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S.Africa's reconciliation day shows whites divided

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) -- South Africa's Reconciliation Day on Saturday showed deep divisions among the nation's white population: rising racial tension galvanized some to publish a declaration of collective guilt while others paid homage to apartheid.

A group of prominent white South Africans formally declared collective guilt for apartheid and launched a fund at Cape Town's St George's Cathedral to help poor blacks and try to narrow a widening racial gap just six years into democracy.

At the same time rightwingers gathered at an apartheid-era monument erected at Blood River in KwaZulu-Natal province to celebrate the original reason for the public holiday -- the routing of Zulus warriors by Afrikaners on December 16, 1838.

Convicted racist murderer Barend "White Wolf" Strydom presided over the ceremony and launched an "apartheid bible" at the monument of 64 life-size bronze wagons on land many white Afrikaners still consider holy.

Strydom, who was sentenced to death but later granted amnesty for killing seven black people in a 1989 shooting spree in Pretoria, said the new bible reinstated apartheid references justifying separate rule that had been stripped out of a 1933 version.


Strydom told the domestic news agency SAPA that the bible would find a ready market at the December 16 celebrations near Vryheid, in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

It was here 162 years ago that thousands of Zulu warriors attacked a circle of wagons that the Afrikaners defended with muzzle-loading rifles and three tiny cannon.

The Afrikaners prayed ahead of the battle and made a pact with their God to keep the day holy and build a monument on the scene if they won.

According to historical accounts some 3,000 Zulu warriors were killed, turning the Ncome River red with their blood, while only three Afrikaners were wounded. The river was renamed Blood River.

The anniversary, known under white rule as The Day of Vow, was the holiest for South Africa's white Afrikaner minority throughout 48 years of apartheid, which ended with the country's first all-race election in 1994.

The black-majority government kept the holiday but renamed it the Day of Reconciliation in a bid to bring a racially divided nation together.

"It is necessary for whites to acknowledge the damage caused by apartheid and its legacy, to support and empower disadvantaged communities and to contribute to eliminating racism," Carl Niehaus, a white veteran of the African National Congress, said at the reconciliation initiative on Saturday.

"We are humbled by the remarkable forgiveness and generosity that many black people have shown towards the perpetrators of apartheid," he told those gathered in St George's Cathedral.

Niehaus and prominent South Africans including the Springbok rugby team, writers and actors including South African-born Anthony Sher and Richard E Grant, who was born in Swaziland, have signed the declaration of guilt and pledged to forge reconciliation.

But other whites have criticized the initiative, called a Home for All, refusing to be part of what they call a liberal white guilt trip.

Among them are former president F.W. de Klerk, who freed Nelson Mandela from 27 years in jail to become the country's first black president. De Klerk said he had already apologized for the wrongs of his forefathers.

The Home for All plan comes against the backdrop of rising racial tensions across the country, with voting in key local elections on December 5 divided along racial lines.

Racial divisions were underscored by President Thabo Mbeki, who labelled opposition parties in the local poll "an unholy alliance," and by a warning from a local ANC leader that there would be "consequences" for opposition voters.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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