Message by President Nelson Mandela on National Reconciliation Day

16 December 1995

There are few countries which dedicate a national public holiday to reconciliation. But then there are few nations with our history of enforced division, oppression and sustained conflict. And fewer still, which have undergone such a remarkable transition to reclaim their humanity.

We, the people of South Africa, have made a decisive and irreversible break with the past. We have, in real life, declared our shared allegiance to justice, non-racialism and democracy; our yearning for a peaceful and harmonious nation of equals.

The rainbow has come to be the symbol of our nation. We are turning the variety of our languages and cultures, once used to divide us, into a source of strength and richness.

But we do know that healing the wounds of the past and freeing ourselves of its burden will be a long and demanding task. This Day of Reconciliation celebrates the progress we have made; it reaffirms our commitment; and it measures the challenges.

The Government of National Unity chose this day precisely because the past had made December 16 a living symbol of bitter division. Valour was measured by the number of enemies killed and the quantity of blood that swelled the rivers and flowed in the streets.

Today we no longer vow our mutual destruction but solemnly acknowledge our inter-dependence as free and equal citizens of our common Motherland. Today we re-affirm our solemn constitutional compact to live together on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

Reconciliation however, does not mean forgetting or trying to bury the pain of conflict.

Two terrible defects weakened the foundations of the modern South African state that were laid in the great upheaval at the beginning of the century. Firstly, it rested on the treacherous swamps of racism and inequality. The second defect was the suppression of truth.

Now, at the end of the century, South Africans have the real chance to strike out along a glorious path. The democratic foundations of our society have been laid. We must use our collective strengths to carry on building the nation and improving its quality of life.

The Truth and National Reconciliation Commission which will soon begin its work, is one important institution created by our democratic Constitution and Parliament in order to help us manage the more difficult aspects of healing the nation's wounds. Thus we shall free ourselves from the burden of yester-year; not to return there; but to move forward with the confidence of free men and women, committed to attain the best for ourselves and future generations.

Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice. It means making a success of our plans for reconstruction and development.

Therefore, on this December 16, National Day of Reconciliation, my appeal to you, fellow citizens, is: Let us join hands and build a truly South African nation.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation