Reconciliation is possible despite deepening racial tension
16 December, was named the "Day of Reconciliation", as that date represents the deepest wounds of division in South African history. Under apartheid it was known as the "Day of the Vow", commemorating the Voortrekker victory over the Zulus at the "Battle of Blood River" in 1838.
In 1961, the liberation movement on this day, named "Heroes Day", launched Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) the armed wing formed by the ANC and SACP, with bomb blasts against government buildings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban.
The memories of our legacies of war, loss and pain were supposed to serve as the bedrock for the collective creation of a society where these features will never manifest again.
But reconciliation remains elusive as more needs to be done to eliminate the structural elements that underpinned our historical conflict; namely racism, inequality and sexism.
Despite it being called "Reconciliation Day" for almost 25 years, this day is still commemorated separately.
Afrikaners visit the Voortrekker Monument; whilst comrades visit the graves of those who were killed by the apartheid government.
Furthermore, racial divisions are being institutionally re-entrenched. Right-wing extremism is on the rise as witnessed by the increase in national votes for the Freedom Front Plus from 165 715 in 2014 to 414 864 in 2019, and the recent insurrectionary efforts of the Christian Resistance Movement.
Similarly, narrow African nationalism is gaining traction as demonstrated by the 2019, 4.4% increase in votes for the Economic Freedom Fighters, and the mushrooming of political parties like the African Transformation Movement and Black First Land First.
This deepening racial tension and polarisation makes reconciliation and the creation of a non-racial society seem like a distant dream. The polarisation is exacerbated by the reality that South Africa has the highest level of inequality in the world with a gini co-efficient of 0.62.
Unfortunately the patterns of wealth ownership still remain highly racially skewed and unemployment and poverty overwhelmingly remain predominantly black phenomena.
Madiba’s rainbow nation appears to be unravelling as the gap between the rich, largely still white, and the poor, significantly still black, continues to widen.
Likewise, achieving non-sexism is proving to be challenging; despite many progressive legislative and institutional interventions by government. Women’s Day commemorations and the "16 Days of activism against violence against women and children" campaign have done little to uproot the stubborn malaise of gender-based violence that stains our country.
Societal acceptance of gender equity appears to be an unattainable vision.
We are cognisant however, that the economic, social, political and cultural reconciliation which we seek cannot be achieved by decree only.
It has to be consciously embedded in our transformation process, accompanied by a societal willingness to contribute to ensuring substantive positive change in the material conditions of the most marginalised and vulnerable in our country.
We all have to actively support government’s efforts to eradicate historical injustices and to develop the full potential of this country and its people; for
without this deliberate joint effort, reconciliation is not possible.
Our ability to collectively champion success has been displayed many a time. South Africans are a people of greatness; a people of resilience; a people of action.
When things go wrong, we don’t just make a plan, we lead in implementing it. We are that whom Marx speaks of when he states, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
In 1994, we embraced the democratic, "new" SA with pride and zeal, through a globally admired, relatively peaceful transition.
We developed one of the best Constitutions in the world, including a Bill of Rights that restores both psychological and social dignity to a people that was once treated as sub-human.
South Africa today, is a country that conducted the world’s first penis transplant, 3D printed ear implant, the quiet cellular antenna, and digital laser. Our financial systems and infrastructure are world-class.
We are known for working hard, and playing equally hard.
We recently rallied as a nation to celebrate amongst others, the Springboks’ World Cup victory; and we dominate the world’s beauty platforms.
There is much that binds us – and there are many who wish to be bound to the common identity of being South African.
The attainment of a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa, which is prosperous and free of unemployment and poverty, is more than possible. If we could defeat apartheid; we can certainly defeat its economic and social remnants which continue to haunt us.
As we commemorate Reconciliation Day and celebrate the greatness of being South African, we should draw inspiration from the words of Amilcar Cabral: “We must as always face the present and the future with optimism, but without losing sight of realities and particularly of the special difficulties of our struggle.”
We should not only believe that reconciliation is possible; we should collectively work towards building an inclusive and prosperous South Africa to make lasting reconciliation a reality.
* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security.