25 years after apartheid, many ‘South Africans ‘still not free’, says president

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a meeting ahead of the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Freedom Day in Eastern Cape Province. (AFP)
Updated 28 April 2019
0

25 years after apartheid, many ‘South Africans ‘still not free’, says president

  • 3 centuries of white rule and the apartheid regime in place since 1948 ended in South Africa on April 27, 1994
  • But President Ramaphosa says there will be no true freedom when so many people still live in poverty

MAKHANDA, South Africa: A quarter of a century after the end of the apartheid in South Africa, large swathes of population still are not free given abject poverty and high unemployment and the scourge of corruption affecting the country, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Saturday.

Speaking at a ceremony in Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown, in the south of the country, Ramaphosa said that South Africans were "gathered here to celebrate the day we won our freedom."

The first democratic elections were held in South Africa on April 27, 1994, with blacks — who make up three quarters of the population — voting for the first time, bringing to an end three centuries of white rule and the apartheid regime in place since 1948.

"We remember the moment we placed a cross on a ballot paper for the first time in our lives," the president said, paying homage to Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid campaigner who was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994.

Nevertheless, "we cannot be a nation of free people when so many still live in poverty," Ramaphosa said.

"We cannot be a nation of free people when so many live without enough food, without proper shelter, without access to quality health care, without a means to earn a living," he continued.

"We cannot be a nation of free people when funds meant for the poor are wasted, lost or stolen ... when there is still corruption within our own country."

Ramaphosa is head of the African National Congress (ANC), the party that has been in power since the end of apartheid.

He took over as president in 2018 from Jacob Zuma, who was forced to resign as a result of a number of corruption scandals.

"As we celebrate 25 years of democracy, we need to focus all our attention and efforts on ensuring that all South Africans can equally experience the economic and social benefits of freedom," Ramaphosa said.

Despite the emergence of a middle class in South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse, 20 percent of black households still live in dire poverty, compared with only 2.9 percent of white households, according to the Institute of Race Relations.

The unemployment rate in South Africa currently stands at 27 percent, compared with 20 percent in 1994.


Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

Updated 13 min 24 sec ago
0

Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

  • The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang
  • Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances

BEIJING: A Belgian diplomat was expected to travel to China’s restive Xinjiang region on Tuesday to confirm the whereabouts of a Uighur family that was escorted from Belgium’s embassy in Beijing by police last month.
The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang.
Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances.
“I am worried about their safety,” he told AFP. “I hope they can safely come be at my side as soon as possible, and our family can reunite.”
Belgium’s decision to dispatch a diplomat to Xinjiang comes as the embassy faces criticism for allegedly enabling Chinese police to take the family back to Xinjiang — where they could face detention.
“The case exposes the additional risk Uighurs in China face even if they want to seek help from foreign governments,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.
“The Belgian embassy set an extremely bad example of how governments put economic interests above human rights,” he told AFP.
China’s foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.
The mother, Horiyat Abula, and her four children traveled to Beijing at the end of May to complete missing paperwork for their family reunification visas.
According to Tursun, his wife and children panicked upon learning it would take “at least three months” for their visas to be approved and refused to leave the embassy.
They were afraid to return to their hotel because police had visited them multiple times since they arrived in Beijing, he explained.
“The police came in the middle of the night, asking why they came to Beijing, when they would return,” he said. “They were very scared, they didn’t sleep all night.”
The embassy offered to accompany Abula and her four children back to their hotel, but they “refused to leave the embassy in a kind of sit-in,” a Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
In an interview published Tuesday, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told Le Soir newspaper that the diplomatic police “asked the family to leave the premises” and the situation was explained to the father the next day.
An embassy is not intended to “lodge people” applying for visas, he said.
In the end, Chinese police “escorted them away,” the Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
A few days later, Abula and her children were taken away by Xinjiang police, her husband said, and he has not heard from her since.
Reynders told the Belga news agency on Monday that the diplomat would go to the address given by the father to check if “everything is going well” with them.
“My only concern here is that we can reunite the family,” he told Belga.
On Monday the foreign ministry did not have confirmation that they were at home.
The case highlights the barriers Uighurs face in attempting to leave China.
According to human rights groups, authorities in Xinjiang have confiscated passports of Uighurs, making it difficult for them to join their relatives overseas.
Abula and her children too have struggled to obtain passports — an issue that Belgium’s ambassador will take up with China’s director of consular affairs, Reynders told Belga.
Abula applied for a passport in 2017, but never received one, according to receipts seen by AFP.
Tursun believes that the family “took a risk” by traveling outside Xinjiang in the first place.
“If my family then returns to (Xinjiang’s capital) Urumqi, it’s very likely that they will be sent to a concentration camp,” he wrote in March in an email to a non-profit helping the family with their visa application.