Reconciliation Day

By Sinazo Mkoko

The Preamble to the South African Constitution states, “We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past; honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” December is reconciliation month in South Africa, and the country marks National Reconciliation Day on December 16. The day aims to promote social cohesion, healing, unity, and nation-building. According to the South African government, this year’s emphasis is on South Africans’ vital role in strengthening democracy and ensuring that their opinions are heard and incorporated into daily decisions aimed at improving people’s lives.

The event for this year’s Reconciliation Day will be held in Vhembe District, Thulamela Municipality, Limpopo, under the theme “Strengthening unity and social cohesion in a healing nation.”In his Letter to the Nation in September this year, His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that one of the most incredible aspects of South African society today is the “common commitment to maintain peace amongst ourselves and our neighbours and to prevent tribalism and ethnic chauvinism from sowing discord between us.”

“Even when acts of racism occur, these provocations are rejected by South Africans, who won’t let them be used to exacerbate tensions in communities,” he said. His Excellency President Ramaphosa said while so many countries and societies around the world today are beset by conflict, South Africa is fortunate that “the project of national reconciliation is ongoing and has not been abandoned.”

“Contributing to maintaining peace and advancing reconciliation is our collective responsibility as South Africans. It is the greatest gift we can bestow on the generations to come,” he said. The South African government states that the vision of a nation reconciled is embedded in the democratic Constitution. “Each year, we have an opportunity to reach out to one another to deal with our past, reconcile, and build a new nation. Our goal as South Africans should be to promote inclusive nation-building and social cohesion. This generation must continue to work towards a society free from racial, social, economic, and class barriers. It is an opportunity to celebrate how far we have come in building a cohesive and united society,” they said.

The Importance of Rebuilding Social Cohesion

The Department of Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation states that without a high degree of social cohesion and unity of purpose,it is “difficult to envisage South Africa overcoming the significant obstacles that stand in the way of prosperity and equity.” It was in 1995, a year after the first democratic elections, that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established. The commission’s aim was to help heal the country and bring about reconciliation among its people by finding the truth regarding human rights crimes committed during apartheid.

According to South African History Online (SAHO), the TRC was a critical component in South Africa’s transition to full and free democracy, and despite its imperfections, it is widely recognised as a huge success. “The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record, and, in some cases, grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, reparations, and rehabilitation,” they said. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) states that the TRC heard testimony from about 21,000 victims, 2,000 of whom attended public hearings. The commission received 7,112 applications for amnesty.

Amnesty was granted in 849 cases, denied in 5,392 others, and some applications were withdrawn. The TRC offered specific suggestions for a reparations programme that included monetary, symbolic, and community remedies. “The commission further recommended that South Africa’s society and political system should be reformed to include faith communities, businesses, the judiciary, prisons, the armed forces, the health sector, the media, and educational institutions in a reconciliation process,” they said.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Committees

The TRC’s work was carried out by three committees: The Human Rights Violations (HRV) Committee looked into human rights violations that occurred between 1960 and 1994. The Reparation and Rehabilitation (R&R) Committee was tasked with restoring victims’ dignity and developing rehabilitation recommendations. The Amnesty Committee (AC) examined amnesty requests made in accordance with the requirements of the Act.

Sources: SAGov |SAHO |USIP 

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