Address by President Jacob Zuma on the occasion of National Reconciliation Day, the unveiling of the statue of former President Nelson Mandela and marking of 100 years of the Union Buildings

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16 Dec 2013

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe

Chief Justice of the Republic

Chairperson of the NCOP

Premier of Gauteng, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane

Minister in the Presidency Mr Collins Chabane,

Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Paul Mashatile and all Ministers and Premiers present,

Deputy Ministers, MECs, Executive Mayor of Tshwane, Cllr Ramakgopa and Members of Municipal Councils (MMCs),

Deputy President of the ANC

Leadership the ruling party the ANC and all other political party leaders present,

Religious and traditional leaders,

Veterans of the liberation struggle,

The Mandela family,

Representatives of the Hertzog family,

Representatives of the Tambo family

Fellow South Africans,





We gather at the seat of government, a day after laying to rest one of the greatest leaders ever produced by our country and the African continent, our former President Nelson Mandela.

It has been a difficult period for our country, for Africa and for our friends all over the world.

The official mourning period came to an end last night at midnight and the national flag has been raised at all posts.

Let me take this opportunity to thank all South Africans for observing the mourning period with dignity and respect. 

I thank the Mandela family as well for sharing their moment of grief with all of us. It was indeed the moment of our greatest sorrow as the rainbow nation.

There should now be no more tears. We must celebrate Madiba and take forward his legacy. He should live in our hearts and inspire us to do something good every single day, to honour his memory. 

In that way, the pain of his passing will be eased every single day.

Sithi bakwethu, isikhathi sokuzila komphakathi, uzilela ukuhamba kweqhawe lethu, ubaba uMongameli uMadiba siphele izolo ebusuku phakathi kwamabili. 

Kusukela namhlanje, aziphele izinyembezi.

UTata uMadiba makaphile ezinhliziyweni zethu, simkhumbule ngokwenza okuhle nsuku zonke, nokusebenza kanzima ukwakha izwe lethu elibumbeneyo.


Today, as we mark a special day in the country's calendar, National Reconciliation Day, we recommit ourselves to peace, forgiveness, tolerance and reconciliation. 

These values were the hallmarks of the Presidency of Madiba.

Under his leadership, the National Day of Reconciliation became a symbol of our collective victory over our divided past as a nation. We made a conscious decision to work for national unity and reconciliation.

It is therefore, of great historical significance that we are marking National Reconciliation Day 2013 by officially unveiling the 9 metre statue of Madiba, the man who encouraged us to look beyond our differences and become one nation, united in our diversity.

We laid Tata to rest in Qunu only yesterday. Today, he rises majestically at the seat of government, as a symbol of peace, reconciliation, unity and progress.

In his humility, Madiba left it to the South African people to celebrate his life and legacy and to decide how he should be remembered. 

He said when asked how he wished to be remembered:

"It would be very egotistical of me to say how I would like to be remembered. I'd leave that entirely to South Africans. I would just like a simple stone on which is written, 'Mandela'.”

In our view, this stone is a fitting tribute to the contribution he has made to our country, Africa and the world.

It is the least we can do for a man who dedicated his entire life to this country and its people.

Bakwethu, sikhethe ukukhumbula uTata uMadiba ngokuvula lomfanekiso omkhulukazi wakhe lapha ekomkhulu likahulumeni e-Union Buildings. 

Senzela ukuthi umphakathi waseMzansi Afrika nezivakashi zikwazi ukuvakasha zizovuselela ukubuyisana, ukubekezelelana nobumbano asifundisa kona uTata uMadiba.

This new Madiba monument will not merely enhance the attraction and gravitas of the Union Buildings as a national heritage site. 

It will also remind the nation daily about the values of unity, reconciliation, compassion and Ubuntu.

The statue will forever remind us of Madiba's towering vision and stature.

It will remind us of his commitment, his leadership and his dedication to the struggle against apartheid.

It will forever remind us of his commitment to an improved quality of life for all.

It will also remind us of how far we have come as a nation in just a few years. The glaring reality is that before 1994, there would have been no statue of Madiba at the Union Buildings.  

Thus, when we look at this statue of Madiba, and recall his selfless sacrifice, let us remember that freedom in our country did not come free. 

We therefore have a collective responsibility to defend and deepen our country's hard-won gains, all of as the rainbow nation, the people of South Africa.


The site of the statue of our founding President had previously housed the statue of former Prime Minister James Barry Hertzog, who led the white government from 1924-1939.

Following an exhaustive consultation process, and in the spirit of reconciliation that our country has become renowned for, the representatives of former Prime Minister Hertzog agreed that his statue be relocated to another spot in the Union Buildings in order to make way for Madiba's statue.

We thank the Hertzog family for their understanding and cooperation in this regard.


We have always understood that true reconciliation would not take place successfully in the midst of glaring socio-economic disparities. 

Reconciliation will be more successful if we succeed to correct past injustices.  

It is for this reason that reconciliation continues to run parallel with transformative programmes that improve the quality of life of the people.


This year, the seat of government, the Union Buildings turn 100 years old. This majestic building was constructed in 1910, and was completed in November 1913. 

