South Africa on Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of its first democratic elections that ended 46 years of official racial discrimination under the apartheid system.

“South Africa is a much better place to live in today,” President Jacob Zuma said at celebrations staged at Union Buildings, the government complex in Pretoria.

Paying tribute to the late first President Nelson Mandela, his political allies as well as individuals and organisations who fought against apartheid, Mr. Zuma said South Africa had built a strong democracy and was making “progress in building a common national identity.”

The President stressed the achievements of the African National Congress party during its 20-year rule.

He mentioned the construction of 1,500 health clinics; anti-Aids programmes saving thousands of children of infected mothers; the extension of electricity to 84 per cent of households; the building of housing for the poor; exempting millions of pupils from school fees; and reduction of crime levels.

“We have done a lot in 20 years,” Mr. Zuma said. “But we still have some way to go to eradicate poverty.” He said a national development plan approved by all the parties aimed to create a comprehensive social protection system and to eradicate poverty by 2030.

The colourful celebrations featured an Air Force display, military parades, traditional dances, orchestra music, public readings and gigantic chains of balloons of different colours symbolizing South Africa as a “rainbow nation.”

Guests included Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who paid tribute to South Africa’s role as a regional leader.

The date of the first democratic elections on April 27, 1994, is an annual national holiday known as Freedom Day.

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