Address by His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma, on the occasion of celebrating the National Day of Reconciliation, Gopane, Zeerust, North West Province
16 December 2016
Programme Director, Minister Nathi Mthethwa,
Premier of the North West
Province, Mr Supra Mahumapelo
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Members of the National and Provincial Legislatures,
Mayors and Councilors,
Motlotlegi Kgosi Gopane
Magosi a a tlotlegang,
Fellow South Africans,
We are honoured to be here in Gopane today to commemorate a very important day in our history, the National Day of Reconciliation.
The 16th of December represented a painful division between black and white people in this beloved country for more than a century until 1995. The Afrikaner people celebrated this day as a day of victory against the Zulu army under King Dingane in 1838, at the battle of the Ncome River in Natal.
In 1910 the Union government declared the 16th December a national holiday.
In 1952 the apartheid government renamed this day as the Day of the Covenant, where they claimed to have made a covenant with God in 1838 that they will observe and celebrate 16th December if they win against the Zulu people.
The 16th of December is also the day on which the ANC’s military wing, uMkhonto Wesizwe, was established to take up arms against an intransigent and cruel apartheid state.
President Mandela declared 16 December as the National Day of Reconciliation in 1995.
This was significant to have Madiba, who was the first commander of Umkhonto Wesizwe and led the ANC in taking up arms against the apartheid state, declaring that we should reconcile and rebuild our country. He and the democratic government turned a day that was a source of division, into a day that brings South Africans together.
As we celebrate this achievement of our nation, we should also remember that reconciliation is a two way process. While black people are implored to come to bury the pain of the past and move on, white compatriots should also be ready to accept and support the imperative of transformation and redress.
The implementation of measures to deracialise the economy, such as black economic empowerment, affirmative action and land reform remain critical for us to achieve true and meaningful reconciliation.
All these are provided for in the Constitution of the Republic, which is 20 years old this month. We should drive these programmes together, as we rebuild our country.
We should thus not regard reconciliation as an easy matter.
It is profound and requires a lot of work by all of us. Today we must all recommit ourselves to walking this important journey together.
Fellow South Africans,
Commemorating the Day of Reconciliation here in Gopane todayalso carries immense historical significance.
Gopane is one of the villages which experienced bloody confrontations between the people on the one hand and the apartheid government and its collaborators on the other, where people were brutally killed over the issue of passes, between 1957 and 1958.
The conflict, as most might be aware, started in Dinokana, where the women, mounted resistance against carrying passes.
They were inspired by Kgosi Abraham Moiloa’s resistance to the Bantu Authorities laws, the black spots removals and the pass laws on the one hand. They were also inspired by labour migrant formations such as the Bahurutshe Association on the other.
A spiral of anti-pass conflicts spread to other villages in the Lehurutshe area, which included Gopane, Mosweu, Witkleigatand Motswedi.
Many people fled to exile in Botswana. Some succumbed to harsh conditions or starvation and died, while some were brutally assaulted by the apartheid authorities and their collaborators.
As we conclude the year in which we marked the 60th anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria against passes, we salute the women and all people of Gopane and surrounding villages of Zeerust, for their contribution to the fight for freedom of movement, the fight against pass laws.
We also salute traditional leaders in this area, who resisted apartheid policies, often at great cost.
Some were banished, while their people were exiled to Botswana, constituting the first batch of exiles and refugees to that country, at the time when it was still called Bechuanaland.
It is these committed men and women who made Lehurutshe an important rural hotbed of anti-apartheid activism over many years since the late 1950s, which made it a safer terrain for later anti-apartheid political activities.
This area is therefore also significant as it served as a very critical passage route for anti-apartheid activists as they left the country for exile.
Many activists, including former President Mandela, President Thabo Mbeki, President Oliver Tambo and many others used the Zeerust route to Botswana to exile in various countries, such as Tanzania, Zambia, England and many others.
Last Sunday, we laid to rest a veteran of the struggle, Mr Riot Makhomanisi Mkhwanazi, with whom I was arrested near this area here in Zeerust in 1963, leading to us serving 10 years on Robben Island.
We once again thank the people of neighbouring Botswana profoundly, for their solidarity and selfless contribution to our struggle for liberation.
We come from a painful past as South Africans. We have been able to come this far in 22 years because we took that conscious decision to move on, and build a new nation.
That was the best decision any nation coming from conflict could ever take. It was also in the best interest of the country and generations to come.
Indeed the journey towards reconciliation continues, and there are various aspects to it. I mentioned the need for redress.
There is also the need to assist families that were directly affected by apartheid atrocities, who lost their loved ones in painful circumstances, to find closure and healing.
Government is currently engaged in a programme of finding missing persons and also handing over of the remains of former political prisoners who were executed by the apartheid government to their families.
At least 130 political prisoners were hanged for politically-related offences in the period between 1960 and 1990. The state retained custody of the remains of the deceased, thereby denying their families the opportunity to receive or bury them.
