Chairperson of Brand South Africa Chichi Maponya2014 will be a landmark year as South Africa celebrates 20 years of freedom and democracy. It is a unique moment in our history to reflect on the journey taken by so many to achieve this precious freedom and democracy that we enjoy today. It is also a time to acknowledge the considerable socio-economic progress we have made during the last 20 years, whilst at the same time looking forward to how we can all, as South Africans, continue to work together to implement Vision 2030 to ensure an even brighter future for our country.At the heart of our democratic society is our strong Constitution, one that is considered to be one of the most progressive in the world and admired by many who are fighting for their own democratic freedom. It underpins South Africa’s democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, united and prosperous society that is based on justice, equality, the rule of law and defending the inalienable human rights of all. It enshrines the rights of every South African and explains our obligations as citizens to each other and the country within those rights.The Constitution and strong public policies have guided our development over the last two decades.Today we can say without equivocation that South Africa has come a long way in addressing injustice, inequality and poverty, and becoming a beacon of democracy and hope for millions of people across the world. The injustices of the past where people were judged according to their race, creed and sexual orientation have been firmly cast off and a new and proud national identity has emerged, built on a mutual respect for each other and a shared love for our country.At a societal level, transformation has touched every one of our lives since 1994. Income levels have increased, education levels continue to improve – as we saw this week with the marked improvement of the matric results – and millions of citizens now have access to water, electricity, sanitation and housing.From a health and wellbeing perspective, our quality of life continues to improve and we are now beginning to win the fight against HIV and AIDS.There is no doubt that much has been achieved, yet we still have a long way to go in improving the lives of all South Africans. The triple threat of inequality, poverty and unemployment still remain as major challenges to be addressed.Equally, even though our education system continues its upward trend with more learners entering the schooling system and continuous improvements in education being recorded, we must still do more so that we produce the highly skilled individuals we need to grow the economy.And, although the levels of crime in the country still remain high, we have begun to see progress being made to address this issue and to create a South Africa where all citizens are and feel safe.We should as citizens of this country, respect and acknowledge our past, celebrate the present and work towards building a new future together.The National Development Plan provides our key roadmap to a future that is secure and prosperous. The plan outlines the type of society in which we want to live in 2030 – where no one is hungry, where everyone is able to go to school and further their studies if they wish, where work is available, where everyone is making a contribution because each person has been provided with what they need to reach their full potential.Through realising the vision of the NDP, we can all work together to help build a society as articulated in the Constitution and the Freedom Charter – one that is driven by a capable public sector and a robust civil society. It will help to give our young people better educational and economic opportunities, and will continue to build a platform for the eventual elimination of gender inequality.Infrastructure is key to growing an economy that can sustain the wellbeing of our people. South Africa will ensure our infrastructure development through the delivery of eighteen strategic integrated projects (SIPs) that are currently underway.Yet, these rights also come with responsibilities. It is our collective responsibility to actively participate in building our country towards reaching the country’s Vision 2030 as set out in the National Development Plan (NDP).In order to achieve this vision, it is important that we all use our precious, hard-fought votes to help determine the positive path our country needs to take to achieve the future that so many dreamed of 20 years ago.So, as responsible and caring citizens, we all need to heed the call and register to vote in the forthcoming elections, and be ready to work together to make a difference – our votes are the first step in the next phase of our developmental journey together as a united nation.Finally it is appropriate this week to reflect on the centrality of education to sustain our freedom and make it meaningful for millions of our people. As we celebrate the success of our matriculants we need to reflect on how each of us must play our part to support the strengthening of our education system to produce the kind of graduates who will build our economy and reduce the levels of dependency on the state. The roles of parents in supporting their children, communities in making governing bodies work and government in providing resources for teaching and learning to occur needs to come under increased focus if we are to make our education count.We look forward to more positive gains in this year of our celebration of our democracy because without quality education it will all go to waste.Maponya is Chairperson of Brand South Africa.• This article appeared in the Sowetan newspaper on 14 January 2014.