By Andrea Naicker
This year South Africans celebrated Reconciliation Day with greater excitement after being granted an additional public holiday, following the triumphant win of the Springboks during the Rugby World Cup.
This moment is even more remarkable given that rugby was once the sport of the white minority, but is now an integral part of our reconciliation efforts. Apart from sport, many cultural and national symbols such as our flag and national anthem have now come to symbolise our national unity and our strength in diversity.
Our path to reconciliation has never been easy, nonetheless former President Nelson Mandela, who spent most of his adult life behind bars, chose peace and reconciliation instead of hate because he and the leadership knew the price of retribution.
As a nation, we have sought to build on this since 1994, and have worked to build a new society from the ashes of our ugly past, which was characterised by rampant human rights violations, racism and discrimination.
Since 1994, the rights of all have been protected by the Constitution, which safeguards the rights of everyone, and remains the bedrock for our democratic and reconciliation efforts.
Every year since 1995, 16 December reminds us of our commitment to reconciling our country. Reconciliation involves the renewal of relations, forgiveness and making amends after a difficulty or disagreement.
Part of our efforts to reconcile our nation entails healing the wounds of our past and building a better South Africa for all who live in it. The work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was crucial in this regard.
The TRC provided a platform for the voices of perpetrators and victims of past injustices to be heard. Through the TRC, testimonies of victims have been recorded, public hearings held, the truth has been uncovered and amnesties have subsequently been granted.
Many victims received reparations through the TRC, which also included funding for basic and higher education and training. The TRC played a critical role in addressing our past struggles and inequalities.
However, this was but one instance of our reconciliation at work, and since 1994, successive democratic administrations have worked to build a more united and cohesive society.
A key part of our reconciliation efforts focused on the redress of inequalities that were cemented by years of apartheid and colonial rule. This has contributed to the deep socio-economic challenges such as poverty, crime, unemployment and underdevelopment, which we now face.
For our reconciliation to have true meaning we must ensure that, our democracy works for everyone. Economic transformation is a key part of this and we continue to ensure that all South Africans are given a chance to live their dreams through dedication and hard work.
In honour of how far we have come in this regard, and to celebrate the strides we have made in rebuilding our nation, this year we commemorated Reconciliation Day under the theme “Strengthening unity and social cohesion in a healing nation”. The theme was a powerful reminder that our journey is not yet done, and that we all still have a role to play in building a better tomorrow.
Government is committed to ongoing reconciliation, and plans for creating an inclusive economy, reducing inequality and eliminating poverty are detailed in our National Development plan. In addition, our Medium Term Strategic Framework also prioritises economic transformation and job creation.
A key component in these plans is also the aspect of social cohesion and unity, which is central to reconciliation. Let us all therefore play our part in reconciling by actively participating in our democracy, embracing that which unites us, and upholding respect for each other regardless of race and other differences.