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President Cyril Ramaphosa: National Day of Reconciliation

16 Dec 2019

Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of the National Day of Reconciliation, Bergville Community Sports Complex, Okhahlamba Local Municipality

Programme Director,
Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa,
Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Sihle Zikalala,
Ministers and MECs,
Members of the National and Provincial Legislatures,
Leaders of various political, trade union and civil society formations,
Mayors and Councillors,
Traditional and religious leaders,
Fellow South Africans,

Sanibonani! Dumelang! Molweni! Avuxeni! Goeie Dag! Thobela!

It is my privilege to be here in Bergville to mark our national Day of Reconciliation, a time to celebrate how far we have come in restoring the broken bonds of the past and in building a united nation.

A special greeting to the people of eMangwaneni, this place that is so rich in history.

From the founding of Ezintabeni ZoKhahlamba by Inkosi uZikhali, to the establishment of the Bergville Mountain Village in the late 1800s, to the South African War of 1899, when a small fort was built here, this area has been witness to a past of both turbulence and progress.

Bergville is also the gateway to the uKhahlamba-Drakensburg Park where the San rock art at this World Heritage Site gives us a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors who lived here thousands of years ago.

The design of our national coat of arms pays homage to our Khoisan forebears, and every time it is displayed we are reminded of the deep and enduring links between us and our ancient past.

This is a place of immense beauty, lying at the foot of the majestic Drakensberg.

But like many parts of this province it has been in the grip of drought.

So we were all immensely pleased last week when the heavens opened to give some relief to Bergville.

As we celebrate the coming of the rains, today is a day for celebration.

A celebration of the triumph of reconciliation over retribution, of goodwill over animosity, and of fellowship over hatred.

That we have been able to overcome a bitter past and stand here today to proclaim ourselves proud South Africans, black and white, is testimony to the strength and resolve of a great people.

This day of the year was proclaimed as the Day of the Vow by our apartheid rulers to remember the fierce battle in 1838 at the Ncome River between the Voortrekkers and the Zulu people under His Majesty King Dingane.

In that historic battle, brave Zulu warriors with assegais succumbed in large numbers to the firepower of the Voortrekkers, and, it is said, the Ncome River ran red with the blood of these freedom fighters.

It is therefore significant that this day of the year also marks the day in 1961 on which Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, was formed to resist the savagery of apartheid dispossession and oppression.

When we attained our democracy in 1994 we took a conscious decision that the 16th of December would be a day we commemorate both historical events, and in doing so, reconcile our nation.

This day, that once symbolised the domination of one group over another, is now an occasion to celebrate the pact we made to start on a clean slate – to strive towards realising a society founded on reconciliation, non-racialism, non-sexism, equality, peace, justice and democracy.

This is the society that the people of this country envisioned nearly 65 years ago in the Freedom Charter, when they said:

We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people; that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality; that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities…

This vision of a nation reconciled is embedded in our democratic Constitution.

As we gathered to adopt a new fundamental law for our free land, we said – in the Preamble to the Constitution – that reconciliation is about recognising the injustices of our past, and working together to correct them.

Reconciliation is about acknowledging that even though we are diverse, with different histories and experiences, languages and cultures, we can be united.

Today, as we gather here to celebrate this day, let us affirm the principles which guide us as we work towards reconciliation, unity and peace.

Let us affirm that, indeed, we cannot achieve reconciliation unless we first recognise the injustices of our past, unless we are forthright and honest about the suffering that the people of this country had to endure.

As a country, it is important that we recognise the devastating effect of domination by colonial and apartheid rulers.

It is important that we recall how the indigenous African people were forced off their land, denied even the most basic of rights, how families were torn apart by the migrant labour system.

Reconciliation is also about honouring those who suffered for justice and freedom.

We should recall how, enduring dispossession, racism and poverty, African people actively resisted attempts to turn them into aliens in the land of their birth, keeping up sustained, active and organised resistance.

We should recall how African, coloured and Indian South Africans, together with white democrats, fought a brave and protracted struggle for freedom.

We should recall the sacrifices that so many of our people made – suffering imprisonment, exile, bannings, torture, deprivation and even death – so that we can today call ourselves a democracy.

We do so not only to honour their memories, but also so we should never forget the price that was paid in human suffering for the achievement a free South Africa.

Reconciliation is about acknowledging that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

It makes us all equal citizens of this country, with an equal claim to being South African.

This means that this country belongs to the descendants of those who come to these shores just a few generations ago in the same measure as it belongs to those whose ancestors have lived here for centuries.

If all the people in this country, black and white, can call this place home, then it is essential that all its people must share equally in the land, the resources, the wealth and the opportunity in South Africa.

Reconciliation is therefore also about healing the wounds of the past by restoring the land and the wealth to all the people, and realising the rights of all South Africans to dignity, security and comfort.

We know that unless we move with speed to address the unresolved business of nation-building, true reconciliation and unity will be difficult to achieve

This is clearly demonstrated in access to and ownership of land.

Right here in Bergville is a stark example of the necessity of transforming patterns of land ownership for the benefit of our people.

This town is the centre of a dairy and cattle ranching area and plays an important role in the economy of the province and the country.

But skewed patterns of racial ownership have played out here for centuries, where communities and subsistence farmers were removed from their ancestral land to make way for white-owned commercial farms.

The story of land dispossession in this province is indeed a painful one, and mirrors the lived experiences of millions of our people across this country.

