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Day of Reconciliation

National and public holidays in South Africa National Holiday in South Africa

South Africa

When is the Day of Reconciliation?

The Day of Reconciliation is a public holiday in South Africa, held annually on 16 December.

The intention is to foster reconciliation between different racial groups. The holiday came into effect in 1994 after the end of Apartheid.

History of the holiday

Under the rule of apartheid, 16 December was commemorated as the Day of the Vow, also known as Day of the Covenant or Dingaan Day.

The Day of the Vow was a holiday commemorating the Afrikaner victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River in 1838.

In 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 where protesting against British colonialism and seeking their own independent republics on what they saw was empty land.

But 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 condition they returned cattle to him stolen by Sekonyela (the Tlokwa chief). This Retief did and apparently he and Dingane signed a treaty on 6 February 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 16 December 1838 about 10,000 troops under the command of Dambuza (Nzobo) and Nhlela attacked the Voortrekkers, but the 470 Voortrekkers, with the advantage of gun powder, 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.

With the advent of democracy in South Africa, 16 December retained its status as a public holiday, though with the purpose of fostering reconciliation and national unity.


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