Issue No. 37
The Truth about Reconciliation
29 May 1998
Reconciliation is about making amends. In the South African historical context it was assumed that reconciliation would mean making amends for the social, political and economic injustices that were committed against the black masses, by the ruling white elite, their corporate funders and their constituency – institutionalised injustices that were founded on race, creed and sex. It was called Apartheid, but it was much worse than simple racial apart-ness.
Reconciliation is not about forgetting what happened in the past. Nor can it be achieved if we lack understanding of the motivations and the rationale that inspired these injustices. What we experience today is that the very victims of Apartheid are expected to explain their reactions to these injustices.
National Party rule caused unknown, countless and immeasurable devastation. The NP tore our country apart in its titanic battle to impose, promote and defend its policies. It used its force to nullify the decree that all men and women are created equal. The NP Government used race and colour to classify who was human and who sub-human. And it unjustly enriched whites and unjustly impoverished blacks.
Stemming from the deliberate and systematic oppressive and repressive practice of Apartheid, we witnessed the destruction of all sense of self-esteem, the corruption of minds and souls and the denial of the dignity of a human being.
White South Africans must therefore own up to, repent and seek forgiveness for these and countless other wrongs. They need to tell all, not just a selection of events. Blacks have participated in this process with a sense urgency, understanding and commitment because there is a dire need to explore the past in order to make amends, and reconcile in order to approach the future.
The reaction of the NP and DP
The NP and DP want to let bygones be bygones. They want to ignore the fact that the social and economic legacies of the Apartheid system will be with us for many years to come. The past still lives in our communities. Most black people still live in abject poverty caused by decades of unjust impoverishment. This, while whites still reap the fruits of 46 years of deliberate unjust enrichment.
The NP reluctantly offers qualified apologies that serve only to embarrass themselves and anger their victims. It confesses half truths and then expects reconciliation. It selectively forgets the worst evils it committed against the masses. It never tell us how it strategically emptied the coffers of our country in a bid to sink the economy – and today it refuses to contribute to the revival of the economy. It blames Apartheid crimes on individuals who are either dead or dying. The NP must learn that reconciliation does not reflect weakness, but strength. In its weakness it admits that it does not have anything to offer.
The ANC’s reaction
It is not comfortable at all to relive the terrible memories, to recall the suffering and pain, but we cannot confidently approach our collective future if we deliberately ignore the past. The liberation movement exhibited immense insight when it initiated the TRC. This best expresses the visions, hopes and aspirations of South Africans for a new nation. The TRC sets the stage for reconciliation because it will allow us, as a nation, to re-assert that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. And that we are not defined as South Africans by our race, colour, gender or historical origins. It recognises that the dignity and material well-being of the individual are objectives that the whole society must pursue.
The ANC refused to sweep the past under the carpet – unlike the NP. The TRC is aimed at restoring the dignity of the victims of the past and at ensuring notable reparation. It helps us to create a society in which everyone is free from fear of oppression, disempowerment, and the use of state power to deny human rights. It helps to create a law-governed society where conflicts are resolved by peaceful means, where we rejoice in our diversity and where we share a common national pride – nationhood.
The ANC believes we need boldness and courage, a strong will to break with the past decisively and move forward to a common future. But it must be a national endeavour; a common effort based on national agreement.
Reconciliation is not cheap, and it is not an exclusive right that whites are privileged to claim. It is a life-long commitment, by everyone, to South Africa and to South Africans.
The Difference between the ANC and the NP
- The NP perfected Apartheid and used religion to justify it. The ANC fought Apartheid tooth and nail and was justified by universal morality. Yet the ANC was more than willing to testify before the TRC, while the NP shied away from it.
- The NP imprinted the unfounded notion of ‘swart gevaar’ on the minds of white South Africans. The ANC dared to challenge and eradicate that fear.
- The NP forced white youths to fight Apartheid wars through forced conscription. Many died or were mutilated. The ANC called on all the youth of the country to join in the campaign for a new and reconciled South Africa.
- The NP still maintains that Afrikaans and rugby are the exclusive property of white Afrikaners. The ANC and President Mandela embody reconciliation when we support all national sports teams. It is only under the ANC government that Afrikaans and all the other official languages are protected and promoted in the new Constitution.
- The NP feels enough has been given to blacks in their quest for equality now that everyone has the right to vote, associate and socialise without fear. The ANC knows there is no freedom without economic emancipation, through redistribution, through the opening up of access to economic activity to blacks and through affirmative action.
- The NP wants us to believe that the past belongs to the past, but it knows that we are still infested with the cancer of racism – a cancer that can only be treated with the healing powers of national reconciliation.
- The NP believes we can only go forward by keeping the rear view mirror misted. The ANC stresses that advancing to the new nation is only possible through open, honest and full disclosure.