'We are a great people,' says Ramaphosa - but we need to address land issue urgently
SA cannot truly reconcile if it doesn't acknowledge and address its turbulent, often violent, history.
This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was speaking at a Day of Reconciliation event in Bergville, KwaZulu-Natal, on Monday.
While he said that there were many historic problems which continued to manifest today - particularly around race-based land ownership patterns - the country was better off than it was at the start of democracy in 1994.
"Today is a day of celebration; a celebration of the triumph of reconciliation over retribution, of goodwill over animosity, and of fellowship over hatred. As a people we have overcome a bitter past and stand here today to proclaim ourselves as proud South Africans, black and white.
“Because being able to have the strength and the commitment to resolve the bitterness of the past is clearly a mark of a great people," he said.
He said the country's ability to overcome its differences was a testament to its greatness.
"We have done what many other countries have not been able to do: to overcome our differences and to chart a way to the future.
"Many people around the world thought and felt that our problems that emanated from colonialism and apartheid oppression were intractable. And they thought that SA would descend into a civil war, or a racial war, that would never end. But we've been able to surprise the whole world by resolving our problems.
"So we are a great people, because a great people are those that have the resolve, and the commitment to resolve, their own problems that emanate from the past - and we have done that," he said.
However, Ramaphosa was adamant that the country's ongoing land ownership problems needed to be addressed for reconciliation to be truly realised.
“On this Day of Reconciliation, all of us as South Africans are called upon to reflect on where we have come from, on the injustices that the majority of our people have suffered, but also the injustices that they continue to suffer.
It is important that we should listen to the ordinary people, even of this area, will continue to recall how their land was taken away. And how, today, they continue to be destitute, without any land where their cattle can grazePresident Cyril Ramaphosa
"As a country it is important that we recognise the devastating effect of domination by colonial and apartheid rulers.
"It is important that we recall how the indigenous African people were forced off their land, denied even the most basic of rights; how families were torn apart by the migrant labour system.
“It is important that we should listen to the ordinary people, even of this area, will continue to recall how their land was taken away. And how, today, they continue to be destitute, without any land where their cattle can graze," he said.
Ramaphosa added: “Reconciliation is about acknowledging that SA belongs to all who live in it, united in our democracy and our diversity. It makes all of us equal citizens in this country, with equal claims to being South African.
“If all the people in this country, black and white, can call this place home, then it is essential that all its people must share equally in the land, the resources and the wealth and the opportunity in SA.
“Reconciliation is, therefore, also about healing the wounds of the past to ensure that there is prosperity by restoring the land and the wealth of our nation to all people.
“We know that unless we move with speed to address the unresolved business of nation-building, true reconciliation and unity will be difficult to achieve.
"This is clearly demonstrated on an issue such as the access and ownership of land. It is the priority of this government to accelerate the process of land reform. It is important that at the same time, we should continue with the restitution process and with freeing up state-owned land for farming and for the building of houses for people.
“Because we are resolved as a government that the land shall be restored to the people of our country that was taken away from them. And this will happen, for we cannot have to reconciliation without addressing the issue of land,” he said.
However, he stressed that despite the land challenge, SA was in a better space than when democracy was realised in 1994.
“We will not allow the prophets of doom to tell us that we are worse of that before 1994, or that race relations have deteriorated in our country. We have reached across the divide and embraced each other.
"And in this month, and every month, we must continue to do so. Despite our backgrounds, despite our cultures, as well as beliefs and political affiliations, we are indeed one nation," Ramaphosa said.