Address by Mashatile on the occasion of the 20th commemoration of the Bisho massacre

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07 Sep 2012

Programme Director, MEC Mlibo Qhoboshiyane
Premier of the Eastern Cape Province, Premier Noxolo Kiviet
The Chairperson of the ANC in the Eastern Cape, Comrade Phumulo Masualle
Comrades Ronnie Kasrils and Pallo Jordan
Leaders of political parties here present
MEC for Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture, MEC Xoliswa Tom and other MEC’s here present
Members of the Provincial Legislature here present
The Executive Mayor of the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, Councillor Zukiswa Ncitha
Members of the Mayoral Committee and other Councillors here present
Families of those who lost their lives during the Bhisho massacre
Survivors of the massacre
The CEO of the National Heritage Council, Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa
Senior government officials
Honoured Guests
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
Comrades and Friends:
On that fateful day, of the 7th of September 1992, more than 80 000 South Africans took part in a peaceful demonstration, to demand basic rights denied to them by the then Ciskei regime.

These patriots were determined to claim their right to free political activity and to demand an end to state violence and repression.

They marched in the hope of a better tomorrow for all.

They marched in pursuit of an alternative to the apartheid system and all its manifestations.

Sadly, many of them never returned. Their lives were cut short in cold blood. Many more sustained injuries.

Those who perished or were injured during the Bhisho massacre were mothers and fathers in their families.

They were someone’s sons or daughters. They had names. They had families, relatives and friends who cherished and loved them dearly.

They belonged to a broader movement for good in our country.

This is a movement whose ultimate goal is to bring about a truly united, non racial, non sexist, democratic and prosperous society.
It is with this in mind that we have gathered here today once again to wipe the tears of the victims of the Bhisho massacre.

We are here today to bring hope to the victims of the massacre and to assure them that their sacrifices were not in vain.

We are also here to recommit ourselves to ideals they sacrificed for.

These are the ideals of one people, one nation, one democratic state, a non racial and prosperous destiny for all.

We take this opportunity to congratulate the Eastern Cape government for honoring the martyrs of the Bhisho massacre, those who were injured as well as those who survived in such a befitting manner.

By, among others, building the Bhisho massacre memorial site and interpretation center, you have ensured that the memory of the victims of the massacre remains forever engraved in our nation’s collective memory.

You have taken a major step in preserving the liberation heritage of this area.

The memorial site and interpretation center is a living reminder and fitting tribute to the sacrifices of the victims of the Bhisho massacre.
It is our collective statement that we will never forget the tragic events of that day in 1992. It is our contribution to healing the wounds of our unhappy past.

Programme Director, the memorial site and interpretation center forms part of the national effort to build monuments in honour of those who made a significant contribution to our struggle for national liberation.

It is part of our ongoing efforts to build new symbols of our democratic nation; symbols that are reflective of the kind of society we seek to build; symbols that reflect our shared future as South Africans.

During this year, 2012, which we have declared as the year of heritage, as the Department of Arts and Culture we have been hard at work to honour the heroes and heroines of our struggle by building museums, monuments and statues in their hounour.

This we are doing as part of mainstreaming our liberation heritage into our country’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.

Equally we are doing this to use heritage as a catalyst for local economic development.

We have no doubt that this site, commemorating the Bhisho massacre, will not only be a place of remembrance but also a major tourist attraction; thus turning the tragic events of the massacre into an opportunity for the economic advancement of the community.

This site will no doubt form part of the liberation heritage route, through which we will connect individuals and sites that are of significance to our liberation struggle.

As we today mark the 20th Anniversary of the Bhisho massacre, we do so during Heritage Month, which this year we will celebrate under the theme; “honoring the heroes and heroines of our struggle for national liberation.”

It is therefore fitting that as we remember the victims of the Bhisho massacre we are able to locate their sacrifices along-side those of many other martyrs of our struggle.

