MAVERICK CITIZEN OP-ED

Reconciliation Day: Remembrance of things past, solidarity for the present and renewal for our future

By Bishop Augustine Joemath, Sheigh Ismail Keraan, Gwynne Robins and Nicholas Wolpe 13 December 2020

Reconciliation Day is intended to be a symbolic gesture to unite the vastly different pieces of the puzzle that make up South Africa. (Photo: thesouthafrican.com / Wikipedia)

From the start, Reconciliation Day was intended to be a symbolic gesture to unite the vastly different pieces of the puzzle that make up South Africa. Today, the word ‘reconciliation’ has become a contentious cliché to a new generation of South Africans. For them, this is little more than a time of lavish braais for some and empty stomachs for others – just another day in post-apartheid South Africa.

So, we find ourselves in a moment where we need to reinterpret and reimagine the meaning of reconciliation for our time and the many challenges it brings. That is why this year’s Reconciliation Day Interfaith Walk in District Six is themed “Beyond Reconciliation”.  

These walks, which have taken place since 2000, first in town, and the past few years in District Six, have always been grounded in an interfaith, intercultural commitment. This is the essence of the District Six experience. It opens the door to inviting outsiders to experience the District Six diaspora. Together, we amplify their voices as they express their aspirations for a return and restoration.  

Now, in a time of crisis we will be coming together virtually – our usual in-person gathering is problematic for the pandemic. Rather than a hindrance to the occasion, it is an opportunity for a more expansive vision. So, we have invited representatives of other sites and interests to join us for this year’s event. Communities from the Phoenix settlement to the Bo-Kaap face forces more subtle and insidious than the bulldozers of the apartheid regime. How far have we progressed with today’s economic version of forced removals in the form of gentrification? The District Six experience is a call for solidarity, restoration and renewal, both on an individual and national level. This broader scope is timely as South Africans have been invited to offer comment on the proposed land appropriation legislation. 

Looking “Beyond Reconciliation” also calls us to look back at our history in which resistance and struggle led to liberation. What is the meaning of this history as the memories of the struggle fade further and further into an unknown void? As we struggle to hold onto the threads of liberation identity, what does it mean today in a world being redefined by a global pandemic? 

The ultimate success of Codesa found its roots in the reconciliatory spirit at the time, which brought forward this holiday along with the other nation-making institutions from the changeover. The same intention behind Reconciliation Day created our national anthem, combining elements of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and Die Stem van Suid-Afrika. It was also the driving force behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But these initiatives are viewed with some suspicion 25 years down the line. Core to this year’s virtual walk is taking stock of where we are now and then envisioning where we hope to be 25 years hence. It is the occasion for a realistic appraisal of our hopes and dreams. And if we find ourselves without hope, then we must mourn the lost dreams for our nation alongside the many taken from us this past year.

These are changing times. But changing to what? 

Today, District Six is finally emerging for next generations after having been a scar on the magnificent Capetonian landscape. At the same time, the rising generations have quite different perspectives than their elders on the history we so proudly memorialise. They give voice to the intergenerational wounds they carry. Rather than the story of liberation, it is the shackles of poverty that seem ever more present to them. Some say we have simply traded formal apartheid for an informal, economic one. The hopes for a fairer, more equitable society have been shoved aside for the selfish heart of unbridled capitalism. 

We look for inspiration when we will listen to the voices of young people telling us how they want to move beyond reconciliation. We will see the sites constituting our past but also becoming vessels for an invigorating present and future. We will honour our elders for the foundations they have laid as they pass on the baton. And we will seek to walk forward together.

We invite all to join us as we gather on Reconciliation Day to look “Beyond Reconciliation”. DM/MC

Register for the Zoom link at https://bit.ly/BeyondReconciliation 

Streamed live on Facebook group “Reconciliation Day Interfaith Walk in District Six” https://www.facebook.com/groups/District6walk.

Members of the Organising Committee:

Bishop Augustine Joemath, Moravian Hill, District Six

Sheigh Ismail Keraan, Al-Azhar Masjied, District Six

Fr Gerardo Garcia, Holy Cross Church, District Six

Heidi Boise, Holy Cross Church, District Six

Rev Berry Behr, Chair: Cape Town Interfaith Initiative

Stuart Diamond, Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies

Gwynne Robins, Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies

Rev Riaan de Villiers, Minister, Groote Kerk Dutch Reformed Church, Cape Town

Rev Laurie Gaum, Coordinator, District Six Reconciliation Day Interfaith Walk

Rev Nima Taylor, Unitarian Church, Cape Town

Carl Lindemann, Unitarian Church, Cape Town

Nic Paton, Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, Cape Town Religious Leaders Accord

Mary Frost, Cape Town Interfaith Initiative 

Affiliated Organisations:

Jacky Poking, Secretary: Bo-Kaap Civic & Ratepayers’ Association

Nicholas Wolpe, CEO: Liliesleaf Trust, Johannesburg

Karen Breytenbach, District Six Working Committee

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