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Source: South Africa News Agency

President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged the South African public to once again use Reconciliation Day to reflect on how far the country has come in advancing national reconciliation.

The President made the plea on Monday in his latest weekly newsletter.

He said it is important for the country to deal “decisively” with the obstacles to reconciliation, which count among them the high levels of inequality and persistence of racist attitudes and practices.

“It is often difficult to explain to the younger generation of South Africans, who were born to freedom, that apartheid was both brutal and extraordinarily petty. It is difficult to explain the lengths to which the regime would go to keep the races apart, from banning interracial relationships, to creating separate bus stops, entrances to buildings, public toilets, to even segregating beaches,” wrote President Ramaphosa.

Of equal importance, is acknowledging just how “vastly different our country is today to what it was 26 years ago”.

“For every negative story of racism that makes the news, there are countless other positive stories of racial integration, communities living in harmony and social cohesion that do not generate headlines.”

Racial and class divisions, he said, remain very real in South Africa.

Fostering reconciliation

Last year’s National Reconciliation Barometer, which is published by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, noted that the optimism of respondents regarding racial unity was the highest since the inception of the study.

It also found that the majority of respondents believed race relations have improved since 1994.

President Ramaphosa said it is noteworthy that most South Africans report they would like to interact more often with people from other race groups but cite language and confidence as the two greatest barriers.

This is ahead of other perceived factors such as lack of common ground, anxiety, or negative prior experiences.

“It is obvious that true reconciliation is impossible unless we overcome the social and economic inequalities that persist in our society. It is only when the playing fields of opportunity are levelled and the lives of all South Africans improve that social cohesion will be strengthened,” he said. 

President Ramaphosa said South Africans should at the same time not discount the important gestures in our everyday interactions that demonstrate our commitment to reconciliation between the races; and breaking language barriers is perhaps among the most important of them.

“Reconciliation is a weighty concept, and there may be many who are unsure as to what they can actually do to advance racial reconciliation. We may feel reticent to take the first step or to reach out, for fear of being judged or even rejected,” he said.

He urged the public to use Wednesday’s public holiday to think of the simple things they could do to reach out across the racial divide in their everyday lives, such as learning another South African language.

“We need to find ways to reach beyond our social and professional circles, to appreciate other people’s points of view. Through sporting, cultural and religious activities, we can find ways to interact with fellow South Africans from a diversity of backgrounds,” he said.

He urged South Africans to recognise that in addition to the fundamental changes “we need to make in the structure of our economy and society, reconciliation can be built through our every-day activities.”

“Madiba saw this in sport, for example, and demonstrated its great potential for nation-building.”

He added that the country’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic has shown that South Africans are at their best when they extend hands of solidarity and compassion to one another.

“Now, as we rebuild our society, let us place this spirit of generosity at the centre of our national character,” he said. “I wish you all a joyful and a meaningful Reconciliation Day.” –

MIL OSI Africa