It is the priority of this government to accelerate the process of land reform, and in doing so we will be guided by the decisions of our Parliament and recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform.

At the same time we will continue with the restitution process, and with freeing up state-owned land for farming and for the building of houses for our people.

We call on private landowners, commercial farmers and the private sector to take proactive steps to accelerate the land reform process by supporting farmworkers and communities to acquire land and to farm it.

Reconciliation requires that we end inequality in all its forms, not only in access to land, but in access to water, education and skills, to employment, to housing, to health care and to basic services.

It is this goal, of improving the lives of the poor and marginalised, that stands at the centre of the programme of this government, and to which we must mobilise our collective efforts.

Reconciliation is not only about race.

It is also about effecting reconciliation on matters that affect the human condition.

It means bridging the divide between women and men.

This means that the empowerment of women and the achievement of gender equity is one of our most important tasks.

Reconciliation means that we need work with greater effort and urgency to end the scourge of gender-based violence.

We cannot be a strong nation if we continue to abuse women and children and are intolerant towards members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Let us impart the value of respect to our young, so that boys and young men learn to respect women and girls.

Let us speak out against violence wherever we see it, whether it involves our brothers, our uncles, our sons or our friends.

Let us say enough is enough. Sekwanele.

Reconciliation cannot be based on pious words, must be based on all South Africans reaching out to one another to support one another as we rebuild a nation free of racism, exploitation and oppression.

We see evidence of national reconciliation in ordinary stories shared by our people, including on social media.

They are stories of coexistence, of friendship and camaraderie, but also of compassion and empathy.

Of a white man engaging in lobola negotiations on behalf of an adopted black daughter.

Of an Afrikaans-speaking toddler in a Springbok jersey fluently rendering the national anthem with his eyes closed.

Of interracial couples and adoptions and blended families; of neighbours of different races helping each other, and of domestic workers graduating at university because their employers supported their dreams.

This is not superficial unity.

These stories show that although we have a long way to go to become a truly united nation, day by day, little by little, we are breaking the barriers of race and class that were put up to divide us.

Reconciliation must mean that South Africans must reach out to one another through language, cultural appreciation, sports and through the activities of daily life.

Although there may be pockets of intolerance, we remain a people prepared to see each other as equals.

We witnessed this clearly with the outpouring of joy when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in Japan last month, and when our Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe last week.

We saw South Africans of all races take to the streets, proudly waving the national flag, and proclaiming their pride in their country.

We need only look around us to see just how far we have come.

For the first time, our national rugby team is captained by a black man, Siya Kolisi.

Our most famous athlete is a black woman from Ga-Masehlong, Mokgadi Caster Semenya, and our most famous swimmer, Chad le Clos, is a white man.

We see it in our schools, where black children and white children learn and play side by side.

And when the newspapers carry stories of the top performing matriculants they are African, white, Indian and coloured.

We see it in universities that are becoming ever-more inclusive, where students graduate in traditional attire and their families break out into ululation and dance.

We see it in our Parliament, where young and old, black and white represent the interests of their communities and give voice to their concerns.

We see it on our television screens, where programming reflects the diversity of cultures of this country, but most especially the diversity of language.

Let us not see language as a barrier to coexistence, but as a means to reach out to those of different cultures.

Let us make an effort to learn each other’s languages and to teach our own to others.

We will not allow the prophets of doom to tell us that we are worse off than before 1994, or that race relations have deteriorated.

We have reached across the divide and embraced each other, and in this month and every month we must continue to do so.

Despite our backgrounds, cultures and beliefs and political affiliations, we are one nation.

Fellow South Africans,

In celebrating the 25 years of democracy, and in line with established international practice, I have decided, in terms of the Constitution, to grant a special remission of sentence to specific categories of sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees.

Remissions of sentences are always carefully considered, taking into account the interests of the public and the administration of justice.

We recognise that incarceration has followed a judicial process and that sentences have been duly imposed after conviction.

There have been previous remissions of this nature granted to coincide with important national days.

These include President Nelson Mandela’s inauguration on 10 May 1994, the first anniversary of our freedom on 27 April 1995, Madiba’s 80th birthday on 18 July 1998, the first year of President Mbeki’s second term of office on 30 May 2005 and in celebration of 18 years of freedom on 27 April 2012.

The process will be done in various phases, starting with special categories, including women, children, the elderly, youth and inmates with disabilities.

The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services will provide the relevant details and specific circumstances with regard to relevant offenders.

It must be emphasised that this remission excludes those sentenced for violent, aggressive and sexual offences, as well as people declared dangerous criminals in terms of section 286A of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977.

Compatriots and Friends,

In striving to build a strong and united nation we will not forget our past, nor seek to diminish its impact.

It lives with us today still.

But as the famous son of this province Alan Paton once said:

“It is not ‘forgive and forget’ as if nothing wrong had ever happened, but ‘forgive and go forward’ – (it is about) building on the mistakes of the past and the energy generated by reconciliation to create a new future.”

We look to this new future with hope.

We are all products of our past, but let it not be that our past should hold us down.

Just as the river that once ran red with blood has been washed clean, so too let us renew, let us reconcile, let us move together to realise the South Africa we all want.

Let us give true effect and meaning to the profound words contained in the Preamble to our Constitution, in which we say:

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to -

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.

God seën Suid-Afrika.

God bless South Africa.

Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.

Hosi katekisa Afrika.

I thank you.

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