The end of the rainbow: Voortrekker Monument

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.

Intent on being naughty, I’m wearing a T-shirt branded with the old Transvaal flag on the back and a liberation slogan on the front: Ons eis vryheid (We demand freedom).

I bought it in bright orange from Sarel, the teenage son of a travelling band of family entrepreneurs. Excitable Sarel kept shoving the T-shirts in the face of every passer-by as we trickled out of the parking lot towards the monument. I needed a little irony on my back.

Back in Jurassic Park, my T-shirt turns me into a curio of sorts. I can’t be ignored. My female companion and I are the only darkies here. I am a tangible symbol of the people against whom the Voortrekkers fought.

This gathering used to be called the Day of the Vow to mark the Battle of Blood River on December 16 1838.

If God helped the Voortrekkers defeat their Zulu enemies, they vowed to remember the day forever. The ANC called it Dingaan’s Day, in memory of the slaughter. Now, of course, it’s the Day of Reconciliation.

With the phallic protrusion of granite rising ahead of us, we climb the stairs to the entrance and find photographer Muntu Vilakazi.

It’s not difficult to spot a visibly babalaased, skinny black guy weighed down by two huge cameras, a cigarette hanging from his lip. He sticks out like a fidgety penguin among pelicans.There’s also a curious space between him and everyone else.

Even the statue of Piet Retief seems to be looking at him funny.

Sitting in this cavernous entombment, gawked at like a bug, I begin to feel like one. I can only make out odd words and phrases of the dreary sermon. Ons kinders se toekoms, oorlog, die Here! (Our children’s future, war, the Lord).

The minister is grave and seems angry. The hymns and psalms are recited in a raspy, guttural tone that doesn’t speak of rainbows. It speaks of colours – orange, white and blue. The ghoulish voice slouches along like a mule dying of drought in a dust bowl.

We wait for the sun to shine through the top of the monument in the Hall of Heroes. A jolly old lady called Betty approaches and stretches her arms around us: “Oh, it’s so nice that you are here too. Thanks for coming.”

The outfits are something to behold. There are tiny little girls dressed as Voortrekker babies. There are old women wearing the same thing. These people want to be stuck in the past. It’s their happy place.

We move to Reconciliation Road, a stretch of tarmac opened by Zuma last year, a symbolic joining of the two monuments.

The programme says Afrikaner leaders will meet black religious leaders, but there’s just me, my companion, a TV crew, the CEO of the Voortrekker Monument and a singing troupe from the ATKV fresh from the other side.

The khaki-clad masses all left. It’s a sham. Troupe leader Oom Sakkie is very proud of my kak-stirring T-shirt. He speaks to me in Afrikaans. I play along in the spirit of reconciliation, throwing in words like “ja” and “rerig?”.

Reconciliation Road

The archbishop leads the Freedom Park delegation. The volkdansers arrive, singing about the old Transvaal. The CEOs speak and it’s clear – despite their stiff embrace – that they are friends. They even shared an award for their monuments – a bit like Mandela and De Klerk at the Nobels.

Then the archbish asks us to mix and form “a rainbow chain”. The TV cameras roll. It’s as trite as any rainbow symbolism can possibly be.

Yet there’s something about how moved Makgoba is, something genuine that melts a heart and makes gospel divas hold hands with sakkie-sakkie dancers.

But then a car engine revs. A buff right-winger leaves the monument in a huge SUV with Blue Bulls balls hanging from the back. He stops and glares. He clicks his tongue and curses.

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