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Minister Nathi Mthethwa: 2021 National Reconciliation Day

16 Dec 2021

Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa on the occasion of National Reconciliation Day , Kakamas, Northern Cape

Programme Director: Ms Desery Fienies, MEC Sport, Arts and Culture, 
Premier of the Northern Cape, Dr Zamani Saul,
MECs present,
The Executive Mayor of ZF Mgcawu District Municipality: Cllr Paulus Mgcera,
Councillors Present,
Religious and traditional leaders,
Leaders from various civil society formations,
Fellow South Africans,

Goeie Dag. Molweni. Dumelang. Sanibonani.

It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to address you on this very important day in the political calendar of our country – National Reconciliation Day.

Reconciliation has been an important national project since the advent of our democracy and has been a constant feature in the list of priorities of successive democratic administrations since 1994.

We are meeting here today at the very tail-end of what has been a tumultuous year, with the ever-present threat of COVID-19 looming large.

As we all know, we are now contending with the 4th wave of the coronavirus occasioned by the recently discovered omicron variant.

This means that we ought to use every available opportunity to remind ourselves of the basic health protocols that need to be adhered to at all times, including maintaining safe physical distancing, washing of hands, sanitising and wearing of face masks to protect ourselves and others around us.

I also need to take this opportunity to implore those amongst us who have still not vaccinated against the COVID-19 to do so.

Science has proven that vaccination reduces drastically the possibility of severe illness and hospitalisation.

In the event that hospitalisation becomes absolutely necessary, we do know that the vaccinated are less likely to die from the disease.

In this regard, I want to make this special appeal particularly to men and young people who are among the most resistant cohorts against COVID-19 vaccination.

Fellow South Africans,

This is the last of our 2021 commemorations and celebrations in which we pledged to memorialise and thus immortalise our struggle icon, uMama Charlotte Mannya Maxeke.

We have sought to use the national commemorations as one of the platforms through which to cement Mama Maxeke’s legacy.

This undertaking also has to do with our unwavering commitment to change and correct the liberation narrative which has largely been male dominated and has thus far relegated women’s role in the struggle to a mere auxiliary function.

It is for this reason that we declared 2021 as the Year of Charlotte Maxeke.

In this regard, we have committed to celebrate and commemorate the 2021 Day of Reconciliation under the theme “the Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: promoting reconciliation during the 25th anniversary of the Constitution”.

The theme underscores the fact that six days ago we marked the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the Constitution.

This was indeed the most significant and historic moment in the creation of our constitutional democratic order.

Since 1996, we have made great strides in the transformation of our society, especially with regards to the reconciliation agenda since the publication of the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.

While unemployment, especially among the youth, poverty and inequality still remain blemishes on the national reconciliation agenda, we are encouraged by the resilience of our people and their belief in this imperative.

The origins of this day can be traced back to the ‘Battle of Blood River’ in 1838, which saw the Voortrekker army led by Andries Pretorius defeating the Zulu army near the Ncome Stream.

During the days of apartheid, 16 December was commemorated as the Day of the Covenant, the Day of the Vow or Dingane’s Day.

It was created to commemorate a vow taken by the Voortrekkers in preparation for a battle with the Zulu people who were prepared to die in defence of their land under the leadership of King Dingane kaSenzangakhona.

We recall that this battle marked the fiercest resistance of that era by black people to colonial conquest, dispossession and indignity.

It is such historical events that inspired later generations of freedom fighters.

This included the generation of gallant freedom fighters who formed Umkhonto we Sizwe and announced its existence by launching its first acts of sabotage on this very day exactly 60 years ago.

In undertaking the armed struggle, the liberation movement made the bold statement that it was going to continue the fight against injustice and oppression.

It is therefore fitting that this day in our national life should be declared the Day of Reconciliation, for it marks the progress that we have made in forging a nation that is united and at peace.

We need to continuously intensify the effort towards national reconciliation as a way to heal the divisions of the past, perpetuated along the lines of race, language, culture, religion and other social constructs.

The reconciliation we speak about here is a project that involves all South Africans.

I spoke earlier about COVID-19 and the challenges it has brought about.

In dealing with this pandemic, we were rudely awakened to the persistance of patriarchy and its various manifestations – most notably in terms of gender based violence and femicide.

As most of the country was under lockdown, many women and children unfortunately found themselves trapped without reprieve in homes with their abusers.

We remain committed to dealing with this scourge which we have since dubbed “the second pandemic”.

It is for this reason that we now have the National Strategic Plan against Gender Based Violence and have instructed all government departments and state entities to institute strategic measures to tackle this scourge.

It is quite clear however that government alone will not succeed in eliminating this scourge since it is most rife in private spaces. This means that closer cooperation of communities and families with law enforcement agencies is absolutely critical.

Too often the perpetrators of gender-based violence are those known by the victims.

This calls for joint efforts by all in ensuring that women and children begin to enjoy safer spaces and are guaranteed the same personal freedoms and safety as their male counterparts.

Part of the conversation as we continue with the advocacy work against gender-based violence is that the strategic interventions must also speak to behavioural change as a preventative measure – instead of just merely reacting to grievous acts already committed.

In this regard, we want to make this special appeal to state agencies and civil society groups to intensify engagments with men and boys so that they become an integral part of the struggle against gender-based violence.

It is about time that men and young boys shoulder the responsibility for ending gender-based violence and femicide.  

There can be no real reconciliation in this country, nor can we be a nation at peace with itself, if the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide persists.

The path to reconciliation has had many obstacles and is still fraught with challenges.

But the faith of our people in the reconciliation agenda should still spur us on.

This need not in any way suggest that we are dismissive of the simmering discontent about the status quo which has largely benefited those sections of society with historical privilege.

Reconciliation requires social and economic redress.

Reconciliation has to be about a real change in the material conditions so that the quality of life of our people disadvantaged by colonialism and apartheid progressively improves.

For reconciliation to be meaningful, black people, and black women in particular, need to be economically empowered.

We have walked this path together since 1994, with notable successes and pitfalls along the way. Our people have shown great resilience in the midst of the many challenges they continue to face each day.

It is a heartening fact that while the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality remain real; our people still have faith in this important national project of reconciliation.

It is this unwavering belief in the project in the midst of despair and desolation that should be used as a foothold to encourage us to do more.

As government, we remain committed to the national reconciliation agenda.

My appeal to you today is to join hands in a public display of unity so that we may foster mutual understanding.

So that together we can make this great country of ours a truly socially integrated, cohesive and inclusive one.

And so that we may lay a firm foundation for future generations of South Africans to have a common national identity and pride in a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic society underpinned by shared prosperity.

I thank you.

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