29 May 1998

The Truth about Reconciliation


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.

Why reconciliation?

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