South Africa had vastly improved over the past 20 years, building a buoyant economy, deepening democracy and combating crime and corruption, President Jacob Zuma said on Sunday.
"We have done well on all of these pillars in the past 20 years. We have moved closer to our cherished dream of a united non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa," he said at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
"President Mandela introduced free healthcare for pregnant women to ensure that South African children are born healthy, as one of the benefits of freedom.
"We are continuing with his legacy by continuing to invest in children."
Zuma said his government now spent billions of rands on early childhood development centres and subsidising fees for poor households.
Millions of children received meals at school and also social grants from government, said Zuma.
(Photo by Oupa Nkosi)
'Comprehensive system of social protection'
"More than 11-million orphans and vulnerable children benefit from social grants to ensure that poverty in their homes does not disadvantage them and destroy their future," said Zuma.
"Our plan is that by 2030, South Africa should have a comprehensive system of social protection that includes social security grants, mandatory retirement savings, risk benefits such as unemployment, death and disability and vulnerable retirement savings."
He said the matric examination pass rate had been steadily increasing, coupled with "phenomenal expansion" of enrolment of students into institutions of higher learning.
Zuma was addressing South Africa's annual Freedom Day celebrations at the Union Buildings.
Earlier, Zuma was warmly greeted with ululations and cheering by a jubilant crowd when he arrived at the ceremony. Many people in the lively crowd were wearing ANC T-shirts bearing Zuma's face.
Several giant tents and a stage had been erected, and adorned with balloons. A large public address system was used to address the crowd.
Top government officials, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane and Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile were present.
Zuma's arrival was followed by a 20-gun salute and aerial displays by the Silver Falcons of the South African Air Force.
This year's celebrations are being held under the theme "South Africa – a better place to live in". – Sapa