Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Celebration of National Day of Reconciliation, Freedom Park, Tshwane, 16 December 2005

Programme Director, Mongane Wally Serote
Chairperson of the Board of the Freedom Park Trust, Gertrude Shope
Honourable Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Brigitte Mabandla
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Executive Mayor of Tshwane, Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa
MPs, Mayors and councillors
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen
Fellow South Africans

I am very honoured to speak here today on the occasion of an important milestone in our democracy - the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Exactly 10 years ago, on the Day of Reconciliation, the newly-appointed members of the TRC met at Bishops Court in Cape Town to begin our nation's painful journey of revealing the truth, of confession, repentance, forgiveness and healing.

We convene here today as a nation to celebrate our Day of Reconciliation, as well as our individual and collective efforts towards nation building and reconciliation. In considering this task of reconciliation, let me borrow from William Wordsworth who, two hundred years ago in 1805, wrote these words in his poem, The Prelude:

"Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange that all
The terrors, pains and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e'er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!
Thanks to the means which Nature deigned to employ;
Whether her fearless visitings, or those
That came with soft alarm, like hurtless light
Opening the peaceful clouds; or she may use
Severer interventions, ministry
More palpable, as best might suit her aim."

(The Oxford Anthology of English Literature, OUP, Oxford: 1975, pp. 143-4, I.340)

In our country, this difficult task, to reconcile discordant elements and make them cling together in one society, as Wordsworth says, fell on the shoulders of the TRC.

In doing so, they themselves had to go through the terrors, the pains, miseries, vexations and lassitudes which the victims and the families of the victims of the crime of apartheid had gone through. They also had to put themselves in the position of those perpetrators of these gross human rights violations, who genuinely demonstrated remorse and regret and were willing to ask for forgiveness and help our society move forward.

For this painful and difficult task we wish once more to thank his grace, Archbishop Tutu, the other Commissioners and the staff of the Commission for having done what they could to make a contribution towards nation-building and reconciliation. We also thank the victims, their families and perpetrators who under very difficult circumstances volunteered to come forward so that we could, as a nation, have the opportunity to cleanse ourselves.

These terrors, pains and miseries, which, to a forgiving mind seem as though they happened a very long time back, took place just over a decade ago. Fortunately, because our people are endowed with the spirit of ubuntu we continue to have the possibility to build a united, non-racial and non-sexist society.

This is the spirit that Archbishop Tutu describes in his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, when writes that:

"[Ubuntu] means that they are generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate. They share what they have. It also means my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in theirs. We belong in a bundle of life. We say, 'a person is a person through other people'. It is not 'I think therefore I am'. It says rather: 'I am human because I belong. I participate, I share. A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good; for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are."

Archbishop Tutu goes on to say:

"Harmony, friendliness, community are great goods. Social harmony is for us the summum bonum - the greatest good. Anything that subverts or undermines this sought-after good is to be avoided like the plague. Anger resentment, lust for revenge, even success through aggressive competitiveness, are corrosive of this good. To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. What dehumanises you, inexorably dehumanises me. Forgiveness gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanise them."

(Tutu, D., No Future Without Forgiveness, Rider, London: 1999, 2000, p. 35)

Indeed, South Africa cannot build a truly united non-racial non-sexist society if we do not have the attributes that Archbishop Tutu describes - of being generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate. We will fail to create this united, non-racial and non-sexist society if we do not understand that we are what we are because of our fellow South Africans.

The rich are rich also because of the toil and sweat of other South Africans, many of whom happen to be poor. As we know, the system of apartheid has ensured that even today, eleven years after our democracy, wealth is still distributed along racial lines.

Accordingly, it is the duty, not merely of government but of all South Africans, to unite against poverty. In this way, we will achieve the social harmony that Archbishop Tutu speaks about and thus advance towards the achievement of national reconciliation.

As we are aware, over the past years, government has taken steps to implement the recommendations of the TRC. These include reparations to victims, in the form of:

  • Grants and bursaries
  • The creation of commemorative symbols and monuments such as the Freedom Park
  • The dignified reburials of victims of apartheid
  • Special pensions and
  • Housing.

Further, we have taken various measures aimed at the prevention of possible human rights violations in future, centrally focused on the creation of the human rights society visualised in our Constitution, whose 10th anniversary we will celebrate next year.

The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development is currently finalising a report on how government is implementing the recommendations of the TRC. As soon as this report has been finalised she will report to the nation.

However, real reconciliation and nation building can only happen when the South African people, black and white, through their own initiative, without any prompting from government, take visible and decisive steps to break down the racial walls that still define us.

While Parliament has worked very well in the last 11 years to remove apartheid laws from the statute, we have not seen the same level of rigorous people's initiatives to create a non-racial and non-sexist society. We clearly need to ask ourselves whether we have done what we need to do to overcome the stereotypes that were entrenched over many years by racist policies of the past or we still, quietly, pander to those stereotypes.

Indeed, we need to confront what may be an uncomfortable question whether as South Africans, black and white, we are, under the same flag and under the same anthem, marching separately, even pretending, at times, that the other does not exist.

Surely, this is the time for community, religious, business, women and youth leaders, to take the initiative to come together and look at all possible ways of accelerating the creation a real non-racial non-sexist and united society. In this way, we will be able to achieve permanent reconciliation among our people.

Master of Ceremonies,

We have just observed the 16 Days of Activism Campaign against the abuse of women and children. As part of building a united South African nation we have to mark every day as a day of struggle against the abuse of women and children.

As we look ahead to 2006, we need to use our Day of Reconciliation to reflect on the road we have travelled to build a new society based on the ethos of Ubuntu. In this regard, we should remember that we are what we are because of the ultimate sacrifice of the heroes and heroines of our people who made it possible for all us to enjoy this democracy.

This Freedom Park is a monument to that sacrifice. We are happy that we meet here to reaffirm our commitment to the creation of the united, non-racial and non-sexist society for which many have struggled and died. As we observe this day, we have a duty always to remember them by word and deed.

I wish everyone a very happy Day of Reconciliation, a merry Christmas, happy holidays, safe journeys, and a prosperous and peaceful New Year.

Thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency
16 December 2005

 

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