Some people are still unsure about the benefits of freedom

Did you see that? I bet you didn't. It went by very quickly.

That was yet another Freedom Day whooshing past without much meaning or reflection. On April 27 many of us were enjoying ourselves, some of us drunk out of our minds. It was just another public holiday; just another chance to get the day off work.

New Year's Day had more meaning than Freedom Day. In fact, most public holidays seem to have more meaning than our Freedom Day. April 27, every year now, seems to swish past without much reflection.

Look, I like fun. In fact, I seem to like fun more than the next guy. Yet the truth is that more than many other people, more than many other nations, we owe it to ourselves and our children to reflect on where we are coming from and where we are going as a nation.

Nigeria's presidential elections last weekend reflect where a country can end up if people do not reflect and act decisively about issues affecting their country. Nigeria has experienced nothing but military rule since its independence in 1960. Now, with democracy restored, it mounts to elections that have been condemned across the world as not being a true reflection of the will of the people.

Nigeria's election shows just how on the edge a country can be.

So, then, what should form part of a true celebration of Freedom Day?

I think it is important for us to acknowledge that we have achieved something great here. As a country and a people I think we forget just how depressed the country was just 20 years ago. Those of us who were young in those days did not believe we had a future under the apartheid system.

Schools were largely shut down in the townships. Every month there were massive protests. Our people were angry.

Large chunks of the white population were living in fear and living a lie. Apartheid was clearly unworkable and yet many of those who lived in the white suburbs would not let it go. We were two countries then. The oppressed and the oppressor stared at each with fear and anger. We were on the brink of destroying each other and our country.

I don't think there is enough acknowledgment of the journey we have taken to reach this peaceful, united and nonracial country. We obviously have a lot of problems, but we can proudly say: Look at us now! How far we have come! How much we have succeeded!

But we can do more, and we need to do more. We cannot be complacent simply because of the success we have achieved over the past 13 years. Indeed, our successes must drive us to succeed even more.

The biggest challenge facing this country is the fact that so many of our people remain outside the economy. While on the one hand, many of our compatriots are making humungous amounts of money, many of our people are not even part of the informal economy. Instead, they are in the dark tunnels of hunger and despair.

To see this one must visit the country's social grant centres when people receive things such as child grants. The queues are long and the people many. For some, this is the only money they get to live on each month. The distressing fact is that in many instances this money goes to feeding whole families and not just one person.

Poverty continues to hold our country in its grip in many ways. The impact of this poverty on our society is unimaginable. Poverty leads to broken families, to dysfunctional communities and ultimately to crime and violence.

As we commemorate the first time that black people had the vote in this country, are we doing anything innovative to turn the tide of poverty around? When we look back, say in 10 years, will we be able to say we managed to succeed in this most urgent of tasks?

Freedom is not easy. It comes with immense responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is that we must keep freedom vibrant and alive in the hearts of our people. Unfortunately, there are many communities in our country now who are asking: What did freedom mean for us? They look around and wonder what freedom has brought for them.

The challenge for us as a country is therefore clear. We need to accelerate the growth of this economy and create jobs and opportunities for our people.

We need to make sure that all our people know and can state with pride that things are indeed changing for the better. Without this our freedom will remain meaningless.