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This Day in Speech and Debate History: “Freedom Day,” - South Africa’s first free elections.

Between April 26th - April 29th 1994, the first general elections were in held in South Africa where citizens of all races were allowed to vote. April 27th is now a public holiday in South Africa as “Freedom Day” - marking the end of 300 years of colonialism.

Previously, the apartheid (segregation) system had kept a small minority of whites in control of the country. Apartheid was based on white supremacy in which blacks were segregated in all aspects of life including denial of the right to vote.

Growing protests and civil rights leaders such as Nelson Mandela (who was a former debater at his school!) signaled the end of apartheid. Between 1990-1991 the apartheid system was dismantled during a transitionary period which culminated with the elections of 1994.

The election was held on April 27th 1994 and 20.000,000 South Africans cast their vote. The African National Congress (ANC) led by Nelson Mandela received the vast majority of the vote. The first act of the new legislature was to elect Nelson Mandela as President, and he became the country’s first black chief executive.

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

― Nelson Mandela