Kempton Park prior to South Africa's first democratic elections, Mayet's papers provide insight into the delicate process of creating a new democracy out of the ashes of apartheid
AL3013 :: The Barbara Hogan Collection
As an active member of the African National Congress since 1976, Hogan has played a significant role in the creation of South Africa's democracy, particularly her role in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), as well as her work in the repatriation of political exiles.
AL3078 :: The Multi-Party Negotiation Collection
Negotiating a new South Africa after apartheid was officially dismantled was a difficult process; South Africa's future was at stake. This collection provides insight into these negotiations, as well as the subsequent discussions leading up to the first ever democratic, free and fair elections in South Africa in 1994.
AL3081 :: The John Barratt Collection
During the transition, the Sub-council of Foreign Affairs of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) was responsible for securing cooperation from international governments, as well as homelands. The process is detailed in documentation held in this collection.