The apartheid state buried the deceased political prisoners as paupers in cemeteries in and around Tshwane, despite the fact that their families were willing to receive the bodies for burial.
Of the 130 hanged political prisoners, 47 have already beenexhumed by other parties, groups or individuals.
Eighty three remain to be recovered, and these are the remains of former members of the Pan-Africanist Congress who were executed in the 1960s as well as United Democratic Front activists who were hanged in the 1980s.
The democratic Government launched the Gallows Exhumation Project on 23 March 2016 at Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre in Pretoria to begin the exhumation of the mortal remains of the 83 political prisoners.
This week, on 14 December 2016, the remains of twelve Eastern Cape PAC members who were executed in 1964, for the Mbasheriver construction site incident were exhumed at Rebecca Street Cemetery in Tshwane. The remains of other two activists who were also executed for their part in the Mbashe incident, shall be exhumed in January 2017.
This leaves government with 71 remains to be exhumed.
We acknowledge the work of the Missing Persons Task Team and the Truth and Reconciliation Unit in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development who undertake this difficult task.
It is a taxing and painful period for the families. We trust that this process will assist them to find closure.
Reconciliation is also about providing support to those who sacrificed life’s comforts to free this country and people, the former combatants who served in the liberation armies, Umkhonto Wesizwe and the Azanian People's Liberation Army or APLA.
Government is working hard to ensure that the socio-economic needs of former combatants are met. Many are unable to look after themselves and cannot provide for their children.
Government established the Department of Military Veterans in 2014 so that it can take care of the reintegration of former combatants into civilian life and to provide the necessary socio-economic and psycho-social support.
The full establishment of the department has also taken longer than planned which has affected some of our veterans.
It has come to our attention that some of our former combatants are not on the database of the department and have not been receiving benefits that they are entitled to. It becomes a sore point that the former members of apartheid forces against whom they fought, receive these benefits.
I went to visit one of the members of the Ashley Kriel MK unit in Cape Town on the 7th of December, Mr Patrick Presence in hospital in Cape Town. His circumstances are a stark reminder of the presence of many others whose families suffer in silence. We wish him and many other veterans in ill health a speedy recovery.
While there are difficulties, the delivery on some of the benefits to military veterans as stipulated in the Military Veterans Act of 2011 increased this year.
The Department of Military veterans is currently providing more than five thousand bursaries to military veterans and their dependents for basic and higher education.
To date, almost fifteen thousand military veterans are being provided with free healthcare support.
Government is also on course to provide one thousand houses to military veterans. Currently, close to two thousand destitute military veterans are provided with support through the Social Relief of Distress programme run by the Department of Social Development.
Government will not rest until the services reach all our veterans who served in the liberation movement, as we continue the journey towards reconciliation.
The National Day of Reconciliation is also about coming to terms with the painful tragedy that occurred in August 2012 in Marikana in this province, where about 44 people were killed, the majority of them by police, during a strike at Lonmin Mine in Rustenburg.
The incident was painful and traumatic, not only for the families, but all South Africans.
We appointed a commission led by retired Judge Ian Farlam who made findings and several recommendations. We issued a detailed statement on the 11th of December outlining what various government departments are doing to implement the recommendations.
Among the actions being taken is the provision of housing in order to improve living conditions by government and also the mining company.
Importantly, the issue of compensation, particularly for loss of support for the deceased families, for unlawful arrest and detentions, is being attended to.
The South African Police Service is ready to pay.
Government lawyers are working with the legal teams of the affected persons or families of the deceased to finalise the claims.
We cannot bring those who died back. However, we can and must do our best to ensure that the lives of their children improve.
Other remedies include taking steps against all those, particularly within the police service, who were found to have committed criminality in the way they handled the situation at Marikana.
The prosecution authorities are working on the matter and some senior police officers have been charged.
Yesterday, I received a report from the Claasen Board of Inquiry, which I appointed to look into the fitness of the National Police Commissioner to hold office. I will study the report and make an announcement in due course.
The Marikana tragedy contradicted everything we stand for as a nation and country whose Constitution is founded on the belief in fundamental human rights including the right to life and security. The Constitution also includes labour rights and our country has mechanisms in place to resolve shop floor disputes. A labour dispute must not cause loss of life.
We don’t want to see such an incident happening in our country again. Not in our lifetime, and not in the lifetime of any South African.
Premier Mahumapelo established the Marikana Reconciliation, Healing and Renewal Committee to promote healing, cohesion and lasting peace among the communities in Marikana.
It must be an ongoing process that will enable all to find healing.
In this 20th anniversary of our constitution, I urge all of us to work hard to make our constitutional provisions a reality that is felt by everyone.
Let us bury racism, tribalism, xenophobia and all other intolerances. These tendencies rear their ugly heads from time to time.
Let us support one another and build a South Africa that is united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous.
Let us work hard for national unity, nation building and reconciliation.
I wish all South Africans a meaningful and happy National Day of Reconciliation.
I thank you.
Issued by The Presidency, 16 December 2016