Address by President Jacob Zuma on National Reconciliation Day

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Amphitheatre, Freedom Park, Salvokop, Tshwane

Programme Director,
Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms Lulama Xingwana
Former Vice-President of Nigeria, His Excellency Atiku Abubakar,
Premier of Gauteng, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane
Executive Mayor of Tshwane, Dr Gwen Ramakgopa,
The CEO of the Freedom Park Trust, Dr Wally Serote,
South African Military Veterans Association and all esteemed veterans,
Religious and traditional leaders,
Fellow South Africans,

December 16th has symbolised conflict for decades in the history of our country.

When we achieved freedom and democracy, we decided to put the country first. We opted for a path of reconciliation and forgiveness, and made this day an occasion to promote nation building, social cohesion, unity and peace.

Therefore, this day which used to be a source of division and hatred, now brings us together for renewal, to remind us to redouble our efforts to reach out towards one another in peace, understanding and tolerance.

In doing so, we are guided by the Constitution of the Republic. It calls upon us to promote human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism.

This is a responsibility we all share as South Africans in our individual capacities, as families and as communities.

We have achieved a lot in promoting reconciliation and non-racialism over the past 15 years and we should be proud of that achievement as a nation.

However, we still have a long way to go to rid the country of the remaining demons of racism, xenophobia and other social ills where they still rear their ugly heads.

Let me emphasise that in this era of promoting renewal, we must promote the values of non-racialism, reconciliation and non-sexism amongst all our people, black and white.

We pronounce clearly in the Constitution that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and the responsibility of nation building must be shared by all of us.

All parents should teach their children the positive values enshrined in our Constitution. If they fail to do so, future generations will not take forward the vision of the founding fathers and mothers of a united, free, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

As we mark this important day, we also urge South Africans to extend their spirit of ubuntu and reconciliation to foreign nationals living in our country.

We are outraged by the reports of ill-treatment of foreign nationals in some parts of the country.

Such attacks go against the spirit and letter of our Constitution and our track record of respecting human rights and promoting dignity.

There needs to be an improved understanding of the plight of refugees in particular, and their reasons for being in our country.

There needs to be an understanding that not all foreign nationals are in South Africa illegally. Legal immigrants contribute constructively to the economic and social development of our country.

Let us embrace especially our African brothers and sisters, who usually bear the brunt of ill-treatment more than foreigners from other continents.

The Department of Home Affairs is currently formulating a migration policy that will enable foreign nationals to be treated in a more humane manner.

Fellow South Africans, this year's National Reconciliation Day is dedicated to the forgotten heroes of this country's liberation, our military veterans.

The Constitution of the Republic calls upon the people of South Africa to recognise the injustices of our past and to honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land.
In this regard, today we recognize our former freedom fighters who left their homes and went to exile in foreign lands.

They were well-received and were treated with dignity, solidarity and friendship in countries such as Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Uganda and even as far afield as Ethiopia and Algeria.

When they left the comfort of home and family, venturing into the unknown, the only reward they sought was merely that they may contribute to the dawn of a new South Africa.

We must acknowledge the fact that the situation became difficult for many former freedom fighters, after the initial homecoming celebrations.

They soon became the forgotten heroes of the struggle. Many are known to live in abject poverty in a country they sacrificed so much for.

Today, as we mark 15 years of a democracy that shines ever brighter with each passing year, we bid well-deserved recognition to our veterans.

Informed by the knowledge of the hardships facing our military veterans, we deliberately expanded the Defence portfolio to include a Military Veterans department in the new Cabinet. This was done in order to end their isolation and neglect.

Government recently appointed a task team to develop policy recommendations on the management of the affairs of veterans.
Some of the services that are being looked into for veterans include education and training opportunities, social services, health, and economic empowerment.

The report of the Task Team will be presented to Cabinet in the New Year.

We also know that the biggest complaint of our military veterans, especially the former liberation fighters, is the inability to access special pensions, or the slowness of the process.

Former freedom fighters do not qualify for the War Veterans Grant, which is provided to former SADF veterans who served in the two World Wars and Korean Wars.

We expect that the Special Pensions Amendment Bill which was passed last year, will assist in some way to resolve problems around special pensions.

Compatriots, our concern goes beyond our veterans. We are also looking into the working conditions of serving members of the SANDF as well, as promised earlier this year.

This week I received the report of the interim National Defence Force Service Commission and I am very happy with the recommendations that have been made.

The recommendations help us in our task of creating a new Defence Force, one that can thrive and grow to ensure that we protect our hard-fought democracy.

We want to invest in the development of the Defence Force and the young people who are drawn into this noble calling of defending the country.

We want a Defence Force that will recapture and rekindle the spirit of patriotism, selflessness and love for the people of our country.

We are building a Defence Force that will bring back pride and attract many young men and women to the calling of this nature; and above all, a Defence Force whose morale and discipline is will inspire all South Africans.

We therefore emphasise our intention to continue improving the working conditions of our soldiers. We are in agreement with the recommendations made by the interim Defence Service Commission in this regard.

Therefore, as Commander-in-Chief of the SANDF, it is my pleasure to announce increases in the salaries of members of the SANDF, who are on salary levels 2 to 12, from privates to colonels or the occupational class of military practitioner.

The increases will range from 2% to 65%, and this is effective from the 1st of December 2009.

The Commission has pointed out that members of the SANDF have been disadvantaged in salary negotiations since 2001, and that this situation negatively affects the lives and morale of our soldiers.

They have been remunerated at the same level as the general public service which has made them to lag behind in remuneration packages.

The Commission has recommended the short-term relief of bringing the SANDF on par with the SA Police Service.

The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans will provide more detail on the implementation of this announcement at a later stage.

We trust that the intervention will assist to improve the living conditions of our dedicated and highly committed soldiers.

Fellow South Africans,

As we celebrate the festive season of joy and happiness, let us continue to work together to heal the wounds of the past, to promote reconciliation and non-racialism, and to work towards a prosperous future together.

As called upon by our Constitution, let us remember our past through recognizing and acknowledging the contribution of those who sacrificed for our freedom, the ordinary men and women who suffered so that we could all be free, black and white.

Let us also, as called upon by the Constitution, respect those who have worked hard to build and develop our country, including the workers who have toiled for decades under difficult working conditions.

Let us remember our security services, the police, soldiers and others who face danger and risk to ensure that we are safe and secure within our borders, and that our democracy is protected.

Working together we can build a united, caring and prosperous nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me also use this opportunity to remind all to drive safely during the festive season.

We were horrified by the news of the death of 12 members of one family in a collision in Umbumbulu in KwaZulu-Natal yesterday, and also in other crashes.

We extend our deepest condolences and wish the families strength during this difficult period.

We urge the transport authorities to probe all road collisions and to take serious action against motorists who will be found to have violated traffic regulations.

Let me wish all South Africans, permanents residents and visitors a wonderful festive season and a prosperous 2010!

Happy holidays to you all!

I thank you!