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Sunday, December 20, 2009

16 December: Day of Reconciliation

Today in South Africa its a public / bank holiday in which what is now called Reconciliation Day is being commemorated.

Originally called the DAY OF THE VOW, this day was observed as a religious holiday by the Afrikaans (the Voortrekkers at the time) in memory of their victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838. Before the battle, the Voortrekkers had taken a vow to observe a day of thanksgiving should God grant victory. In return for this, they promised to build a church - which in fact was built in my home town of Pietermaritzburg (church of the vow). For centuries since - until 1994 that is- this day has been annuallycommemorated by whites and particularly the Afrikaans.

But such a victory must be interogated. Can one really attribute such a victory to God. Really! Guns versus the spear? Is this not to suggest that he favoured the Afrikaners over the Zulus? That he loves one more than the other? That whites are more important and superior over the blacks? Isn't this the conclusion that many of us have come to and that assisted in justifying what Apartheid was all about?

You can imagine then that what a celebration of this nature, year after year by whites, means for blacks who suffered the oppression of Apartheid, as year after year it re-inforced "god-ordained" white nationalism and black subjugation.

Today, following the abolishment of Apartheid, this day has been re-named the Day of Reconciliation. For me this is a magnamimous gesture on the part of the new government - as they have sought to redeem a most heinous past. For me this is an absolute act of humanity!

The problem however, as uncle Zuma in his speech today rightly points out, we have a long way to go.

As I was reading what some of the respondents had to say in the news (http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-12-16-reconciliation-sa-has-a-long-way-to-go-says-zuma) - it becomes apparent:

For many whites - there is still much anger. I am interested to know why. Is it because the change in dispensation and the fact that the belief in God's favour over them is being challenged poses a great threat to their identity - for which one must fight for?

But for many others across all the colour groups, including many blacks, the 16th of December is simply a great holiday - a short work week. If I were in South Africa - I would naturally be naturally fall into this group - something I have a really hard time with. Surely this should be a day of reconciliation; a day of coming together; of remembering from whence we come; and actively seeking how, in small ways, we can continue redeeming and bringing restoration to the communities in which live and going beyond the borders in which we have been culturally designsated to live?

Nonetheless, for most blacks it is about celebrating the liberation struggle and the long road to freedom. This year the focus has been on providing for those who fought in the struggle. Of course this has been cause for the arousal of deep anger from many whites who were deceived and betrayed by their former bosses, the chiefs of Apartheid as they too have suffered their own losses. Consequently, this days shows what a long road we have ahead of us a brewing racial tensions are brought to the fore.

But this day should no longer be only about reconciliation between blacks and whites, as unlce Zuma points out - its also about laying aside our xenophobic reactions towards other Africans. After all was this not a part of the liberation struggle was all about? As today is an act of redeeming our humanity as South Africans, so should it be a day to renew the humanity of those seeking refuge and security in our land.

So it is that those who are seeking to redeem the past should be supported. Until such a time that a sense of restorative forms of justice and the humanity of the other is redeemed none of us will be able to live in an environment in which peace and stability is prevalent. This requires the risk of stepping beyond our borders to find the humanity of the other on the other side.

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