We would like to wish all South Africans a happy, blessed, and most importantly safe and united Day of Reconciliation.
When is the Day of Reconciliation?
The Day of Reconciliation is a public holiday in South Africa held annually on December 16th.
If December 16th falls on a Sunday, a public holiday will be observed on the following Monday.
The intention is to celebrate the end of apartheid and foster reconciliation between different racial groups. The holiday came into effect in 1994 after the end of apartheid.
History of the Day of Reconciliation
Under the rule of apartheid, December 16th was commemorated as the Day of the Vow, also known as the Day of the Covenant or Dingaan Day.
The Day of the Vow commemorates the Afrikaner victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River in 1838.
In the first part of the 19th century, many Afrikaner farmers left the Eastern Cape and moved inland. One group of farmers was the Voortrekkers, Afrikaners who were protesting against British colonialism and seeking their own independent republic on what they saw as empty land.
However, the land was not empty and clashes with the indigenous people were inevitable. In 1837 the Voortrekker leaders entered into negotiations for land with Dingane, the Zulu king.
In terms of the negotiations, Dingane promised the Voortrekkers land on the condition that they return cattle to him stolen by Sekonyela (the Tlokwa chief). Retief did and apparently, he and Dingane signed a treaty on February 6th 1838. During the ceremony Dingane had Retief and his entourage murdered. In ensuing battles between Zulus and Voortrekkers over the next few months numerous lives were lost on both sides. On December 16th 1838 about 10,000 troops under the command of Dambuza (Nzobo) and Nhlela attacked the Voortrekkers, but the 470 Voortrekkers, with the advantage of gunpowder, warded them off. Only three Voortrekkers were wounded, but more than 3,000 Zulus were killed during the battle.
Before the battle, the Voortrekkers took a vow before God that they would build a church and that they and their descendants would observe the day as a day of thanksgiving should they be granted victory.
December 16th is also the founding date of Umkhonto We Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, co-founded by Nelson Mandela in 1961 in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre.
With the advent of democracy in South Africa, December 16th retained its status as a public holiday and was first celebrated as the Day of Reconciliation in 1995.
According to a statement issued by the government, Reconciliation Day: “aims to promote national unity, social cohesion, constitutional democracy, human rights, and equality by highlighting and advancing the constitutional values and principles that bind together all South Africans.”
Falling close to Christmas, Reconciliation Day is often seen as the ‘official’ start of the festive season.
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