Building bridges in the Free State

Around 100 white Free Staters braved the spring rain on Wednesday to attend a mass meeting in Bloemfontein organised by the provincial ANC aimed at ”bridge-building” between it and the white community.

”It became clear to us that we had to build bridges with the greater white community, because there is be no other way to create a better future for all. This is not about publicity and photo opportunities; we have to commit ourselves to future dialogue,” provincial African National Congress chairman Ace Magashule told the meeting in Afrikaans.

Among the attendees were a delegation of commercial farmers, several representatives of the business community, professionals and New National Party councillors. A large contingent of the ANC’s top provincial leaders attended, including Magashule and premier Winkie Direko.

Paraphrasing astronaut Neil Armstrong, Magashule described the meeting as ”one small step for man, but one great leap for humankind”. He said that it was the first of a series to be held in the province.

He called on the white community to help end racism and to ”start normalising our communities”. He said nation building was not only the responsibility of the ANC or government, but of all South Africans.

”If I can talk to Captain de Lange who assaulted and jailed me (during the apartheid era), why can you not talk to us?” Magashule asked the white attendees.

”We did not suddenly become a new nation after April 27, 1994. We still have to unite the different parts of our society. We should not utilise only the world cups in cricket, rugby and soccer for nation building. Each small, everyday opportunity has to be used for this.

”South Africa belongs to all of us — black and white. We cannot build a better future if everybody is not on board,” Magashule said.

Magashule did not elaborate on his reference to Captain de Lange.

He called on white business leaders to actively contribute to black empowerment and to forge partnerships with developing black businesses. He also called on whites to transfer experience and skills to blacks.

He said ANC co-operation with the NNP was for this reason, because ”they (the NNP) were part of government since 1948”.

Provincial ANC vice-chairman Casca Mokitlane called on the white community to lead the rest of the country by building on the provincial tradition of ”verligtheid” (enlightenment), as opposed to ”verkramptheid” (conservatism).

Both Magashule and ANC provincial secretary Pat Matosa said South Africa would not follow the same route as Zimbabwe, referring to that country’s land reform programme of mass land occupation and violence.

The audience’s reaction to the speeches was generally positive and each speaker was greeted with applause. In preparatory talks with Afrikaner leaders leading up to Wednesday’s meeting, it was called an historic first formal effort by the ANC to approach the white community for co-operation. – Sapa

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