“While we acknowledge the past, we also emphasise that we are now one nation and that our national symbols need to reflect that unity in diversity,” the president said.
‘Reconciliation, peace, that’s what this is about’
South Africans of all hues gathered at the Union Buildings to follow the unveiling on big screens as a 21-gun salute rang out and air force jets flew over in a “missing man” formation usually reserved to honour a fallen pilot.
“Reconciliation, peace, that’s what this is about,” said Afrikaner Retha Jansen, 63, who came to be part of history.
Zuma stressed that for true reconciliation to be possible, injustices from the past still have to be corrected.
“We have always understood that true reconciliation would not take place successfully in the midst of glaring socio-economic disparities” in one of the world’s most unequal nations.
American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said in some ways the inequality was, in fact, even deeper than before.
“Blacks are better off, whites are much better off, economically,” he told AFP at the Union Buildings.
“It’s in everyone’s interest now to move towards economic justice.”
The Day of Reconciliation was first marked in 1995, the year after South Africa’s first-ever democratic elections ended decades of sanctioned racial oppression.
Before that, December 16 had been commemorated by Afrikaners, the custodians of apartheid, for over 150 years to mark a 1838 victory over Zulu warriors in the Battle of Blood River.
Some Afrikaners still mark the day today.
But December 16 is also the anniversary of the founding of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), which Mandela founded.
After the all-race vote in 1994, the day was retained as a holiday and renamed.
Zuma described the loss of Mandela as “the moment of our greatest sorrow as the Rainbow Nation” — a term coined for country’s different races coming together in peace.
But “there should be no more tears. We must celebrate and take forward his legacy,” the president said.
“Let us all get back to work tomorrow, to build the South Africa that Madiba sacrificed 27 years of his life in prison for.”
Ten days of official mourning ended at midnight Sunday, and the national flag went back to flying at full-mast.