Instead of hatred and revenge we chose reconciliation and nation building.
– Nelson Mandela
16 December, Reconciliation Day, is a monumental day in South Africa’s history. It is marked by two historic events that took place over centuries. The Battle of the Blood River took place on 16 December 1836 between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus. A misunderstanding between the parties caused the Zulu Chief to ambush and murder Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief and 100 Voortrekkers. This escalated to the Battle of the Blood River where 470 Voortrekkers defeated 10 000 Zulu men.
16 December 1961 signifies the birth of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). MK was the military arm of the African National Congress (ANC). Previously, the ANC followed the method of passive resistance against apartheid. However, after the horrific events of the Sharpeville Massacre (1960), where peaceful protestors were indiscriminately shot by police, ANC adopted this new approach.
16 December holds important significance to both the Afrikaans and liberation movement. It is a day promoting reconciliation and unity. Reconciliation is difficult. Rebuilding relationships is complex after massive human rights violations. Reconciliation can happen on individual, interpersonal, socio-political and institutional levels. Further reconciliation occurs on a superficial or deep level. On a superficial (or “thin”) level, people, communities or institutions coexist peacefully but with little or no trust, respect, restoration of dignity or shared valued between them. On a deep (“thick”) level, relationships are built on trust, respect, shared values which all leads to restored dignity.
Reconciliation is not equivalent to justice. Reconciliation is one of the objectives of transitional justice. Transitional justice has several overlapping goals: to establish the truth about the past; end impunity for past human rights violations; achieve compensation for the victims of those violations; build a culture of the rule of law; lay the foundation for long-term reconciliation and political transformation; and prevent the recurrence of such abuses in the future.
Africa is plagued by undemocratic and dictatorial regimes, characterised by gross violations of human rights, extrajudicial executions and violent change of power. South Africa, Mozambique,Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Ghana and Liberia all have undertaken national reconciliation. Burundi, Togo, Kenya and Zimbabwe are in the process of experiencing transitional justice. Africa continues to search for peace, justice, reconciliation and healing.
*Remembering MK members who went missing during apartheid. Their families and friends still do not know where their loved ones are. Mothudi Joseph Phala, Iggy “Gab” Mthebule, Elias Shivuri, Cedric Ngubo, Joel Paile, Thembinkosi Mnyazana, Betty Boom, Nomasonto Mashiya, Tax Sejanamane, Mbulelo ‘KK’ Ngono Thomas Maledimo,Nhlanhla Robert Khoza , Brian Nomgqokwana, Oupa Madondo, Gwaza Twalo, Ace Moema, Thabo Pule, Sizwe Kondile, Vuyani Selby Mavuso.
This is an introductory article for a new series launching in 2019 titled “Reconciliation & Justice in Africa”