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The FAK and Reconciliation Day 2004-12-15
The FAK hereby responds to the question on how Afrikaners can take part in Reconciliation Day and, to be more precise, the ceremonies of “cleansing and healing” during the week of reconciliation.

However, before the how of Afrikaner participation can be addressed, some reflection is necessary on the concept “reconciliation” as used within the context of Reconciliation Day. What exactly is the meaning of the word reconciliation?

1. The concept “reconciliation”.

During the past ten years and more Afrikaners thought about the concept reconciliation from within a multiplicity of perspectives. The aim behind the following reflection is not to repeat the work already done in this regard. The aim is rather to broaden the concept “reconciliation” in the light of the new historical context and especially against the background of ten years of democracy. Each new era demands renewed reflection on this most important concept.

The concept “reconciliation” can be interpreted from within a wide variety of perspectives. It is for example possible to understand reconciliation as a theological, moral, social or even an economic concept. Each of these perspectives add something to the richness inherent in the idea of reconciliation.

The FAK is convinced that, besides the above-mentioned perspectives, reconciliation can also be interpreted in “cultural-political” terms. Although such a cultural-political perspective depends on the above-mentioned approaches, it is also marked by its own emphasis. Today, and especially after 10 years of democracy, it is also necessary to take cognisance of the cultural-political understanding of reconciliation.

Seen from a cultural-political perspective reconciliation points to those processes that deepen the democratic ethos within and between the different communities in South Africa. The FAK is convinced that over the long term reconciliation can become a concrete reality only if the highest ideals of the democratic ethos are embodied within the different communities. That is ideals such as justice, the right to cultural self-expression, tolerance and comradery between communities.

Democracy is always something that, in the words of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, is still to come. In other words, institutional spaces always have to be opened for the democratic event to take place. In the strong sense of the word this is a neverending responsibility. The key to real reconciliation lies in the acceptance of this endless responsibility.

How should this be concretized? According to the FAK the democratic ethos is best served in a multi-cultural country like South Africa when a creative balance is struck between die general and the particular, i.e. when a balance is kept between what all citizens have in common and what is unique to each community. In safeguarding this balance any one community should refrain from prescribing its own definition of the general interest to all others.

When the latter indeed happens and one community imposes its idea of the general good onto others, the very precondition is created for centralizing tendencies and eventually a totalitarian mind set. However, the democratic ethos is strengthened when the above-mentioned balance is respected. Then reconciliation between the different communities becomes a real possibility.

The FAK is convinced that a lack of balance between the general and the particular formed the very basis of apartheid. During the apartheid years one particular voice (the minority’s) imposed its will on the majority. The democratic ethos was thereby deeply wounded. Whenever reconciliation is pursued, it must be done in such a way as to protect the above-mentioned balance.

2. Reconciliation Day.

The FAK is convinced that the above-mentioned definition of the concept ‘reconciliation’ should find concrete expression in the festivities surrounding Reconciliation Day and the envisaged week of reconciliation. Reconciliation Day must be a demonstration of the broad cultural-political will to find a balance between the general and the particular.

However, the FAK is not convinced that this balance is at present a meaningful part of the processes surrounding Reconciliation Day. The perception amongst Afrikaners is that not all communities determine the idiom behind Reconciliation Day. This is an idiom that excludes Afrikaners per se from spontaneous and unconstrained participation.

In other words, the perception exists that the idiom determining Reconciliation Day is one marked by nationalist tendencies towards centralization. The quest for national unity is understandable. If the latter quest eventually leads to the restitution of communal and personal self-respect, it is not only a most laudable quest, but something that deserves the unqualified support of Afrikaners. However, the drive towards unity must always again be reconciled with the aspirations of the multiplicity of particular communities and in this specific case with the aspirations of Afrikaners. Recognition of their aspirations is the necessary balancing act in the process of nation-building. This still needs to find expression in Reconciliation Day.

These few remarks should not be seen as an unwillingness to cooperate nor as an expression of disloyalty towards the country and its people. Afrikaners’ experience of the process behind Reconciliation Day should be understood in the context of what they perceive to be centralizing tendencies in a wide range of areas. In this regard one can refer to the continuing pressure placed on Afrikaans schools and universities to suspend Afrikaans as language of instruction; the inability of the state to constitute substantial multi-lingualism in the public sector and in particular in education; the one-sidedness with which name changes have been made; concerns regarding land issues and affirmative action without limits.

Afrikaners also increasingly experience how the current dispensation, due to its nationalist focus, is partial to the same moral one-sidedness with which Afrikaner nationalists rewrote history after 1948. Afrikaners will undoubtedly be more sympathetic towards the current project of Afro-nationalism if their concrete interests in language, education, work and so forth are placed in balance with the interest of the majority of South Africans.

3. The how of Reconciliation Day

This question is how to ensure the participation of Afrikaners in the official celebrations on Reconciliation Day.

a). In the long-term

The FAK is convinced that it will take some time before Reconciliation Day can be organized according to the above-mentioned ideals. Therefore, we suggest that processes are already put into place to work towards realizing a true representative Reconciliation Day in the future.

It must be acknowledged that the transformation of 1994 is often experienced by communities as an agreement between “elites” and that the essential agreement between the “communities” are not in place yet. From a community-driven perspective of reconciliation, and with the aim to strengthen the democratic ethos, the FAK suggests that a representative body such as the FAK and the Freedom Park Trust organize an indaba with the theme “Africans, Afrikaners and Reconciliation”. A date that could be considered in this regard is the next Freedom Day, 27 April 2005.

b). In the short term

The FAK wants to suggest that the process of collaboration is organized on a smaller scale and “from the bottom up”, rather than start dreaming of big national events. It may be sensible to first organize one or two small communal events at the local level. The extent to which progress has already been made as in the case of Afrikaner and Zulu collaboration around Blood River is a good example of such a localized endeavor.

As far as Reconciliation Day is concerned, the FAK suggests that it will participate and be co-partner of the day’s events planned at the Orange River concentration camp cemetery in the Northen Cape. If the FAK shares co-ownership and becomes a partner in the planning of the agenda for this day, it may present an important symbolic gesture towards striking a balance between the general and the particular.


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