Every December 16th since 1994, South Africans celebrate the Day of Reconciliation.
After the fall of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela in 1991, people across the colour spectrum moved to reconcile the past atrocities. On the 27th of April 1994, the country held its first non-racial democratic election
The date, 16 December, was chosen as it represented a significant day in history for both cultures. The day – called The Day of The Vow by the Afrikaner nation – is when they celebrated their victory over the Zulu’s at the Battle of Blood River in 1838. Similarly, in 1910, a large protest against racial discrimination was held on the 16 December by the African people. Later, on the same day in 1961, the military arm of the African National Congress, ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ (Spear of the Nation) was established.
I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg for the first time 3 years ago, on the 16th of December in 2016.
The recommendation to visit the museum came from a bright young black woman I met a few months prior. I had been interviewing candidates for a position for a client when her resume crossed my desk. Having already seen hundreds of resumes, hers caught my attention. It somehow ‘popped’ and demanded a closer look.
From our first meeting, I knew she was going to be hard to beat for the job. Long story short, after an intense 3-interview selection process, we hired her. She and I became friends. We spent time talking about various topics – from sports and business to politics and religion. She had a unique view of the world that I found interesting, fresh and new.
I realised I’ve never been exposed to someone like her before. Her age, her upbringing, her education, her environment, everything about the way she sees the world, was a new experience for me. Her points of view, her perspective on things, her experiences growing up, how she interacted with other South Africans across different demographics and cultures, was all fascinating and intriguing to me.
I found myself looking forward to our next invigorating and informative ‘session’.
It was June and the August 2016 National Municipal Elections were coming up. Our conversations took on a more ‘current-affairs’ flavour. I have children around the same age as my new friend. But, being white and growing up in the suburbs, their perspectives are somewhat different in many respects. I was interested to find out how different they may be. So, I asked her.
Her explanation sent me on a journey of discovery that I doubt will ever end.
Growing up, she could never quite understand why both her parents bore such deep resentment towards white folk. And although she never asked them with an outright question, it was clear to her that the topic was not open for discussion. Her experience was that white folk are friendly and nice like everyone else.
Then, one day, she went on an excursion to The Apartheid Museum with her high school class. She says that after that visit, she had a better understanding of why her parents had been harbouring such ill feelings towards white folks.
This shocked me.
How could a visit to a museum change someone’s point of view so dramatically? I wanted to know what she had seen that justified such feelings of hatred.
I drove through to Gold Reef City to visit the museum on my own. At the time, the glaring significance of me going on Reconciliation Day hadn’t dawned on me. The visitors’ centre is situated at the entrance to the sprawling grounds that houses the museum. They recommend you set aside 3 hours to complete the entire tour. I was always going to be all-in and set about going through the various exhibitions.
The extensive outdoor exhibition ‘leads’ you to the entrance of the indoor exhibition. It’s a trip through time that traces the country’s footsteps from the dark days of apartheid to a place of healing founded on the principles of democracy.
Within the first 10 metres of walking into the indoor exhibition, my throat started to close and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to start running. Running and running. Running away. As far and as fast as I could. But I stayed. Everything I saw, I had blocked out for so many years. A few times, I cried.
At the end I realised what my friend had also felt. The tremendous damage that has been caused by those decades of oppression.
My journey continues. I learn every day how fallible and broken I am. We all are. It will take time for us to help heal those we hurt. But we must start. We can’t hide from our past. Only by knowing it, understanding it, and accepting our role in it, can we start the real journey of reconciliation.
Have a blessed Day of Reconciliation! 😄
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