During my one-on-one conversation with the late Emeritus Desmond Tutu, ten years ago, I dare to question him on his role as the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the mid-1990s. Was there space for forgiveness when so many people had been tortured, died or simply vanished? How could one explain this to the relatives of the victims or the victims themselves? He just looked back at me and responded: “Excellency, it’s complicated” After a long silence, he shared some painful historic episodes, in order to somehow give me an answer. It all made sense…
A decade later and as the 16th of December approaches, I have reflected around the whole idea of “reconciliation”. I have to say that our capability as human beings to forgive, but yet not forget, is what differentiate us from any other living species. The matter about choices comes back to the frontpage. People like President Mandela and Archbishop Tutu had it hard on them. It was either go through the entire judiciary processes, that could be taken as a rampage of revenge, or put the truth out there and still be able to concede a number of pardons to some of the guilty parties.
In 1995, South African authorities decided to declare 16th of December as “Reconciliation Day”. The masterminds behind it, did took their time before giving sense to the choice of the date. Coincidentally the date had significance to more than one culture here. For Afrikaners, its origins are the Day of the Vow, which commemorated the Voortrekker victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River on 1838. For Africans, the date had a double importance. It reminded about peaceful protests against racial discrimination on 1910 and on 1961, the ANC founded its armed wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe. The date is also used to celebrate minority cultural groups like the San people. On 2009 it was also given the value for promoting non-sexism. On the day, different cultural groups participate in parades and other festivities. Overall, it celebrates cultural harmony, giving sense to the entire struggle process that took place over decades against the apartheid regime.
For me, Reconciliation Day is part of the legacy left behind by the thousands of men and women who sacrifice their lives for a better South Africa. Many might disagree, but no matter the imperfection of South African democracy, their sacrifice was not in vain. Today, the country lives in peace. Citizens are given the opportunity to vote for their rulers. Moreover, one can voice their like or dislike for the system. As other African nations, South Africa did not succumb to the perils of a civil war. Dialogue remains in place and that must be considered in today’s world as a blessing.
The new South African generations have the duty and right to carve a better future for the country and its people. As a non-South African I can tell you that the population of this nation is a generous and good one. Men and women, young and old, black or white, Indian or Zulu, they all want to grow and succeed in this land where they were born. And I say, they deserve that opportunity. Does Reconciliation Day make sense at all. It surely does. It is a time to reflect about where we come from and where we could we be headed. South Africans own their destiny. If they understand the legacy of sacrifice, the country will one day be the one dreamed by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
by Rodrigo Chiari