Racism and bigotry no longer define our nation

Cyril Ramaphosa says we must still close festering wound of inequality that exists between our people


Dear Fellow South African,

Today, I will travel to Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal to observe our national Day of Reconciliation. It says much about our country that this day, 16 December, marks two events in our history that are enduring symbols of conflict and resistance.

We commemorate the epic battle of 1838 on the banks of the Ncome River, and the founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe on the same day over a century later. These two historical events are of deep significance; and now symbolic of our ability to transcend a bitter legacy and forge a new path.

As we take stock of how far we have come in healing the divisions of the past and building a united nation, we have much to be proud of.

One need only observe the outpouring of joy when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in Japan and when our Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe. South Africans of all races took to the streets in an outpouring of national pride.

We see it elsewhere every day. In our sport that is now desegregated, in our Parliament, in our transformed places of higher learning and our schools, and on our television screens where programming reflects the diversity of our nation and its languages and cultures.

Racism and bigotry no longer define our nation. Where they do occur, they are isolated. Where there have been manifestations of intolerance, we have been able to unite behind the values of tolerance and respect for diversity that define our Bill of Rights.

Yet, we still have much further to go.

The SA Reconciliation Barometer Survey 2019, which is published by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, reports that a vast majority of South Africans agree that our country still needs reconciliation. At the same time, just over a half of respondents believe that South Africa has made progress with reconciliation since 1994.

According to the survey, most respondents agree that reconciliation is impossible as long as corruption continues, political parties sow division, those who were affected by apartheid continue to be poor, gender-based violence remains, we continue to use racial categories to measure transformation, and racism in our society remains unaddressed.

This confirms that true reconciliation is not only about social cohesion. It is also about political and economic transformation.

Since we attained our democracy our people have demonstrated time and again their immense capacity to look beyond superficial differences in the quest to achieve true nationhood, and with it, embrace a fuller humanity.

This is not to diminish the impact of the past. The South Africa of today still suffers from the effects of centuries of discrimination, dispossession and unequal development.

As the author William Faulkner famously wrote of the American South: “The past is not dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.”

We must address the unfinished business of our democratic transition. We must close the festering wound of inequality that exists between our people. We must forge ahead with land reform and social development. We must continue to transform our workplaces and restructure our economy so it benefits all.

In this sense, reconciliation is a very practical undertaking. It is about the work that needs to be done to unlock investment in our economy, to reduce the cost of doing business and to promote growth. It is about the urgent measures we need to take to ensure a reliable supply of electricity to homes and businesses. It is about ensuring that our scarce water resources are preserved and equally available to all.

Reconciliation means that we should continue to use the capability of the state to improve the lives of the poor, to have a tax regime that is progressive and public finances that are responsibly managed.

Reconciliation also requires that we reduce the massive inequalities in access to quality health care through, among other things, the introduction of a National Health Insurance. We need to improve the quality of education in township and rural schools in particular and ensure that there is universal attendance in early childhood development centre.

We will continue to seek out and forge durable social compacts to attain our vision of a South Africa that has been fundamentally transformed. We must all play our part if we are to bequeath to our children a society that has truly reconciled.

As the Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire has said: “It is time to put aside egos, individual and collective, for the sake of the youth.”

Let us make a concerted effort to move forward together, focusing on what unites us instead of what divides.

Let us reach out to each other on this day, during this Reconciliation Month, and throughout the year.

I wish you all well over the festive season and all the best for the new year.

Best wishes,

Cyril Ramaphosa

Issued by The Presidency, 16 December 2019