Reconciliation is not a bed of roses: Tough lessons from Rwanda

By Tiisetso ‘Afrika’ Makheleimage-20150405-26507-1fn2fcy

Suspects in Rwandan Genocide await their turn in front of a gacaca court – established to tackle the 1million people implicated as perpetrators. The courts were based on a traditional form of community dispute resolution. 

The horrific scenes of Monday, 30th October 2017, represented the most vivid signal that the country’s rainbow nation’s fragile bubble might burst at any time. Dubbed the #BlackMonday movement, the organisers, consciously or unconsciously, gave an opportunity to thousands of South Africa’s white racists, mostly Afrikaners, to come out of the closet. And the poor African majority could only wail on social media and through statements, as symbols of their oppression and hatred, like the old flag, were brandied with pride and provocation in the streets.

It suddenly dawned upon all South Africans, from all racial backgrounds, that reconciliation is not easy to achieve. While the legal and policy reforms were crucial to tame racial divisions, they have not assisted in changing some of the deep-rooted racial attitudes borne out of our unfortunate past.

In one of his classical speeches, late ‘Father of the Socialist Revolution’, Commandant Fidel Castro said in 1959; “Revolution is not a bed of roses. Revolution is a struggle between the future and the past”. I believe it is befitting to borrow from these words of wisdom and profess; ‘Reconciliation is not a bed of roses”. This dialectical assessment by Castro about the revolution is relevant even for reconciliation. Let us draw some lessons from Rwanda and how it attained reconciliation, in an attempt to demonstrate that reconciliation, like revolution, is a struggle between the future and the present.

Lessons from the Rwandan experience

 In 1994, Rwanda experienced a brutal, unfortunate genocide which lasted for 100 days. During this period, about one million Rwandans lost their lives. This war, which was fuelled by the colonialists’ agenda to divide Rwandans across fake tribal lines, was halted by the revolutionary forces of the Rwanda Patriotic Front – Inkotanyi, led by, amongst others, current President Major General Paul Kagame.

After the Inkotanyi forces took power by force, a detailed process of reconciliation began. This was not a symbolic, superficial approach to reconciliation, but it was a process which prioritised justice. In addition to the work of the national reconciliation commission, facilitated by the United Nations, Rwanda also revived the pre-colonial community courts, known as the Gacaca courts. Each perpetrator was tried and, where guilt was established, sanctions were handed. Some were jailed, whilst some were sanctioned to do community service. The victims of the genocide felt a sense of justice, and both victims and perpetrators worked hand in hand to rebuild their country.

Today Rwanda is one of the best models of reconciliation used in the whole world. They do not use colonial classification of Hutu or Tutsi, but are all Rwandans. The country has moved from a crisis it was in 1994, and boasts, amongst others, amongst the highest in terms of Human Development Index, thanks to its successful reconciliation project.

The case of South Africa

 In 1994, the same year when the genocide occurred in Rwanda, South Africa held the first democratic elections ever. It was faced with a difficult task to reconcile its peoples after centuries of colonialism and hatred. A number of reforms were made to ensure that all were equal. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission also played its role in trying to foster harmony amongst the people. All these had a short term effect.

This is because in South Africa, the reconciliation agenda was predominantly superficial, in that many who committed crimes during the colonial era continue unpunished. Many of the victims, and families of the victims, are yet to get justice. In South Africa, the crux of crimes committed against the indigenous peoples were on property, land in particular, and minerals. The perpetrators of these crimes are modern-day heroes, rather than villains.

In its report Apartheid Grand Corruption: Assessing the scales of crimes of profit in South Africa from 1976 to 1994, the Institute of Security Studies (2006) makes horrendous finding about wholesale crimes that brought South Africa to its current state. According to the report, the theft began in 1652 with the arrival of settlers in the Cape. The atrocities continued, involving the Broederbond, amongst others, and saw companies like Afrikaner mining company, Genkor, being involved in grand corruption and theft.

