Muscat: In a celebration that included the world-famous Soweto String Quartet, a local choir and a lot of dancing, the South African Embassy in Muscat marked the 20th Anniversary of freedom and democracy on Sunday evening.
The first democratic elections in South Africa were held on April 27, 1994, bringing an end to the divisive apartheid regime. Citizens from all races took part, and Nelson Mandela became the first elected black president of the 'Rainbow Nation.'
"The excitement and expectations that this brought about amongst millions of our people will remain etched in our psyche forever. This was the beginning of a journey towards justice and quality," said Maj Gen Lungile Chris Pepani, ambassador of South Africa, addressing the guests at the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt.
Pepani spoke of the developments that have happened in his country during the past 20 years, such as the economic progress and rapid increase in basic services.
While a lot of work still remains to be done, the transformation since 1994 has been noticeable. Trade and diplomatic ties, which were hit hard by sanctions during the Apartheid era, have also flourished, including with Oman, he added.
"I am personally thrilled by the appetite shown by both Oman and South Africa to raise the bar of our economic diplomacy," Pepani said.
The celebrations, which featured a local South African community choir that sang the national anthem, the Soweto String Quartet, musicians who have played for Nelson Mandela, members of the British royalty, and the United Nations, and South African girls performing the traditional 'Gumboot Dance,' were also a little bittersweet. This was the first Freedom Day celebrated since Mandela, whom Pepani described as a "towering icon and father," died last December.
Yet Pepani was hopeful that the legacy of Mandela and all the other heroes and heroines would live on, especially among the young generation of South Africans, those born after Apartheid, called 'Free Borns,' who will cast their votes for the first time in the May 7 general elections.
"These children mark a progress we have made. They have no baggage of the past. These kids dream of things that their parents never thought of. They have better opportunities, (are) smarter, more resilient. They are characterised by more enthusiasm, diversity and optimism," he said.
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