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Our freedom fighters hailed

By unknown | Dec 19, 2006 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Sarah McGregor

Sarah McGregor

The bitterness faded inside Constance Phela the day the South African authorities confirmed that a mass grave contained the dust of the bones of her brother, one of thousands of anti-apartheid activists who disappeared decades ago.

"I always wondered if somehow, somewhere, I'd meet him. But now that I know his end I feel free," said Phela, 49, smiling.

"Today, I know my brother is a hero."

South Africa marked National Reconciliation Day on Saturday by unveiling a wall engraved with 70000 names, the names of both well-known and unsung freedom fighters who, for more than a century, struggled to overturn colonial rule and apartheid.

The unveiling took place on a public holiday that once commemorated a vicious battle between Afrikaners and Zulus, and marked another step in forging unity after South Africa's divisive past, President Thabo Mbeki said.

Mbeki noted that the day paid tribute to South Africans of all races who perished in conflicts: from the pre-colonial wars and the fight against slavery to the 1976 Soweto uprisings in which dozens of protesting black youths were shot down by apartheid police.

"Freedom Park is not an epitaph. It is a place that resonates with the joy of a celebration of freedom and equality for all people," he said.

Almost 2000 family members and friends of those fightersgathered for the ceremony at Freedom Park, a hillside in Pretoria that will host a shrine, a museum and an amphitheatre when fully developed in 2009.

Another 13000 people - many in multicoloured traditional dress, representing the country's diverse cultural groups - were bused in from across the country to watch the event live from television screens in a nearby stadium.

The R760million memorial spans several kilometres overlooking South Africa's capital city and the winding wall is expected to grow to 136000 names as more relatives and friends comeforward to nominate deceased loved ones.

But some said the brutalhistory of South Africa, which became a multiracial democracy in 1994 with Nelson Mandela as the first president of the post-apartheid era, could not be forgotten or forgiven so quickly.

Many black South Africans feel betrayed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after it granted amnesty to more than 1000 perpetrators of crimes.

"It is not that easy to have closure. The perpetrators are still out there and mothers are still crying out for their children," said Nozi Mohale, 45, whose T-shirt pictured activist Nokuthula Simelane with the words "Abducted, Tortured, Disappeared, October 1983."

"I see very few white people here. You ask where they are if this is supposed to be about reconciliation," said Ephraim Mabena, a traditional healer. - Reuters


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