Reconciliation Day: racial tensions show state of race relations is fragile, says Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday that for many, reconciliation was something they had yet to experience. File photo.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday that for many, reconciliation was something they had yet to experience. File photo.
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has admitted that racial tensions that flared up in parts of the country continued to open old wounds and also showed that race relations remain  fragile.

Ramaphosa, delivering the annual national Day of Reconciliation speech, said as much as South Africans continued to work to overcome divisions in society, deep and persistent challenges remained.

“What we have seen in Senekal in the Free State, in Eldorado Park in Gauteng and in Brackenfell in Cape Town shows that the state of race relations in our country remains fragile.

“We may have come a long way from the days of institutionalised racism, but we are alive to the reality that for many, reconciliation is something they have yet to experience,” he said.

Ramaphosa said this situation was not unique to SA.

He cited the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year where millions of people marched to confront racism in their societies.

“Under the banner of ‘Black Lives Matter’, they spoke out, they marched, they demonstrated and they wrote about the many ways in which black people continue to be discriminated against and victimised.

“It is our hope and determination that this groundswell of activism will forever change the attitudes and practices that have sustained racism across the world,” he said.

Ramaphosa said South Africans, having experienced one of the world’s most brutal forms of institutionalised racism, supported the Black Lives Matter movement, fully aware that racism continues in SA in various forms.

“As we work to bridge the racial divisions between the people of SA, we hope that our path to a non-racial society may serve as an example to others.”

Ramaphosa said true reconciliation will not be possible unless social ills are addressed.

He said SA could not build a truly caring society so long as the country’s majority lived in conditions of poverty, inequality and deprivation, while a minority exists in comfort and privilege.

“We cannot move forward with the process of meaningful reconciliation if policies about economic transformation, affirmative action and land reform are resisted,” he said.

He said it would be impossible to build a society that enables the individual to better their life and realise their potential when resources meant for the benefit of the people are stolen by those who claim to be public servants.

“So long as we do not overcome the poverty, inequality and underdevelopment that affects this country’s majority, reconciliation will forever remain out of our reach,” said Ramaphosa.

He said the social conditions under which many people live were the single biggest obstacle to achieving a society rooted in equality and committed to social justice.

Ramaphosa also called on SA men to do more to fight gender-based violence saying the country cannot achieve reconciliation for as long as women, who constitute half of the population, live in fear of gender-based violence.

“As men we must be integrally involved in this struggle because it is men who are the perpetrators.

“We should be ashamed that women and children are afraid of being in the company of unfamiliar men, of being followed home by men and of being beaten up, harassed, abused, raped or even killed by men,” he said.

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