Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This week we commemorated Reconciliation Day. There is no doubt that never has the process of reconciliation seemed quite as fragile since the dawn of democracy 1994 as now.
We have seen prejudice and even raw hatred rear its ugly head again in recent times. Prejudice in South Africa, of course, has a potent fuse.
We cannot ignore the fact that prejudice was the cornerstone of government policy, not the by-product, as in most societies, of ignorance. Colonial-era segregation and apartheid were based, thrived and survived on pure racial prejudice. The superiority of whites was promoted on the basis of previous achievements. The inferiority of blacks was derived from ruthless racial stereotyping. On the subject of prejudice, South Africans could write novels.
The ultimate goal of the architects of segregation and apartheid was to create a nation of conformists. One was required to conform to vague ideals of a white and male-dominated hegemony. This structure was solid, its frontiers were impossible to transcend. The society it created was a social wreck with its class mobility impaired, individual ambition stilted and social progress retarded. To this day, South Africa’s fractured society bears psychological scars. The evidence of this is quite palpable.
Amid such ignorance, colonial myths prevail and racial stereotypes flourish. As we confront our personal and collective prejudices the worst thing we can do, I believe, is to deny the very existence of prejudice. Luckily we live in a society that is steadily overcoming the ignorance and prejudices of the past.
But as the acrimony surrounding the launch of the Congress of the People (Cope) in the last few days has demonstrated, we still have far to go to place non-racialism and a genuine respect of diversity (including political choice) at the heart of our public discourse. As usual, it was the ANC Youth League that led the verbal assault, labelling the leaders of the new political formation as "traitors" and "snakes".
Yet, whilst we should be rightly concerned, we should not lose hope. In my view, reconciliation is too often spoken about in chocolate box language. By the nature of its participants (human-beings), reconciliation is imperfect, often uneven and a work-in-progress.
Reconciliation is often inspired by theological notions particularly the Judeo-Christian principle of redemption.
As a believer and follower of Christ, I believe in the power of prayer to "move mountains" and have long participated in prayer meetings for our nation. Equally, I believe in the power of love to shape national destinies, as well as those of individuals. Prayer alone, however, cannot resolve issues that we are quite capable of resolving in face to face dialogue when we seek reconciliation with one another. God does not expect us to expect Him to do what we can do ourselves. We must also guard against viewing reconciliation merely through a religious prism; it can be found in abundance in secular society too.
And if I were to point to what I believe is the single greatest achievement of our democracy, it would be inculcation of a spirit of reconciliation amongst our communities. People have taken the Bill of Rights enshrined in our Constitution to heart. To a large extent this success has been due to the fact that reconciliation has been an organic ‘from the community upwards’, rather than a ‘top-down’, process. African people are slowly finding each other – too slowly, but at least the train is going in the right direction.
I have often been astonished of how we South Africans of different hues, cultures and languages, who are neighbours and work colleagues, know so little about each other. But I recognise that our past tendency to think of our neighbours as members of another ethnic group rather than individuals is fast diminishing. Race and ethnicity, thank God, are losing their salience. Let us not return to the past.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 555 7144