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Archbishop Slattery: inequality and hope in South Africa 20 years on

(Vatican Radio) Freedom Day on April 27 is a national public holiday in South Africa, commemorating the country’s first democratic post-apartheid elections, held in 1994.

The holiday also pays homage to South Africa’s unique and remarkably detailed and inclusive constitution – including a Bill of Rights that is widely recognized as one of the most developed charters in the world, and guarantees all those within South African borders the freedom from the hatred and oppression that ruled the past.

But, as Archbishop William Slattery of Pretoria points out, many shadows still lurk as the nation continues to struggle to overcome a legacy of hatred and division.

In this interview with Vatican Radio Archbishop Slattery speaks of the state of the nation on the 20th anniversary from the first historic democratic election in 1994, just days before the nation goes to the polls for a presidential vote on May 7th

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“This is 20 years of democracy since 1994” – Archbishop William Slattery points out that participating in the upcoming election for the first time is a group of people known as the “born-frees, those born in 1994 or since.

He says it is an election that the ruling party – the ANC will win – however he says that while political independence has been achieved in South Africa, economic justice for all has not yet been adequately received.

The Archbishop says he agrees that the ANC has a good story to tell because there have undoubtedly been improvements in the life of the people of South Africa, in particular for Africans who were segregated during the years of apartheid. Education – he points out - is for all, health services have improved and African leadership is present in all sectors of life and “that is a huge improvement”.

Archbishop Slattery speaks of the relation between the Catholic Church and the government, pointing out that the Church is totally free to exercise its ministry.

However, he also speaks of continuing economic inequality and poverty in the nation and of the need for healing as “apartheid still echoes in life in South Africa”. He says white people in South Africa have a lot of learning to do: “learning of the heart – I don’t know whether they really feel in their hearts the suffering that the majority of people felt”.

Other issues Archbishop Slattery touches on are the endemic corruption that undermines politics and economic growth; the issue of “race” which he says is still at the back of people’s minds; the issue of xenophobia towards immigrants who turn to South Africa as a land of opportunity, many of whom are better qualified and better educated than South Africans, a reality that sometimes creates hatred and distrust on the part of the poor; the dissatisfaction of the youth who feel they are not sufficiently trained and empowered.


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