Address at the Official Launch of The Commemoration of the Centenary of the Anglo-Boer/South African War, Brandfort – 1999/10/09

Brandfort, 9 October 1999

Hon Minister,
Dr. Ben Ngubane,
Your Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent,
Your Excellencies,
Ambassadors and High Commissioners,
Distinguished participants,
Compatriots,
Ladies and gentleman:

‘n Honderd jaar gelede is die ongemaklike stilte wat in ons land geheers het, onderbreek deur die gedonder van oorlog skote.

A hundred years ago, the uneasy silence that then shrouded our country was broken by the thunder of the guns of war.

Die ongemaklike stilte sou eers byna drie jaar later drie jaar terugkeer.

The uneasy silence would not return until almost three years later.

Aan die einde van die oorlogwas die aangesig van ons land geskend deur die grafte van tien-duisende wat gesneuwel het in die veldslagte, in konsentrasie kampe en van honger.

At the end of it all, the face of our land was marked by the graves of the tens of thousands who had perished in combat, in concentration camps and through hunger.

‘n Onmenslike vernietigingsveldtog het meegebring dat tien duisende Boer vroue en -kinders gesterf het in konsentrasie kampe en dat wonings tot die op grond afgebrand is. Die pyn, lyding, haat en bitterheid wat hierdeur veroorsaak is was so diep dat dit vir die volgende honderd jaar sou voortduur.

A cruel scorched earth campaign, as a result of which tens of thousands of Boer women and children died in concentration camps and homesteads were put to the torch, evoked pain, anger and bitterness so deep that they have lingered on for a century.

Only now is the story beginning to be told of the enormous suffering which also befell the Black people of our country, who had to bear the death of thousands of their own kith and kin.

Our land has also provided the last resting-place for many officers and men who came to us, to fight an imperialist war.

The graves we visited today are an example of the terrible all-encompassing impact of war

The graves of the British soldiers are placed on the very battle site of the Karee where they fell, a permanent reminder both to us and their descendants in South Africa and the rest of the Commonwealth, of the foreign blood that was once shed on our soil.

The Boer cemetery, a declared National Monument, is representative of the terrible toll exacted by the concentration camps. In particular, we must note the heart-rending preponderance of children buried there, the most innocent of victims of war.

Scarcely half a kilometre away, are the graves of the black casualties of the South African War. The seventy- five graves we saw today were discovered hardly two months ago.

Forgotten and hidden for close to a century in the long grass, they are clearly only part of a bigger cemetery. This area will therefore be declared a conservation site pending further research.

Ons is vandag hier byeen as die nageslag van die Swartmense, Boere, Britte en ander wat in daardie Suid Afrikaanse Oorlog geveg het en om hulde te bring aan die dapperheid en die lyding van die wat gesterf het gedurende daardie onstuimige tydperk.

We meet here today as descendants of the Black, Boer, Briton and others who fought in this South African War, together to commemorate the courage and suffering of those who died in the turbulence of those times.

We have come here to honour the tens of thousands of men, women and children who, in their various ways, fought for what all of us hold dear – freedom and independence.

We pay homage to the courageous Boer men and women who stood with Paul Kruger, President of the

Transvaal Boer Republic who, on this day a hundred years ago, gave an ultimatum to the British Empire – “Withdraw your troops, or we will go to war!”

We pay homage to them because they had the courage to take on a Goliath in defence of their freedom. We pay homage to them because, in struggle, they asserted the right of all colonised people to independence.

We pay homage to the courageous Boer men and women who stood with Paul Kruger, President of the

Transvaal Boer Republic who, on this day a hundred years ago, gave an ultimatum to the British Empire – “Withdraw your troops, or we will go to war!”

We pay homage to them because they had the courage to take on a Goliath in defence of their freedom. We pay homage to them because, in struggle, they asserted the right of all colonised people to independence.

We pay homage to them for their skill as warriors and their resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. We pay homage to them because the fortitude they showed has become part of the heritage of all South Africans, whatever their race or colour.

We pay homage to their black allies as well, who stood side by side with the Boers. Many among these bore arms and contributed to the war effort in other ways, themselves ready to lay down their lives for their own freedom and their land.

Other black people fought on the side of the army of imperialism. Driven by their own national experience of oppression and land dispossession, they thought they could ally themselves with the British Empire to regain their freedom and their land.

We must pay tribute to these as well, whose offspring, a few decades later, were to join hands with the British Empire again, when the world united to defeat the scourge of Nazism.

The tides of history threw Afrikaners, the British, Africans, Coloureds, Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders into the cauldron of a bitter, costly and protracted war.

When the documents were signed proclaiming an end to the hostilities, once more the uneasy peace descended over our land, broken once again by the sound of guns when the Bambata Rebellion broke out in 1906.

