PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Joyous crowds of Black South Africans celebrated the unveiling of a new Nelson Mandela statue in Pretoria on Monday while many white Afrikaners on the other side of town expressed their worries about the country’s future as they celebrated the 175th anniversary of a bloody victory over the indigenous Zulus.
A new 9 meter (30 feet) statue of Mandela was unveiled in the heart of Pretoria in front of the Union Buildings that used to be the seat of the apartheid government, where Mandela was sworn in as the country’s first democratically elected president 19 years ago.
“One of the things he taught us was to actually talk to our enemies and learn to appreciate things that they’ve done that didn’t directly affect us in a bad way,” said Thando Silimela, 28, expressing appreciation for the impressive hilltop government complex.
“We don’t see it as a hostile building or a building of apartheid; it’s a beautiful building. It’s part of our heritage. We’ve come to peace with a lot of things that have been done. I’m quite proud of South Africa.”
There was a less celebratory mood across town where more than 1,000 Afrikaner people gathered to mark the anniversary of their victory over the Zulus.
Dec. 16 used to be a public holiday under the apartheid regime to commemorate the battle against the Zulus, but it has since been renamed the National Day of Reconciliation.
Most Afrikaners, who dominated the racist minority rule which ended in 1994, have now embraced the end of discrimination. But a minority of the Dutch-descended group remains harshly critical.
The event at the Afrikaner monument attracted many white critics who condemned corruption and expressed the fear the Black majority might eventually turn on them. They saw Mandela, who died Dec. 5, as a guarantor of moderate and non-discriminatory policies.
“If the new Black leaders were to act like him, would build the society that he envisioned, it would all be good,” said Elizabeth Neethling, a 65-year-old mother of five from Pretoria.
“Nelson Mandela was a good person but nowadays they are all corrupt. I don’t see any future here for my children and grandchildren. It’s hard for them to find work. Now the Black people are dominant and doing apartheid to us,” she said.
Neethling was among the Afrikaners gathered on the southern edge of Pretoria to celebrate the anniversary of the 1838 victory carried by some 500 of their forefathers who repeled an attack by over 10,000 Zulus. The Afrikaners won thanks to their firearms, leaving more than 3,000 Zulus dead.
South Africa is a nation of 53 million people, including about 9 percent white citizens, or 4.6 million, according to the government.
The mood was much more festive among the predominantly Black crowd of several thousand who came to see the unveiling of the Mandela statue.
“He is embracing the whole nation,” said President Jacob Zuma of the statue showing Mandela with open arms. “He is advancing to the nation to say let us come together, let us unite.”
But the message of unity was lost on many Afrikaners gathered on another hilltop just a few kilometers (miles) away.
“These people will demolish everything that has been established here,” said Anton Lubbe.
“We have our western culture, our values, but they are different. What South Africa was is being abused,” the 80-year-old former professor in veterinary science from Pretoria said.
“If there were more Madibas it would be different,” he said, using Mandela’s clan name.
Follow Juergen Baetz on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/jbaetz