President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for unity and building bridges in his Reconciliation Day address to the nation, while acknowledging the racial tensions which have flared up in parts of the country recently.
He specifically mentioned recent events in Senekal in the Free State, in Eldorado Park in Gauteng, and in Brackenfell in Cape Town, adding that race relations “remains fragile”.
Ramaphosa said while the day should be used to “recall the injustices of our history,” it is observed as one where “we affirm our collective responsibility to build a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society”.
However, some opposition political parties have also used the opportunity to dismiss the notion of a unified nation, citing polarised racial lines, inequality, and history.
‘Engineered to be gardeners and maids’
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), in a statement, said the day marked the anniversary of when the “racist Afrikaner Voortrekkers waged a war against the Zulu nation, defeating the King of the native people of Africa, King Dingaan (sic)”.
The party added that there is “nothing reconciliatory about a day on which the dispossession of land was furthered by an entitled people who arrived in Africa and established themselves as a superior race”.
It said reconciliation has failed in South Africa due to poverty and a lack of access to land.
“A country whose wealth remains in the hands of a racial minority, whose land remains in the hands of a few and in which black people are engineered to be gardeners and maids can never reconcile with itself,” the statement read.
‘Will remain Geloftedag’
Freedom Front Plus leader, Dr Pieter Groenewald in turn, insisted that he will continue to celebrate the day as Day of the Vow (Geloftedag) and not as the Day of Reconciliation, because of the day’s significance in Afrikaner history.
Speaking in Ventersdorp, Groenewald reminded his audience of the battle between the Afrikaner Voortrekkers and Dingane’s Zulu warriors at Blood River, urging them to defend themselves against a supposed “invisible enemy”.
This enemy, he said was an attack on the Africaner culture and language.
‘What are we celebrating?’
Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen, in his message, started by asking “what exactly it is we’re celebrating”.
South African unity, Steenhuisen said, was being threatened by political parties such as the EFF and the ANC.
“And on the opposite side of the political spectrum you will find parties equally eager to capitalise on any growing distrust and resentment.
“The tense standoffs in places like Senekal and Brackenfell show just how easy it is to whip these feelings up and turn citizens against each other,” he said.
Steenhuisen added that only through unity could a single nation be built.
Ramaphosa’s rallying cry
Ramaphosa said the support, encouragement, and solidarity experienced in society during the pandemic has been inspirational. This included helping those in need, distributing food parcels, donating to the Solidarity Fund, amongst other gestures and actions.
“The year 2020 is one of the most challenging our young democracy has faced.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought great hardship and untold suffering to millions of our people.
“All South Africans, black and white, have come together to confront this grave threat…
“Perhaps not since the advent of democracy in 1994 have we stood together as a united nation, bound by empathy, compassion and our common humanity.”
Ramaphosa said that reconciliation, and social and economic transformation was not simply up to government, but needed to be a collective effort.
“It is up to all social partners to drive the change we need and want to see in this country,” he said, adding that all citizens were South Africans, despite ethnicity, economic position, faith or sexual orientation.
Additional reporting by Eric Naki.