Day of Reconciliation: December 16
Day of Reconciliation is a public holiday in South Africa.
December 16 in South Africa used to have a different significance before 1994, coming into effect as Reconciliation Day after the end of apartheid. Today, Reconciliation Day is a day of reconciliation among South Africans, fostering unity between racial groups and focusing on forgiving others for conflicts of the country’s past.
History of Day of Reconciliation in South Africa
December 16 was first celebrated as the Day of the Vow, the day in 1838 when Voortrekkers fought Zulu warriors near the Ncome River and won what become known as the Battle of the Blood River. The victory was considered a sign of divine favor for their endeavors and was celebrated annually. Later, in 1961, December 16 was the chosen date for ANC activists to start a series of bomb attacks on government buildings in an attempt to overthrow the existing regime. Even though racial segregation had started with the British and Dutch colonization of South Africa, only with the Boers republics did segregation became legalized and widespread from 1948. It had the effect of dividing the society in three classes of racial stratification.
Later the system became known as apartheid, meaning “separateness” in Afrikaans. On May 31, 1961 after a whites-only referendum, South Africa became a republic and left the British Commonwealth of Nations. Apartheid continued to exist and was supported by the government. In 1990, after opposition from within South Africa and the international community, the government, led by Frederik Willem de Klerk, gave in to negotiations to dismantle the regime and held democratic elections in 1994. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress won. December 6 was again chosen as a date for reconciliation between the past and present South Africa and a sign of hope and national unity among the many racial groups that shared South Africa.
South Africa’s Day of Reconciliation Traditions, Customs and Activities
Freedom Park in Pretoria, capital city of South Africa, is the epicenter for South African government’s official celebrations of Reconciliation Day. Besides political speeches and a military parade, there are exhibitions of South Africa’s diverse cultural indigenous dances, music, traditional costumes, and arts and crafts. The day symbolizes peace, unity, and reconciliation and celebrates difference, tolerance, and diversity as keys for South Africa’s future.