As the Department of Arts and Culture we will release details of activities that will form part of our Heritage Month celebrations, to honour the heroes and heroines of our struggle.

Programme Director, the march on Bhisho and the subsequent massacre was a culmination of popular struggles by the people of this area.

It was a culmination of popular struggles because it was in response to persistent suppression of political activity by the then Ciskei regime and was a product of mass mobilization of the people of this area.

It was an opportunity for the masses of the people of this area to directly confront an illegitimate and oppressive authority.

Together with the Boipatong massacre, the Bhisho massacre, helped to break the deadlock in the negotiations process leading to the signing of the Record of Understanding on the 26 of September 1992.

This paved the way for the resumption of formal negotiations, culminating in our country's first democratic elections in 1994.

Programme Director, I am raising these points because as this generation of South Africans we must learn from incidences such as the Bhisho massacre, so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

We must learn from the Bhisho massacre that popular struggles by our people are part and parcel of our democratic order.

They are the mechanisms through which as a nation, we will be able to defend, deepen and advance the gains of our freedom and democracy.

Learning from the Bhisho massacre the democratic state must maintain its moral duty not suppress legitimate political activity and protest.

Equally, we must caution that our people should not misuse the political space created by freedom and democracy to engage in violent protests, which often involve the distraction of property and taking the lives of others.

Our country prides itself of having a human rights friendly legal framework; making its possible for grievances to be resolved with no loss of life and damage to property.

We are mentioning this in the light of some protests in our country that are characterized by violence, destruction of property and loss of life. These include the tragic events in Marikana recently.

Here the words of the founding father of our democratic nation, President Nelson Mandela, who said at the 49th National Conference of the ANC in 1994, come to mind;

“It is quite clear from the nature of the issues that this Conference has to address that we have entered a new and historic period. Such is the nature of victory that it poses new and more difficult challenges.”

As this generation of South Africans we face new and more difficult challenges brought about by us having defeated apartheid.

These challenges require us to remain focused on the goals of our national democratic revolution.

Programme Director, the theory of the National Democratic Revolution directs us to build a society based on the best in human civilizations and value systems.

This theory also reminds us that over the years our struggle for national liberation developed moral values of human compassion and solidarity far beyond the narrow confines of its opposition to the apartheid social system.

Our struggle represented something good and not just something better than apartheid.

Guided by this theoretical understanding, the democratic state and all its organs have a duty to uphold the highest moral standards, understand and be capable of responding to the challenges brought about by us having defeated apartheid.

These challenges include the growing impatience among our people with the pace and direction of social and economic transformation, especially now as we approach 20 years of freedom and democracy.

The democratic state must be properly equipped and must have the required capacity to manage legitimate expectations of our people.

The democratic state must also provide decisive leadership and inspire hope among the people that; tomorrow will be better that today and yesterday.

As we said before, the Bhisho massacre was followed by the resumption of negotiations with the apartheid government, leading to the 1994 democratic breakthrough.

In the same light, we trust that the lessons learned from the tragic events in Marikana will propel our nation further along the road towards embracing the best in human civilizations and value systems.

The events in Marikana must also strengthen our resolve to ensure that the democratic state maintains a moral high ground and responds to the new and more difficult challenges, President Mandela referred to.

Our response to these challenges must be consistent with the understanding that ours was a struggle representing something good and not just better than our unhappy past.

Tragic events such as those in Marikana, in Bhisho and in Boipatong should never happen in our democratic society!

We are a democratic society that should tolerate decent and be guided by the highest moral standards and values.

The use of violence to raise grievances should be discouraged. Equally the use of live ammunition to deal with protests should be avoided!

One life lost is one life too many!

Once more we say to the victims of the Bhisho massacre, your struggle was not in vain.

We draw inspiration from your sacrifices and we once again pledge to keep your memory alive.

Let the healing process continue.

May the souls of those who perished during the Bhisho massacre rest in peace.

Thank you.