The report also noted that companies like Sanlam, Nasionale Pers (Naspers), Rembrandt etc., worked in cahoots with successive colonial regimes to steal from our people. None of those companies have paid a single cent back to the people of South Africa. These are some of the facts that make our reconciliation project fallible. These are some of the facts that remind us that reconciliation is not a bed of roses, but a struggle between the future and the past.

On land, the report was unequivocal that the 1913 Land Act facilitated the dispossession of the Africans of their land, in favour of whites. “These crony capitalists were the beneficiaries of political patronage resulting from the convergence of interests between the business and political elite in the country”, the report said. Till today, the Anglo Americans of this country are regarded as heroes, rather than thieves who stole from our people.


 It is not clear how, in the case of South Africa, reconciliation can be attained when the victims remain victims, and perpetrators are heroes. How are the victims of crimes of Apartheid and colonialism supposed to reconcile with the perpetrators, when justice has not been served? Until land, minerals and all the wealth is returned to its rightful owners, reconciliation shall remain but a bubble, ready to burst at any given moment. There can never be reconciliation without justice, for reconciliation is not a bed of roses.

Makhele is an ANC member. He writes in his personal capacity

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  1. Andale, what did your ‘Clever Party’ do?
    At least the ANC has done something.
    What I have realised is that, blacks who blame ANC for everything which is not going right in this country are the worst sellouts who are supporters of Racist DA which is promoting events like #Black Monday Movement. Or are in the ranks of EFF or SAVE SOUTH AFRICA which are all extension of the DA. If the DA didn’t support this racist activities, it would be in court by now, but their (DA) silence is deafening on this matter because that’s exactly what they stand for.
    Makhele, uyihlabe eskhonkosini comrade, we can learn a lot from Rwanda.
    Even today, in Black South Africans still allow themselves to be devided on tribal lines by the enemy.
    I have come along a lot of Xhosa ANC members who are very bitter because they believe that Thabo Mbeki was removed because he is Xhosa therefore they will not support a Zulu president. And others from Limpopo who also argue that the coming ANC president must come from their province. Remember, Montlhante was an interim and not an elected president.
    This shows how deep rooted seads of apartheid are. I therefore agree that we cannot glorify those who committed apartheid crimes which poisoned our people minds as heroes is just not on.
    We must to instill black consciousness into our people. We must start to love ourselves and English must be brought to the status equal to all other South African Official Languages and not as of Superior Status. Those who are committing racial crimes must be harshly punished like it has been done in Mpumalanga Coffin Case.
    We must support NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION AND RADICAL ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION which are aimed at empowering black people whose lives have not changed much since the dawn of democracy in 1994. That will help in eliminating more racist activities like “#Black Monday” as black people will be speaking about one voice of africanism and blackness and as different types as the enemy (RACISTS/WMC) would like them to.
    Aluta Continua.

  2. Woooow Tiisetso, what a brilliant article however I feel you should have given us a suggestive conclusion that recommends what should be done.

    I noted the Traditional pre-colonial Era Courts people Instituted to deal with the genocide atrocities.

    In South Africa, you have organizations like Khulumani Support Group who in my view should ATLEAST be getting support from Black Millionaires to advance the course of redress however they are staying away.

    Not only that, the process of redress that you mentioned in Rwanda had both Government and political redress.

    Ours was a carefully Choreographed process of redress with 2pre-determined outcome.

    The question we must answer now is how do we deliver real redress and reparations?

  3. Makhele has woken up too late. His party in the ANC negotiated with the devil in some foolish belief, amid all historical evidence, of their ” new found goodness and benevolence”! Since when has the devil repented?! They still believe in the tooth fairy!! Sad part is they took us all Afrikans, and by that I mean the indigenous or native people of this land, down the proverbial garden path of doom!!

    1. Hahahahaha, I really need imojies in this blog to show how I’m laughing at this comment.

      Very hilarious and soooooo true Andile.

      Except I don’t agree with you that Tiisetso woke up late because his article is shedding more light on the available alternatives using Rwanda as an example.

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