Reconcilliation Day 2019

Stuart Diamond blows a shofar in the Muir Street Mosque alongside Sheikh Mogamat Moerat
Stuart Diamond blows a shofar in the Muir Street Mosque alongside Sheikh Mogamat Moerat

On 16 December, a Reconciliation Day march was held in District Six going from Muir Street Mosque to the New Apostolic Church, then to Zonnnebloem College, before ending at the Moravian Church for refreshments under the trees. 

The event is organised each year by an interfaith committee on which the Cape Board is represented. 

Originally called Dingaans Day, then the Day of the Vow or Covenant, Reconciliation Day was proclaimed a national public holiday by the Union government in 1910.

In 1838, the group of Voortrekkers about to be facing the Zulu army, said a prayer, in which they asked G-d to grant them a victory and, in return, they would build a church and celebrate the day with thanksgiving, as a holy Sabbath. They viewed their subsequent victory at the Battle of Blood River as divine intervention, instead of the triumph of gunpowder over assegais. 

Legally, a vow made in a prayer could not bind all Afrikaners irrevocably for all time. However, when it became necessary to encourage nationalism and patriotism, as in the Transvaal Civil War, which ended in 1864, the vow was brushed up and made a church holiday by the General Synod of the Afrikaners’ Natal Churches, with Kruger following suit the next year when he made Dingaans Day a ZAR holiday. The need to strengthen the fighting power of Afrikaner nationalism was reinforced when Britain annexed the ZAR in 1877, which event Afrikaner historian, FA van Jaarsveld, regarded as decisive for the establishment of 16 December as a historical festive day. When the ZAR rebelled against Britain in 1880, the Burghers renewed the vow at Paardekraal. 

At the 1938 centenary celebrations of the Great Trek, Dr DF Malan, leader of the Nationalist Party, referred to the difficulties of keeping South Africa a “white man’s country”. It was at the Blood River that “the future of South Africa as a civilised Christian country and the continued existence of the responsible authority of the white race was decided. You stand today in your own white laager at your own Blood River, seeing dark masses gathering an isolated white race.” 

When his party came to power in 1948 with him as prime minister, apartheid policies were put in place. Four years later, his government decided that Dingaans Day placed too much focus on a Zulu king and shifted the focus onto the vow and it became a festival celebrating Afrikaner nationalism.

For Afrikaners, the date symbolised a ‘victory’ over African people. For those opposed to white domination and racial discrimination, the date became a rallying point for protests and the ANC, SACP and other political organisations would mount protest action on that day. uMkhonto we Sizwe launched its first acts of sabotage on 16 December 1961 involving inter alia Joe Slovo, Jack Hodgson, and ‘Rusty’ Bernstein.

Fast forward to 1995, and the new democratic government made 16 December a Day of Reconciliation promoting national unity and reconciliation, to heal the rift between the peoples of South Africa still suffering from decades of injustice. 

What better place to focus on the need for reconciliation, and the bitterness and hurt that apartheid and racial injustice has caused, than in District Six, where the group areas act tore down the houses and disrupted the lives of 60 000 people who had lived together in harmony for a century. Fifty years later, the devastation caused by the apartheid bulldozers can still be seen and the pain is still fresh in the hearts of so many people. 

The Jewish community joined hundreds of people on this march of reconciliation, with Stuart Diamond, the Board’s director, blowing a shofar in the Muir Street Mosque and addressing the crowd on the importance of reconciliation and intergroup harmony.

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