Opinionista Mmusi Maimane 15 December 2013

Letter from Madiba’s graveside

Dear Friends, by the time you read this it will be Reconciliation Day, the first since we said our final goodbyes to Tata Madiba at the graveside in Qunu.

Along with these goodbyes, we must never forget the decades of history-making that led us in person or spirit to this quiet place today, in the beautiful land of the AbaThembu deep in the heart of the Eastern Cape.

It is good and right that the first day where our actions must now become the means of keeping Madiba alive, is a public holiday commemorating his greatest aspiration.

At the time of Madiba’s passing there has never been as much debate in South Africa about whether reconciliation was right in 1994, and whether it will ever be the right pursuit for us as a nation.

The premise of this debate is that too much emphasis is placed on Madiba the Reconciler, and not enough on Madiba the Revolutionary.

In truth, we do not have to make a false choice between these two great faces of Madiba.

Reconciliation is a simple appeal to recognize and celebrate the humanity of others, not just in words but in actions.

But it is also a higher ideal, because reconciliation is about a cohesive society, a project far more complex than breaking and burning, or simply doing nothing.

Reconciliation does not suggest that the gain of black South Africans must come at the expense of white South Africans, as those on the right of our spectrum complain without a hint of irony when we consider past injustices.

Equally, reconciliation does not ask black South Africans to surrender our aspirations and retire the pursuit of justice, as the detractors of Madiba’s legacy claim.

The task of transforming society has reconciliation as a natural goal. This is because a transformed society is a place where trust, respect and justice prevails amongst its people.

Those who dispute this simple truth are usually in pursuit of either revenge, or maintenance of racial privilege, depending on who they are.

These are foundations on which a prosperous South Africa can never be built.

The transformation of South Africa into a place of opportunities for all to live a better life is not a process of pleasing everyone.

Madiba’s notion of reconciliation does not ask us to hold hands and do nothing about poverty and inequality. It does not ask us to tip toe around the selfishness of people or groups.

Instead, reconciliation calls on us to show revolutionary courage and spirit to “become what we are”, as Archbishop Tutu calls it.

The building of a reconciled society will require the skills of all South Africans because of the scope and difficulty of this project.

In the hour of Madiba’s passing, we are called as citizens to change this land into the place of our dreams. Today is the start of this chapter.

This is the hour where a new generation of South Africans must rise up, or accept the shame of abandoning our historic mission.

This fateful hour comes at a time in our history when the injustices of the past live on through present injustices of corruption, poor education for black South Africans and an unemployment pandemic.

If we continue on the path of corruption and waste in government, we will see even more South Africans, especially young people, facing the prospect of a bleak future without opportunity.

This does not have to be our fate as a nation.

It is within the power of our generation to find each other in the building of new alliances bringing together the full diversity of thought, skills and backgrounds available in our nation.

Together we can bring change. Together we can put opportunity, education and integrity at the centre of our politics.

Today our emotions are still raw from the great loss we have suffered. But Madiba has also left us with the immense capacity for hope, and a framework for the most beautiful and successful nation we can imagine.

This should leave us not just with eternal gratitude but also commitment to action. DM

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