The two identical West and East Wings of the Union Buildings, were intended to each represent the English and the Afrikaner groups. 

The union was thus the union of the two groups. The black majority was excluded from this union and from governance in general. 

The Union Buildings was therefore built on a shaky foundation of racial discrimination and oppression. It rapidly mutated into a source of anger in the country and in the world at large. 

At this institution, many laws were signed which entrenched deep racial divisions in the country, entrenching all forms of oppression against black people.

This culminated into the adoption of apartheid as policy by the white government in 1948, thus making racism and racial discrimination official policy of the government of that day. 

It is for this reason that as a seat of government, the Union Buildings became the target and outlet of many grievances by the oppressed people. 

Many freedom songs point to the Union Buildings as the destination that our people were heading towards, to dismantle institutionalised racism and oppression. 

When the oppressed sang Siyaya ePitoli, they primarily meant they were coming to the Union Buildings, the seat of executive power.

It is wonderful to note too that leaders of the ANC did enter the Union Buildings to engage oppressors directly about the situation of the oppressed. 

The speech by former ANC President Sefako Makgatho to the 1919 ANC conference in Cape Town is quite enlightening.

He said;

"I have been in constant attendance at Union Buildings and other offices, where I have had numerous conferences with Heads of Departments and at various times with General Botha, before he left, and with other Ministers such as Mr Malan, Mr De Wet and Mr Burton on various questions more or less serious''.

ANC leaders also used to write letters and petitions to the Prime Ministers and Ministers in the Union Buildings. 

The Union Buildings is also more well-known for the historic 1956 march by more than 20 000 women, protesting against pass laws.

The first democratic national general elections on April 27, 1994, marked the end of a Union Buildings that existed to serve only one section of society.

It was at the very buildings, at the Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre specifically, that Tata was inaugurated as Head of State and head of the new Government of National Unity. 

The Union Buildings became Madiba's office. The headquarters of government began to symbolise true unity and legitimate authority. 

It was also here at the Union Buildings that Madiba lay in state for three days last week. 

It was a historic and moving period in our history during which thousands of people filed past to pay homage to this greatest son of our country.

It was the first time that so many thousands of people passed through the Union Buildings. 

As we celebrate 100 years of the Union Buildings today, we do so satisfied and happy that this seat of government is now not only rich in terms of its aesthetic beauty only. It is also rich in moral value and symbolism as well. 


Beyond political meaning, the Union Buildings precinct also has immense social value. 

During weekends many newly-wed couples come to the gardens to take beautiful pictures for posterity.  The Union Buildings also attracts busloads of tourists on a daily basis. It has thus become a people-centred precinct.

Giving its growing national importance, we have decided to declare the Union Buildings a national heritage site. 

It had all along been a provincial heritage site.

By declaring the Union Buildings as a national heritage site, we are acknowledging its historic significance and affirming its value as one of the sites that houses our nation's heritage. 

This will also create the necessary framework that will allow us to preserve and promote the history and heritage that is at the Union Buildings. 

We are doing this as part of our ongoing work to write a new and inclusive narrative for our country. While we acknowledge the past, we are also emphasise that we are now one nation and that our national symbols need to reflect that unity in diversity.


It is that unity that our late President Madiba preached and which he encouraged us to practise.

Allow me to use this opportunity  to thank the Inter-Ministerial Committee for State Funerals, chaired by the Minister in the Presidency Mr Collins Chabane, and the related technical support committees, for their sterling job in organising a dignified burial for our beloved Madiba.

The excellent logistical arrangements have once again demonstrated the capability of our country to host international events of this magnitude.

We hosted heads of state and government, royalty, eminent persons, entertainers, global business sector and all sorts of global personalities. 

I would like on behalf of government and the people of our country, the rainbow nation, to thank all our security services, who worked hard to protect citizens and foreign dignitaries and guests.

We acknowledge our police officials who went beyond the call of normal duty, and were seen comforting citizens who were overcome with grief after viewing the body of Madiba at the Union Buildings. They were ably assisted by the SA National Defence medical services personnel.

Ladies and gentlemen

Let me also single out the South African National Defence Force, which made the nation proud with the exceptional and dignified farewell they gave to the former Commander-in-Chief. 

The military health services had first touched the nation in the manner in which they looked after him while he was ill. And later, the SANDF put out all stops to give him a befitting farewell.

We also thank the media, both locally and internationally, for taking the Madiba story to the world with dignity and respect. 

We thank all the South African people. Working together, the rainbow nation ensured that Tata is laid to rest in a manner befitting a global icon.

Let us all get back to work tomorrow, to build the South Africa that Madiba sacrificed 27 years of his life in prison for.

Let us all work together, united in our diversity as the famous rainbow nation on the Southern tip of Africa, to build a better South Africa, united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous.


It is my pleasure today to declare the statue of former President Nelson Mandela open for public viewing. 

We congratulate Mr Dali Tambo the curator and his entire team for this magnificent work of art.

It is also a pleasure to declare the Union Buildings as a national heritage site, and to wish you all a happy and successful National Reconciliation Day.

I thank you.