Unathi Kondile writes that Reconciliation Day should not be the duty of black people, it is the responsibility of white South Africans. File picture: Gcina Ndwalane.
Unathi Kondile writes that Reconciliation Day should not be the duty of black people, it is the responsibility of white South Africans. File picture: Gcina Ndwalane.

Reconciliation Day: Reconciling with the unrepentant

By UNATHI KONDILE Time of article published Dec 16, 2019

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She sits behind her computer all day. Has a mild twitch. Has worked for the same company for over 30 years. Has a dog. A cat too, most likely. Judging by all the fur on her work garments. At home she has a 67-year-old maid that has far more physical strength than her.

She works for one of the big four media companies in South Africa. For her work is routine and everything is methodical. When apartheid ended nothing changed for her. She clung on to her cushy managerial positions and watched the steady stream of young and old black professionals shuffle in an out of employment under her watch. 

Her world never changed when apartheid ended. Instead, today she is told to play 'equal' with those she has known to be inferior to her all her life.

In fact, forget race. She does not see life through race lenses although she is prone to bandy about the occasional "those people", “cheeky black” and "ka****s" at family gatherings.

Two years ago she was tasked with managing a young black professional who had, until she came on board, professionally run a particular project single-handedly. 

To her mind it was inconceivable for a young black to run a project for three years solid without a single incident of corruption or error. To her something was wrong. This black male would not accept her suggestions. Was able to question and bend her methodical approach to doing business in 2019. 

She had to get rid of him by all means necessary. The easiest way was to use managerial processes to exhaust him out of the system; deny his expense claims, reject his travel requests, give preferential treatment to his subordinates and question all business expenditure... Afterall, when you have been doing the same job for over 30 years, you have all the time in the world to frustrate and work anyone out of their job. Until they resign or opt for voluntary retrenchment.

If you were that young black male, what would Reconciliation Day mean to you?

We live in a country where only one race is required to forgive. The strangest part of this forgiveness is that there is an expectation to forgive people who have never asked to be forgiven. 

After all, how do you ask for forgiveness when in your mind you have never done anything wrong? That twitchy white woman does not for a second think that her actions were fuelled by race. Privilege and experience, surely, cannot be a wrong.

How do you reconcile with such people?

When we are asked to reflect on Reconciliation Day we have to be more explicit. We have to state, unapologetically, that such days of reconciliation, heritage or youth are meant to educate our former oppressors. 

An onus must be placed on former oppressors and their children to actively participate on such days. Instead of bussing in the very same victims of our past to stadiums and preaching reconciliation to them, we should send those buses to suburbs to pick up the privileged and get them to those stadiums.

It cannot be that these days are meant to be observed by the very same people who endured them. What warped self-flagellation is that from this democratically elected government?

Days like Reconciliation Day should be set aside for white South Africans to perform sincere acts of repentance. Bus them to stadiums and townships for the day; let them listen to our banal leaders, take them to churches like ZCC, let them attend traditional ceremonies like imigidi, even attend a funeral or two on any given Saturday – in fact let them visit the grieving home the whole week so they can see the entire process. 

I would even go as far as suggesting compulsory homestays, where white South Africans spend a week living with a black family in a township or in a shack. 

Get to see the other side of a seemingly normal privileged existence in South Africa. Why are we pussyfooting around this? If one cannot see their privilege why not show them?

Simply saying we have 16 December to observe Reconciliation Day is not enough. Reconciliation Day should not be the duty of black people, it is the responsibility of white South Africans. Instead of surfing, towing caravans and braai'ing on such days I would encourage them to humble themselves and learn more about their forgivers.

We also have a duty to instil a sense of confidence in many blacks who still see themselves as inferior; those that shrivel and shrink to child-like mannerism whenever a white is present. 

Those that say “yes!” to every white whim make it increasingly impossible to achieve this reconciliation project. They assert an expectation that to be black is to be subservient and compliant such that any black who does not behave in that manner is a problem.

I am as equally irked to be using terms like black and white in this piece but I also understand, firmly, that all is still black and white in this country and until true reconciliation is attained, we have to use race in our writings. Any request to not see race, at this stage, is to be that twitchy old white women with a 67-year-old maid. 

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