Is reconciliation a dream deferred or are we pessimistic?


Victory in the “Battle of Blood River” meant different things for blacks and whites, as from 1910 Africans continued using the 16th December to launch protests against the oppressive regime.

The month of December is usually a season to be festive in South Africa and globally. In 2020 however the period which is supposed to be merry coincides with the second wave of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

In South Africa the month is also about Reconciliation, as the country recognises and acknowledges its divided past whilst embracing the spirit and letter of the Constitution. This in terms of South Africa belonging to all those who live in it regardless of their race and religious beliefs.

The 16th December which is the Day of Reconciliation on, was this year celebrated under the theme “United in Action Against Racism, Gender Based Violence and Other Intolerances”. In 1995 the day was first celebrated as a public holiday under a democratic dispensation, in an effort to bring blacks and whites together and within the spirit of reconciling our humanity. We are after all one human race regardless of our race, gender and religious beliefs, as Robert Sobukwe said “There is only one race, the human race.”

The day was previously known as Dingane’s day, Day of the Vow or Day of the Covenant over the country’s different eras. It has its history in the 1838 battle between the Zulu Warriors led by Dingane and the Voortrekkers, commonly known as the “Battle of Blood River” near the Ncome River, Kwazulu-Natal.

Victory in the “Battle of Blood River” meant different things for blacks and whites, as from 1910 Africans continued using the 16th December to launch protests against the oppressive regime. Consequently, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) was formed on the day in 1961 to take up arms against an apartheid South Africa.

Several interactions with the late Maune, Ga-Mashashane born Matsobane Morris Matsemela, one of the early MK recruits, shed some light on the armed struggle and what it took to embrace reconciliation even after the persecution he faced because of his race. He had operated in the Lady Selborne, Pretoria area whilst he was one of those arrested for burning their passbooks in the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre.

Matsemela was heavily tortured during the 1964 trial on various acts of sabotage, which was separate from the media-styled ‘Little Rivonia Trial’. In the book ‘The Corner people of Lady Selborne’, Seakalala Mojapelo supported the late MK veteran’s resolute character when he wrote “The former post office mail delivery man had appeared alone after futile attempts by the State to bribe him to give evidence against his comrades in arms.”

On December 7th, 1964 he was sentenced to seven years’ thus incarcerated on Robben Island, where upon his release in 1971, was banished to Lenyenye, Tzaneen under Section 9 (1) Suppression of Communism (Act No. 44 of 1950).

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recorded Matsemela as one of the victims of gross violations of human rights at the hands of the apartheid regime. Despite all the torture and the banishment, he did not allow his spirit to be broken or hold grudges against anyone, setting an example of what reconciliation looks like.

Even after 26 years of freedom and democracy, there are pertinent questions which need to be posed, especially around fractured race relations and inequality. How far have we addressed the land question, distribution to all those who live, work and till it? How far have we shared the wealth of the country amongst all South Africans? What needs to be done? As a secular state, to what extent have we cultivated the spirit of religious tolerance?

Did we manage to mend gender relations in line with the spirit of gender equality in a family, community, workplace, government, churches and schools? Have we done away with gender stereotypes within the school curricula? These and many more questions need to be answered as we confront the project of a reconciled South Africa. The questions can also be used as yardsticks for measuring progress to date.

Racism fueled incidents witnessed at Brackenfell high school, Senekal, Middleburg coffin assault and Coligny sunflower farm murder among others have put the reconciliation project to test. What is the way forward; do we abandon this noble project because of these or do we have to become more vigilant and forge ahead?

As we strive to unite in action against racism and for a South Africa at peace, late MK deputy commander and chief-of-staff, Chris Hani reminds us that “What we need in South Africa is for egos to be suppressed in favour of peace. We need to create a new breed of South Africans who love their country and love everybody, irrespective of their colour”.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is recorded to be increasing at an alarming rate, especially as the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic and at the back of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children. Bringing an end to the scourge will require collaborative effort thus we should be encouraged by the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s remarks that “In 28 countries, for instance, we worked with governments to integrate gender-based violence measures into their Covid-19 responses and fiscal stimulus packages.”

As we ponder the key call to action aligned to the 2020 Day of Reconciliation and as we are challenged to confront our preconceived ideas about race and racism, late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I reminds us that “Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war.”

The reconciliation project is too important for South Africa’s socio-economic prosperity to abandon, it will however require both black and white races to pull together if the dream is to be realised, with full-hearted forgiveness remaining one of the key ingredients.

Let us take to heart late Nelson Mandela’s words during his inauguration speech as President of South Africa where he said “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”

Manamela is an author and social commentator, and Maubane is a public relations strategist and social commentator.

By Malesela Maubane.