On 27th April we celebrate Freedom Day – which is South Africa’s annual commemoration of the transition from a system of minority rule to full democratic representation for all.

The blueprint for a democratic South Africa was laid down when the Congress of the People adopted the Freedom Charter in 1955. The charter affirmed that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no Government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people”. The struggle for representation continued for another 39 years, culminating in the first democratic elections in the country on 27th April 1994. Millions queued in lines over a three-day voting period; with more than 19.5 million people casting their votes.

A year later, on the first anniversary of the first democratic elections, President Nelson Mandela said “The birth of our South African nation has, like any other, passed through a long and often painful process. The ultimate goal of a better life has yet to be realised. But if any one day marked the crossing of the divide from a past of conflict and division to the possibility of unity and peace; from inequality to equality; from a history of oppression to a future of freedom, it is 27 April 1994.” … “You turned our diversity from a weakness to be exploited for selfish ends; into a richness to be celebrated for the good of all. Today, we meet to reaffirm that we are one people with one destiny; a destiny that we can now shape together from the sweat of our brows.” … “The rights that we now enjoy should be improved as we draft the new constitution.”

That new constitution was drawn up by the newly elected Parliament and came into effect on the 4th of February 1997. Within the bill of rights, everyone is equal before the law and has a right to equal protection and the benefit of the law. Prohibited grounds of discrimination include race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

As an organisation rooted in the desire to create a more just and peaceful world, AFS Interculture South Africa celebrates those who worked to bring about freedom for all in South Africa, and continues to endeavour to create dialogue and opportunity for all, discriminating against no one.

Over the past 70 years, AFS has helped people from different cultures learn how to live together and become global citizens through a worldwide network of more than 40,000 volunteers. Working with schools and education experts around the globe through our study abroad and other programmes, AFS has developed educational strategies and activities to help on the path to understanding and acceptance.

As we celebrate Freedom Day as members or supporters of AFS, let us confront discrimination with inclusiveness. Let us increase real freedom by encouraging opportunities for all. As global citizens, the more just and peaceful world that we work for can only come about when there is true freedom for all.

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