South Africa’s ongoing quest for nation building can only benefit if the nation, particularly the youth, takes lessons from its rich and complex history, says Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

South Africa this year marks the 350th anniversary of the Castle of Good Hope.

Mapisa-Nqakula on Friday unveiled the statues of indigenous warrior Kings – their majesties King Cetshwayo kaSenzangakhona of AmaZulu, King Langalibalele kaMthimkulu of AmaHlubi, King Sekhukhune of BaPedi and Gorochougua clan freedom fighter and Khoe (Khoisan) leader Doman at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town.

The Kings are being honoured for their historic roles at different periods after they were captured and incarcerated at the castle after having led various wars of resistance against the land and cattle dispossessions that ensued following the arrival of Dutch and later British settlers in South Africa.

The Minister said the history of the colonial monument should be taught to young people for nation building and unity.

Reading a speech on behalf of President Jacob Zuma, who could not attend the event due to other official pressing engagements, Mapisa-Nqakula said teaching colonial history to children, as “painful and hurtful as it is”, will help mould a better, diverse future for the country.

“The 350th commemoration offers us a once in a lifetime opportunity to rewrite our colonial history in a manner that is inclusive, and enhance healing and nation building.

“It must start with primary school children – all of whom must be taught about the history of the castle One of the strong pillars on which the new democracy in South Africa is built is national reconciliation.

“While recognising the many horrors associated with the castle, its place in the history of the country cannot be denied,” she said.

The castle, which turned 350 years in January this year, was built on 2 January 1666.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the colonial monument was more than just a military fortress. Dutch settlers and later the British used the Cape peninsula as a springboard to conquer the inland. The castle became the political, judicial, legislative, penal and social nerve centre of the fledgling colonial administration.

It was also the residence of the Governor from 1679 until the British took control of the castle in 1795. It served as military headquarters for the British until it was handed over to the government of the Union of South Africa in 1917.

With its rich history, the Minister said government has resolved to transform the castle from what it used to stand for then, to a place of nation building and reconciliation now and in future.

“This bastion of colonialism must, through a balanced interpretation of history, become a centre of healing and learning.

“It is of critical importance that young South Africans study the true history of the castle and from lessons learnt, be part of efforts to achieve the overarching objective to heal and reconcile this nation.

“A study of the history of the castle, which is so interwoven with that of events leading to the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and beyond, will also enrich scholarship in institutions of higher learning,” she said.

South Africa’s history of war and conflict, including that of King warriors and generals, lays the basis that informs our lessons and experiences of the past as a nation as well as helping the nation to forge a common identity, a common future and destiny.