As we celebrate Freedom Day, our heads are filled with thoughts about the past, the present and the future. The writer argues that as South Africans we should celebrate our achievements as much as we battle our demons.

Today we celebrate our 22nd Freedom Day since the system of apartheid was stopped in its tracks. We never want to go back there, to have to endure its oppression, inhumanity and extreme violence.

Back then, the challenges appeared straightforward: Put an end to the monstrous system and replace it with a non-racial democracy.

In today’s complex world, one struggles to make sense of the state of our nation. Despite our impressive progress over two decades, a toxic mix of legacy, structural, global and leadership challenges thwart further rapid advances.

After 22 years, we face a political crisis and economic difficulties that impact on all of us.

Despite this, our democracy is vibrant and robust. We speak out about white privilege, enduring racism, corruption, bad governance, huge inequality and high levels of violence. We are finally facing the challenges of decolonising our institutions. And so we should. Future generations will judge us harshly for not speaking out.

Local government elections will take place as scheduled making us reflect on how well or how poorly we have done on providing basic services.

Essentials such as water, electricity and information communication technology have been extended to millions of people. How it actually impacts their lives is perhaps a discussion for another day. Despite these advances, service delivery protests continue and many municipalities are not functioning well.

However, in the midst of the political dramas and contestations, we miss important developments in our society. We relegate them to the background, sometimes into obscurity. Often we render them invisible. These are the stories of many South Africans, individually or in groups, who are achieving great things: Extraordinary things, in some cases.

Wayde_Photo by

Last month, the University of Free State (UFS) student Wayde van Niekerk became the first person in history to run the 400m in under 44s, the 200m in under 20s and the 100m in under 10s. This is an extraordinary achievement, but it failed to capture the imagination of most South Africans. A few weeks before that, his friend Akani Simbine, set a new SA record for the 100m. Another young South African, Henrico Bruintjies, from Klapmuts in the Western Cape, is closely contesting Akani for the 100m crown. These are just a few of the post-apartheid trailblazers setting our country on a new trajectory. Read more.

Louzanne Coetzee with guide, Khotatso

Recently blind South African runner, 22 –year-old Louzanne Coetzee from Bloemfontein, an alumnus of the University of Free State, smashed the 5000m T11 world record by nearly 50 seconds during the Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Disabled. She established a new time of 19:17.06, shaving a massive 48.75 seconds off the previous mark set by Lithuania’s, Sigita Markeviciene, 16 years ago. Read more.

Just two weeks ago, Caster Semenya made South African athletics history when she became the first person to win the 400m, 800m and 1500m at a single South African Senior Athletics Championships, in one day. There was just 50 minutes between her 400m and 800m victories, which were both achieved in Olympic qualifying times. Read more.

These achievements are just in athletics. In other sport, South Africans are also making their mark on global stages. At the end of the 20 Twenty cricket competition in India, Abe De Villiers, Imran Tahir and the mighty Hashim Amla were listed in the world team.

kennysolomon_photo by Groundup

In a more intellectually exacting sport, Kenny Solomon of Mitchells Plain became the first South African to attain the title of chess grandmaster. He achieved this at the end of 2014, by beating Egyptian grandmaster Ahmed Adly. Read more.

We often define our success in terms of what we achieve on the sports fields, but we have some noteworthy achievements in many other areas of endeavour.

Tapiwa-Shendelane_photo by Wits

Mpumulanga’s Tapiwa Shendelane is the youngest engineering student Wits University has ever had – at the tender age of 15. The intelligent teen matriculated with six distinctions last year at Orhovelani High School. Read more.

Dr Sandile Kubekha_photo by UKZN

And then there’s the youngest Doctor in the history of South Africa, Dr Sandile Kubheka, who qualified last year at the age of 20. He wants to specialise in endocrinology and jokingly tells of how he once sent his single mother a ‘happy father’s day’ message. Read more.

Daluxolo Batyi_Photo by Jenni Evans for News24

The list goes on and on. An Eskom security guard from Khayelitsha, Daluxolo Batyi, attained a law degree last year (Read more) and Pumzile Mayapi, a former MK operative who was on death row in 1989, was admitted as an advocate this year at the age of 60. In a moment that evoked raw emotions, he took his oath in the Grahamstown High Court. The last time he had stood before a judge, he was sentenced to death for his political activities. (Read more)

Randall Ortel_Photo by Die Son

Then there is Dr Randall Ortel, violence-ridden Manenberg’s first medical doctor, who once drove a taxi and has now dedicated his time to serve poor communities. (Read more). And Eugene Davids, from poverty stricken Tafelsig in Mitchells Plain, who was recently capped with a doctorate in social work. (Read more)

Nonkuthalo Ndleleni_Photo Dispatchlive

Showing incredible perseverance, Nokuthalo Ndleleni, who worked as a cleaner at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital (CMH) since 1999, worked and studied and studied and worked until she graduated with a University of Fort Hare (UFH) honours degree in communications and a separate diploma in education from Unisa. Read more.

Last month, another extraordinary achievement went by largely unnoticed. The university of Fort Hare’s accounting department, outperformed traditional accountancy universities in the recent SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) board exam, with a 92% pass rate. Given the country’s oppressive history, the significance of this cannot be overstated. (Read more)

Ntsiki-Biyela_Photo by

Others are making their mark in industries where their participation would have previously been curtailed. Ntsiki Biyela is making a name for herself in the wine industry. Read more.

Faahkir Bestman_Photo Netwerk24

Then there is the 12-year-old dance sensation from Hanover Park, who has leaped onto the world stage of ballet. Faahkir Bestman, heads for the US in July for a two week stint at the acclaimed American Academy of Ballet in New York. (Read more)

24-year-old Oyama Matomela from the Eastern Cape has broken all stereotypes by becoming the youngest black woman pilot in the country. She acquired her private and commercial pilot licences at the tender age of 19. (Read more)

These stories represent a microcosm of what is happening on a much larger scale. Not massive, not huge, but significant. They require greater acknowledgement in order to inspire ourselves and others. They show the enormous potential we have. In them lies hope; the hope that can provide us with greater energy to move the country forward.