16 December: a day to learn from the past

South Africa’s public holiday known as the Day of Reconciliation acknowledges the significance of 16 December to both the Afrikaner and liberation struggle traditions. A day once steeped in blood, the public holiday now marks a time for reflection and recognition of the country’s rich cultural history.

Day of Reconciliation
To acknowledge the significance of 16 December to both the Afrikaner and liberation struggle traditions, the day was renamed the Day of Reconciliation. (Image: GCIS)

Brand South Africa reporter

In South Africa, 16 December is a day of great significance because of two important historical events that took place on that date.

In apartheid South Africa, 16 December was known as Day of the Vow. On 16 December 1838, when the Voortrekkers were preparing for their battle against the Zulus – known as the Battle of Blood River – they took a vow before God that they would build a church should they be granted victory. They promised that they, and their descendants, would observe the day as a day of thanksgiving.

Then, on 16 December 1961, the African National Congress formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

Commemoration

Before its formation, the ANC had largely approached the fight against apartheid through passive resistance, but after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, where peaceful protestors were indiscriminately shot by police, passive resistance was no longer seen as an effective approach in bringing apartheid to an end.

MK mostly performed acts of sabotage, but its effectiveness was hampered by organisational problems and the arrest of its leaders in 1963. Despite this, its formation has been commemorated every year since 1961.

With the advent of democracy in South Africa, 16 December has retained its status as a public holiday.

Significance

South Africa’s first non-racial and democratic government was tasked with promoting reconciliation and national unity.

To acknowledge the significance of 16 December to both the Afrikaner and liberation struggle traditions, the day was renamed the Day of Reconciliation.

It was celebrated as a public holiday for the time on 16 December 1995.

Reviewed June 2017

Source: South African government

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