The end of the rainbow: Freedom Park

2012-12-23 10:00

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In Pretoria, on the Day of Reconciliation, Charl Blignaut attended prayers at Freedom Park, while Percy Mabandu joined the service at the Voortrekker Monument. They met on Reconciliation Road.

Freedom Park

Across the valley, the Voortrekker Monument seems to watch our every move. It dominates the landscape with the ruthless symmetry of so much Afrikaner nationalist architecture.

Freedom Park, in contrast, is a monument of water, wood and stacked shale rock. Great curved walls bear the names of those (many of them young) who fell in the liberation struggle.

We stop for instant coffee backstage. In the arena of symbolism, this is the heart of the rainbow. A sangoma in dramatic porcupine-quill headgear walks ahead of a gaggle of purple-clad Catholic ladies, passing two rastas looking very pleased with their special fruit salad.

Just when I think photographer Herman Verwey and I are the only whites here, two tourists appear and one starts gleefully assisting the drummer of the marimba and violin band.

And then a busload of white folk arrive from the Hermanstad informal settlement where shacks recently burned down. Freedom Park organised food parcels for them.

The interfaith service starts with a documentary about a Catholic priest who fought apartheid, Michael Lapsley.

He blames FW de Klerk for the letter bomb that blew off both his hands and blinded one eye. He would have forgiven De Klerk if he had ever asked, but only if he proved he was trying to change. “I believe in restorative justice,” he says.

Or, as the CEO of Freedom Park says later: “Reconciliation starts deep inside and must be genuine. You can’t just walk over and say sorry and that’s that. It takes restitution. You must restore what was taken.”

As a choir sustains a final “hallelujah”, the army brass band jerks to attention and lumbers into place. God and state go hand in hand, a curiously colonial show of pomp. I sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, but I don’t sing Die Stem.

I hate it, always have. Black church ladies frown at my clamped-shut lips. They sing it loudly. A gospel trio takes their places, dressed for the Oscars. They start their first song, an evangelical number in American accents. Ululation rumbles from the church mamas when the singer breaks into Zulu.

A troupe from the Afrikaanse Taal & Kultuur Vereeneging (ATKV) is performing. They wear kappies, full skirts and leather waistcoats, and cowboy hats. They perform sakkie-sakkie and volksdanse.

At first the crowd is a sea of teeth – hugely amused by these dancing boere. Pictures are snapped on cellphones. But boredom soon sets in. I wonder about this “authentic” culture.

History has it that volksdanse were imported by one of the old presidents. Today, more coloureds and blacks speak Afrikaans than whites – and fokofpolisiekar, Jack Parow and Die Antwoord represent them, not Suikerbossie set to a dance beat.

A young Afrikaans girl dances a solo in a style that is curiously Spanish.

Revered Gift Morena is stressed that proceedings are running an hour late.

The blacks will be late for reconciliation! He talks about Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel and Palestine. After liberation, peace is always disturbed, he says. “It’s only in this country where this can happen.”

This is at the heart of rainbowism, that we are somehow unique in our diversity. It is time for the interfaith prayers. At all stages the church mamas shut their eyes tight – except when the Buddhists and Rastas pray.

Then they are cheered and applauded, an entertainment. “We are a beacon of hope to the entire world by telling our stories at the TRC,” says a holy man. My snort is frowned upon. “We are different flowers in one beautiful garden,” says a holy woman.

Vicky Sampson has a great voice, even though she milks each note like a dairy farmer’s daughter. But she has nothing on the power of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, who delivers a calm lambasting of corruption, calling on us to “build the democracy we want for our children”.

Unlike many of the others, he does not pray for President Jacob Zuma’s second term. He warns that reconciliation between rich and poor will be the bridge we will have to cross, not unity between black and white.

We are lost on Reconciliation Road and the PR lady phones to find out where the meeting will be. A white SABC cameraman grumbles. “It’ll be quick,” chides the PR.

“They’ll meet and say I forgive you, I forgive you and then it’s over.” The cameraman jokes: “My people don’t forgive.” It’s funny and it’s not so funny.

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