A century after the outbreak of the South African War, we are entitled to assert from this place where so many died, that through our actions, we have, in this country at least, silenced the guns of war for ever.

The age of the uneasy peace has come to an end. As we remember the names of those who were actors on that stage of the contest of the weapons of war – Paul Kruger, Cecil Rhodes, Sir Alfred Milner, Koos de la Rey, Lord Kitchener, Christiaan de Wet, Sol Plaatje, Emily Hobhouse, Colonel Baden-Powell, Siener van Rensburg, Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill – as we remember these names, so must we dream of heroes and heroines who will be the architects of a non-racial, a peaceful and prosperous South Africa.

For these to know what they have to do, among other things they have to recall and learn the necessary lessons from the South African War of 1899 to 1902.

One of these lessons must surely be that never again should we allow that anybody, whether from inside or from outside our country, should impose the curse of war on our people.

We have established and are establishing for ourselves the democratic institutions and processes that should enable us to solve our problems and to address our competing claims through peaceful means.

Were our independence ever to be threatened by invading armies, we would have to show the same determination to defend the freedom of our people as did those among our compatriots who stood up to the British Empire, a century ago.

>From Slangkop hill we can see both the Boer and Black cemeteries. From that vantage-point, the observer may reflect on the mutual suffering and interdependence, in spite of the inequalities, of both black and white during the South African War.

That reflection should also lead all those who shall be our heroes and heroines to understand that we will not permit it that our differences in terms of race, colour and culture serve as cause for us to treat one another as other than South Africans who share a common patriotism and a common destiny.

Neither shall we permit it that any of our languages, our cultures and religions is reduced to a position of inferiority or domination by another.

Nor should it be that we accept it as part of the natural order of things, that access to and control of the wealth that makes for a decent standard of living, is the exclusive prerogative of some, while the rest are condemned to a permanent life of misery.

I am privileged to welcome to our country and to our activities marking the centenary of the South African War, HRH the Duke of Kent, as well as representatives of the Governments of the United Kingdom and other countries that supplied some of the fighting forces of the British Empire.

They are with us today as messengers of peace reconciliation and human solidarity. Whatever the lingering pain some of us might still bear, we receive them as friends.

We are convinced that, one hundred years after a terrible conflict in which many perished, our relationship with them has acquired a new quality, born of mutual respect and a common adherence to the vision of freedom and human dignity for all.

The long and complex interaction between ourselves and the Britons did not start at Ladysmith,

Kimberley or Mafikeng, nor at Elandslaagte, Modderspruit, Derdepoort, Bloemfontein or Nooitgedacht.

It began three centuries ago at the Cape of Good Hope. It has given us the possibility to build a relationship between us, informed by a determination to avoid what was bad in that interaction and to reinforce everything that was good.

As ‘n land en ‘n nasie het ons begin met ‘n lang en moelike pad na nasionale versoening. Ons kies om hierdie pad te volg omdat niemand van ons sonder letsels is nie. Daar is nie een van ons wat nie deur ons gesamentlike verlede seergemaak is of skade aangedoen is deur ander in ons gesamentlike geskiedenis.

As a country and a people, we have embarked on a long and difficult road to national reconciliation. We have taken this road because none of us is without a scar. There is no one among us whom our common past has not hurt, and who has not been harmed by some whose past actions help to define our common history.

There are few, if any, among us who cannot be driven to accept captivity by the elemental passions of hatred and rage.

Our continuing collective experience seems to mock all of us, with the racial divisions which continue to characterise our society, the violence that claims innocent lives everyday, the poverty the corruption, the stubborn refusal of the past to be the past

Everyday that past taunts us to succumb to hatred and rage.

It was to contain the destructive force of these passions that we took the collective decision that we will manage all our pains by admitting the wrongs we had done. We would acknowledge that the wrongs we had done were wrongs.

We would fight to forgive what could not be undone. We would make a commitment to ourselves, one to the other, that we would strive to work together to build something which, perhaps, no other people had succeeded to construct

What remains is that we continue to strive to do what we thought was the correct thing to do – to build a better world, free of the pain represented by the graves at this place, which are a bitter reminder of a bitter past. It may be that those who are interred here will, at last, rest in peace when they know that we too, who live, are no longer slaves to an uneasy peace.

Hulle sal hulle beslis verbly as hulle weet dat ons ons verbly in die vrede en vryheid waarna ons landgenote wat hier en in ander dele van ons land en oorsee begrawe lê, gehunker het en waarvoor hulle gesterf het.

Surely, they will rejoice when they know that we rejoice in the peace and freedom which our compatriots who lie buried here, elsewhere in our country and abroad, sought and died for.

Let all of us mark the Centenary of the Anglo-Boer War – the South African War – with all the honour and dignity due to those whose lives it consumed.

Thank you.

 

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