Significant economic improvements have been made since the attainment of democracy, President Jacob Zuma has said during his keynote address.
"While income inequality remains high, the expansion of our social grant system from 2.7-million in 1994 to 16-million currently has contributed to a significant reduction in the proportion of households living in poverty," he told a large crowd at a Freedom Day event at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Saturday.
"There are many achievements on the economic front as well. The South African economy has expanded by 83% over the past 19 years."
Zuma said despite numerous "trying" moments encountered in the young democracy, like the Marikana tragedy, South Africans stood together in unity.
On August 16 last year, 34 striking miners were shot dead by police at the Lonmin mine in Marikana, in the North West. An inquiry into the incident has yet to be wrapped up.
"Many thought the Marikana tragedy marked the end of the road for a peaceful and democratic South Africa, but working together, we rose above the tragedy and put our country first".
"We await the conclusion of the Farlam commission of inquiry into this painful matter."
Zuma thanked South Africans for supporting the families of 13 soldiers, who were killed in Bangui in the Central African Republic last month, by rebels.
Thousands of people braved the scorching heat in the lawn area at the Union Buildings for the annual Freedom Day commemoration.
The 2013 celebration is being held under the theme “Mobilising society towards consolidating our democracy and freedom”.
Zuma's speech was preceded by addresses to the crowd by representatives of political parties including the Inkatha Freedom Party, United Democratic Movement and the Democratic Alliance.
Later on, Zuma is due to hand over national orders to numerous “outstanding South African citizens and foreign nationals” at an event to be held at the nearby Sefako M Makgatho presidential guesthouse.
Olympic swimming champion Chad le Clos, football legend Kaizer Motaung and Lead SA activist Yusuf Abramjee are on the long list of recipients.
United States civil rights activist Jesse Jackson is also on the list along with politicians, musicians, and scientists. – Sapa