Reverend Matthys began his speech by drawing attention to a particular Khoi word, “hapo”, meaning “a dream is not a dream until it is the dream of a nation”. He said “the dream of reconciliation will never become a reality until reconciliation is the dream of the nation”. Reverend Matthys then provided a brief account of South Africa’s history leading up to the democratic era. South Africans sought restitution, which led to the promulgation of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act. The expectation was that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) would bring reconciliation to South Africa. The Reverend stated that the aim of the TRC was to reveal the truth of what happened during apartheid South Africa. The approach taken was to provide a platform for catharsis, where many victims forgave the perpetrators. However, the TRC failed to meet the expectations of the nation.
Reverend Matthys concluded by stating that the mandate of Freedom Park was to achieve reconciliation, social cohesion and nation building in South Africa. He said that Freedom Park served as a reminder of South Africa’s past and the will to reconcile. The Reverend concluded his speech by stating that reconciliation should be made a national priority.
The second speaker, Mr Chaplin, began his speech by highlighting how society has become desensitised to the plight of the disadvantaged and encouraged the audience to consider how far South Africa has come as a country. He illustrated the challenge for opposing sides to understand each other’s perspectives and encouraged the audience to individually act in a manner that fostered reconciliation.
Mr Chaplin gave a detailed description of the concept of Ubuntu. Ubuntu regards humanity as an integral part of the ecosystem and is ultimately the collective respect for human dignity. Only once this concept is understood, can reconciliation truly begin.
Mr Chaplin went onto quote the Restitution Foundation, stating that restitution was one of the most significant tools to redress the residual ills of apartheid and discrimination. It seeks to remedy the generational ills of inequality by engaging those who have benefitted from the system and transferring wealth and social services to disadvantaged communities. Mr Chaplin concluded by stating that the diversity in South Africa must be recognised and respected.
After the opening remarks, the audience engaged with the speakers. Ms Phephelaphi Dube, Director of the CFCR, opened the floor for questions. She noted that both speeches created a holistic picture of reconciliation. The first, from a macro perspective, regarding the role of the state in facilitating restitution. The second, at a micro level – how individuals could achieve the goals of restitution and reconciliation. She then initiated the panel discussion by posing the argument that South Africa had fallen short of reconciliation due to the state placing itself as chief reconciler, without sufficient emphasis on what the individual could do to foster reconciliation.
One audience member highlighted that inequality would persist if wealth was effectively created but not ethically distributed or vice versa. Capitalism rationally creates wealth but fails to ethically and effectively distribute this wealth. If wealth is not ethically distributed, we will not achieve reconciliation and social cohesion. In response to this, Reverend Matthys said that the main obstacle in reconciliation programs was the lack of funding. There must be a legitimate distribution of wealth to communities that need it most.
Mr Chaplin commented on the high unemployment rate due to the lack of a skilled labour force. He added that it was more important to provide people with skills and the ability to independently earn their own income.
Another guest questioned the gap between good governance and civil society activities. She asked if there was a way to bridge the gap between what we are able to do and what we want to do outside the structures of government. In response to this question, Mr Chaplin stated that the National Business Initiative’s priority was to guard business across South Africa. The national and provincial boards conduct skills development projects whose aim is to facilitate this gap and places the issues on the national agenda.
Ms Camerer, a former member of the Justice Committee that drafted the law mandating the TRC, noted that the reparations granted to individual victims almost always fell short. She invited comments on the decision of government to follow symbolic reparation with Freedom Park and questioned how Freedom Park could be more effective. Reverend Matthys said that was multi-dimensional and that one such dynamic was that of symbolic reparation. He said that the government had no clear guidance on the process of reconciliation. In this vein, the Reverend encouraged individuals to begin reconciliation programmes in their personal capacity.
Ms Christina Teichmann – on behalf of KAS – thanked the guest speakersfor sharing their thoughts on the topic and emphasised the fact that a stable democracy was only possible where the majority of people subscribed to and benefitted from a constitutional democracy. She closed proceedings by highlighting the tendency in South Africa to deny individuals the right to express their opinions based on their cultural heritage and race.
By Sonam Mansingh: Intern, Centre for Constitutional Rights