"It (reconciliation) means that while we remember the pain of the past, we will not allow it to stop us from building a better tomorrow," Zuma said in his address to the nation during a ceremony held in KwaZulu-Natal province.
South Africa commemorates the National Reconciliation Day every year on December 16. On this day in 1838, the Zulus people, South Africa’s largest ethnic group, fought against the Afrikaners at Ncome River, which later was known as Battle of Blood River.
The battle resulted in the defeat of the Zulu people and became part of a series of colonial conquests, which led to the loss of land and the subsequent subjugation of the indigenous peoples throughout the continent.
"This was consolidated through apartheid legislation, decades later, which not only discriminated against indigenous African people but also dehumanized them and relegated them to lesser beings," Zuma said in his address.
The South African leader went on to say that due to the deep divisions of the past, December 16 before 1994 had a different meaning to different peoples, depending on their racial or ethnic background, or even their ideological orientation.
But under the leadership of late leader Nelson Mandela, he said, the government launched a new meaning for December 16, changing the day to the National Day of Reconciliation.
Zuma also said the idea of reconciliation was first demonstrated in the make-up of the South African government led by Mandela after the 1994 elections, which produced a government of national unity.
The aim, he said, was to have an inclusive cabinet that included leaders from the opposition parties.
"This was one of the most difficult undertakings in the history of humankind. We had no choice but to work together to bring peace, stability and a common future to the ancestral land," he said.
Twenty years later, South Africans can look back with great pride at the achievements scored, he added.
Zuma even quoted one of the messages of Mandela in 1995 during the first celebration of the National Reconciliation Day, where he said: "We, the people of South Africa, have made a decisive and irreversible break with the past. We have, in real life, declared our shared allegiance to justice, non-racialism and democracy; our yearning for a peaceful and harmonious nation of equals."