At Blood River, a Message of Reconciliation

South Africans, on commemoration day, pay tribute to wars and warriors past, and prepare for era of national unity

IN a day charged with historic symbolism, right-wing Afrikaners commemorated a victory over the Zulus in 1838 here yesterday with a message of reconciliation.

``Our struggle must not be to destroy anyone, but to survive,'' said Gen. Constand Viljoen, leader of the Afrikaner Volksfront, a right-wing umbrella group. ``In the new South Africa, we must behave ourselves in such a way that we are worthy of being called Christians,'' General Viljoen told a subdued crowd of about 1,000 right-wing Afrikaners who traveled to this remote memorial located in central Natal Province.

Viljoen, who insisted that Afrikaners have a just cause, said the lesson of the miraculous Boer victory over the Zulus was that they should be guided by the word of God and should not despair as dark storm clouds gather.

In a day marked by religious and cultural speeches, the Afrikaners gathered in a circle of bronze ox-wagon replicas where 468 Boers inflicted a terrible revenge on the Zulus without a single casualty on the Boer side. Some 3,000 Zulus armed only with traditional assegais (spears) were killed in the attack. Since the victory, Afrikaners have kept a vow to God to commemorate the occasion annually.

Renewing the vow yesterday, Viljoen said: ``If you give us victory over the darkness that now faces us, we will reaffirm this vow - whether by peaceful or by more violent actions if that is God's will - and we will commemorate this day.'' Viljoen told the Monitor after his speech that he did not believe it was the will of God to have further conflict in the country but rather for a Christian attitude to prevail.

After applauding Viljoen's conciliatory speech, the crowd gathered in the circle of wagons to sing the Afrikaans anthem Die Stem (The Voice). The emotional song rang over the lush green plains in the scenic foothills of the Drakensberg mountain range.

Right-wing Afrikaners, who have still not indicated whether they will take part in the country's first nonracial election in April, are negotiating with the African National Congress (ANC) for a form of self-rule.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), as part of the conservative Freedom Alliance, is holding talks with the government about greater powers for the regions. About 30 miles away at Isandlwana, the site of a Zulu victory over the British in 1879, the Zulu monarch urged his subjects to step up the resistance to multiparty rule.

And in Soweto, the military wing of the ANC marked its last parade yesterday with a ceremony to veterans of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).

DEC. 16, known among whites as the Day of the Vow, and among blacks as the anniversary of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which was founded in 1961, is the most emotional day in the South African calendar.

For the past decade, only right-wing Afrikaners have continued to celebrate the Day of the Vow. But historically, it was celebrated by the majority of Afrikaners as the day that divine intervention spared the lives of a small band of Boers facing an attack by some 12,000 Zulu warriors wielding spears.

The Boers, whose renowned leader, Piet Retief, had been killed 10 months earlier while trying to strike a land deal with the chief of the Zulus, Dingane, barricaded themselves into a circle of wagons protected on one side by Blood River - so named because it flowed red with the blood of fallen Zulu warriors - and on another by a deep canyon.

At Isandlwana, IFP leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has vowed to defy the instructions of a multiracial commission overseeing the country's transition to democracy, said the Zulus want self-determination. ``There is no other way forward for democracy,'' said Chief Buthelezi, who recent opinion polls show does not have majority Zulu support.

In a reference to the ANC, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, who rarely departs from Buthelezi's line, said Zulus would not be subjugated ``to a political party that wants to destroy us because it wants to rule. Until we get what is justly ours, there can be no rest for true Zulus.... Resist, I command you. Resist, I implore you.''

In Soweto, ANC President Nelson Mandela, wearing military fatigues, delivered a conciliatory speech to about 8,000 ANC supporters urging them to live by the dictum made famous at the end of World War II: ``In victory, magnanimity.''

Umkhonto we Sizwe, which waged a low-key campaign of sabotage and armed propaganda against white rule for three decades, will become part of a united South African defense force after the April election.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.