President Cyril Ramaphosa struck a note of optimism in his message on Dec. 16 – the Day of Reconciliation and the anniversary of two major historical events, now celebrated as a public holiday.
Since the nation attained democracy, he said, citizens have showed the capacity to look beyond their differences ‘in the quest to achieve true nationhood’.
“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,” he said.
He cited the Springboks World Cup victory in Japan and the Miss Universe competition early this month as evidence of things achieved.
Diversity in the country is evident in sports, parliament, in places of higher learning and schools, and on television screens where programming reflects the diversity, he continued.
“Racism and bigotry no longer define our nation,” he insisted. “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.”.
December 16 became the Day of Reconciliation due to its significance to both Afrikaner and African people. In 1838, white Voortrekkers proposed a meeting with the Zulu leader Dingane kaSenzangakhona Zulu, with an eye towards settling on Zulu lands. Dingane, mistrustful, took a preemptive measure and ordered an attack. Close to 400 Voortrekkers died at the hands of the Zulus.
Not long after, the Voortrekkers returned with superior weapons (Zulus, said to be strong fighters, were unable to resist the cannons and other firearms not yet in Zulu hands)
Some 3,000 Zulu soldiers were killed in this final battle, which lasted less than seven hours. Not one Voortrekker is believed to have died during the fight although some were wounded.
The bodies of fallen Zulu warriors scattered the scorched earth surrounding the Ncome river – the water itself ran red with blood.
The Battle of Blood River became a turning point in South Africa’s history. The monstrous defeat which befell the Zulu kingdom on that day destroyed Dingane’s political power base. The Zulu kingdom became embroiled in a civil war, as rival leaders vied for control. Dingane fled Natal in 1840, after being overthrown by Prince Mpande at the Battle of Maqongqe.
For the Voortrekkers, the Battle of Blood River entrenched their struggle for self-determination. This militaristic victory is seen as one of the most defining moments for the Afrikaner nation.
The second historical event was the birth of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). This was the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC), launched to wage an armed struggle against the apartheid government.
MK mostly performed acts of sabotage, but its effectiveness was hampered by organizational problems and the arrest of its leaders in 1963. Despite this, its formation has been commemorated every year since 1961.