Public Holiday – Day of Reconciliation – 16 December
Every nation on Earth has experienced at least some form of internal struggle throughout its history. Whether this presents itself in the form of racial intolerance, religious conflicts or outright civil war, the results are always the same – either the country continues to devolve into chaos, or the hostile groups come together and attempt to live in harmony. What is the Day of Reconciliation? Public Holiday – Day of Reconciliation – 16 December.
The Day of Reconciliation is a public holiday in South Africa that is intended to celebrate and foster a sense of unity and racial harmony throughout the country. The 16th of December was specifically chosen as it marks important occasions for both the Afrikaans and African peoples. It is hoped that by remembering both of these events together alongside a theme of reconciliation, the various races and cultures of South Africa will be able to come together with a shared goal of forgiveness and nation-building.
Of course, feelings of peace and forgiveness do not flourish overnight and much work has to be done to fix the tensions felt throughout the nation. Part of this work involves the celebration and observance of key moments in the past and a commitment to a peaceful future.
In South Africa, we call this celebration, the Day of Reconciliation.
When is the Day of Reconciliation? Public Holiday – Day of Reconciliation – 16 December
The Day of Reconciliation is celebrated annually on the 16th of December. If the date falls on a Sunday, the holiday is celebrated on the following Monday. It should be noted, however, that while the 16th is the official Day of Reconciliation, the entire month of December is also recognised as Reconciliation Month. Each month is celebrated with a different theme in mind such as last year’s focus on racism, gender-based violence and other inequalities.
During this month, various events and activities are held around the country which include things like seminars and joint prayers, additionally, citizens are encouraged to use the time to reflect on, and confront, their preconceived ideas with regard to race and racism.
What are the Origins of the Day of Reconciliation? Public Holiday – Day of Reconciliation – 16 December
As mentioned, the Day of Reconciliation sprung from the observance of two separate historical events, the first event was a deeply important celebration for the Afrikaans people –
The Day of the Vow –
Following the murder of Piet Retief and his entourage alongside the subsequent Weenen Massacre, during which around 532 people were killed, the Voortrekkers amassed a small force in preparation for war against the Zulus who were led by King Dingane. These hostilities culminated in the Battle of Blood River during which the Voortrekker group of around 664 men (464 Voortrekkers and 200 servants) faced off against a Zulu army of between 15 000 – 30 000 men. The battle took place on the 16th of December 1838.
In the days leading up to the battle, the Voortrekkers made a vow to God, now known as the Covenant Vow. They promised that, if they could win the battle, they would build a church in honour of God and would observe the day as a holy Sabbath.
Incredibly, the Voortrekkers with their guns and cannons were able to win the day with only 3 members of their group being injured. By contrast, the Zulu army suffered around 3000 casualties.
True to their word, the Voortrekkers built the Church of the Vow and the day was celebrated to varying extents under names such as The Day of the Vow or Dingane’s Day. It was officially recognised as an annual public holiday in 1910.
Resistance Movements –
The 16th of December was also a day of historical importance celebrated by the African community for entirely different reasons. Firstly, in 1910, protests against racial discrimination took place on the 16th of December and the date soon became synonymous with further demonstrations. Years later, on the 16th of December 1961, Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) the military wing of the ANC was created, famously being co-founded by Nelson Mandela.
Until this time, the resistance to the Apartheid government has been largely passive, however, following the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which the police force opened fire on a crowd of people killing 69 of them and injuring 180 others, these tactics were no longer seen as viable and the group instead opted for a campaign of sabotage which later included a series of bombings.
The group was soon classified as a terrorist organisation by the South African government and in 1963 saw the arrest of its leaders. In 1990, the group ceased such attacks as the country began to move toward its current democratic setting. Prior to the establishment of the Day of Reconciliation, many members of the African community viewed the 16th of December as a symbol of struggle against the predations of an oppressive government.
The Day of Reconciliation –
Instead of dedicating the 16th to just one of these events, the post-Apartheid government decided that the holiday should instead be used to honour the accomplishments of both groups simultaneously under an overarching theme of national unity and reconciliation. It was hoped that this concession would encourage the growth of shared national identity while helping to heal the damage caused by Apartheid.
On the 16th of December 1995, the Day of Reconciliation was celebrated as a public holiday for the first time and has become a beloved moment of commemoration ever since. Thanks to its placement at the tail end of the year, the holiday is usually viewed as the beginning of the festive season.
In Conclusion – What is Reconciliation Day and Why do we celebrate it?
Reconciliation Day is a public holiday in South Africa that serves a dual purpose. On one hand, the date has special historical significance for both the African and Afrikaans peoples and, as such, is used to celebrate and honour these moments in time. Additionally, the day is used to foster an environment of racial harmony and unity while encouraging the concept of a shared national identity.
The holiday takes place annually on the 16th of December and is often viewed as the start of the festive season. In the event that the 16th falls on a Sunday, the public holiday is observed on the following Monday. Reconciliation Day events and activities take place around the country and include things like keynote speeches, seminars and joint prayers.
Although the 16th is the official Day of Reconciliation, the entire month of December is known as the month of Reconciliation and similar events continue throughout this time. Each Reconciliation month is held under a different theme, such as gender-based violence or racial inequality, which influences the focus of the celebrations.
The 16th of December was initially seen as noteworthy by the Afrikaans due to the events surrounding the Battle of Bloodriver, which was preceded by various conflicts between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus including the murder of Piet Retief and his followers and the Weneen Massacre. The Voortrekkers mustered a small force to face the Zulus and vowed to God that, if they were victorious, they would build a church to honour Him and keep the day as a holy Sabbath.
The Voortrekkers were vastly outnumbered during the battle but were still able to win the day. Afterwards, they built the Church of the Vow and intermittently honoured the day to varying degrees. In 1910 the day was officially recognised as a public holiday called Dingane’s Day before being renamed The Day of the Vow.
For the African community, the 16th was first remembered as significant due to the anti-discrimination protests that took place in 1910. More demonstrations occurred on the same day in later years which caused the date to become more and more important. Eventually, in 1961, the military wing of the ANC named, Umkhonto We Sizwe, was founded on the 16th in an attempt to further combat the Apartheid regime. At first, many movements were largely passive in their resistance but, following the Sharpeville Massacre, such resistance was no longer seen as effective and this military wing began campaigns of sabotage and bombings.
After the end of Apartheid, the South African government decided that the 16th would become a public holiday used to celebrate both events while simultaneously encouraging an idea of a shared national identity and fostering an environment of reconciliation.
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