What does the Day of Reconciliation mean? This is a South African public holiday that the country celebrates every year on the 16th of December. It marks an integral part of the country's history, especially the reconciliation between South Africa’s black and white communities. Read on to know the most important facts about the day of reconciliation.
Why is it called the Day of Reconciliation?
The day on which it falls is important to the country for two reasons. First, the Battle of Blood River, pitting the Zulus against the Voortrekkers, took place on December 16, 1838. Secondly, ANC established its military wing – Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – on December 16th, 1961.
It was not until 1995 that the country first celebrated the Day of Reconciliation. In the past, the celebration mostly revolved around the victory by the Voortrekkers over the Zulus as mentioned above. In fact, for a long time, it was celebrated as the “Day of Vow” or “Dingane’s Day.” However, black South Africans probably hesitated to join in the celebration considering that the gunpowder of an army of 470 Voortrekkers decimated over 10,000 Zulus in 1838.
More than 100 years later, black South Africans had a reason for setting aside December 16th for celebrating something close to their hearts. On December 16th, 1961, the country’s most dominant party, the African National Congress (ANC), formed its military wing.
The struggle for freedom from the yolk of apartheid would take on a different dimension following Umkhonto we Sizwe’s formation. It eventually culminated in Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the end of apartheid in 1995, thus signaling the birth of Day of Reconciliation.
Importance of reconciliation day
As previously indicated, the reconciliation occasion is vital to South Africans for many reasons. It marks different historical events that conspired to make the country what it is today. For years, South Africa had been a hotbed of intense animosity pitting the two primary races – blacks and whites – against each other.
Apartheid was the theme or issue around which the two communities waged war. For this reason, the country felt justified in setting aside December 16th every year for celebrating the end of its dark past.
Changes that were made to the Day of Reconciliation
Everywhere in South Africa, the importance of the reconciliation day is clear for all to see. Over the years, the country’s leadership has changed the day’s name. First, it was known as Dingane’s Day. Dingane was the king of the Zulu when the 470 Voortrekkers decimated them using guns and ammunition.
The Voortrekkers named it after Dingane in 1910, which marked the first time it was declared a public holiday. That name would remain intact until 1952 when the National Party changed it to Day of the Covenant.
In 1980, the government opted to change its name once again to Day of the Vow. In that year, it was restored as a religious holiday. Why was this important? Well, in 1838, the Voortrekkers made a vow that they would not only build a church but also observe the day they defeated the Zulus as a religious holiday. In the years that followed, that original intention disappeared. For this reason, it is easy to understand why the holiday would return to its religious roots.
Before the changes that were made to the Day of Reconciliation in 1980, South Africans celebrated it in several ways. For the most part, they marked it with numerous sporting events, theater performances, pomp, color, and countless fun activities. After 1980, all these events and concerts were declared illegal. Going forward, South Africans would be celebrating the occasion with religious activities only.
In 1995, just a few months after South Africans went to the polls and elected Nelson Mandela as their president, it became known as the Day of Reconciliation. President Mandela, in conjunction with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chose this day for the special meaning it represented to both Afrikaners and Africans.
To reiterate, Afrikaners had celebrated it for their victory over the Zulus in 1838. Black South Africans for their part, marked it for the founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
For years, apartheid had damaged the country. The whites, who were in the minority, were in power. They exercised that power and authority over South Africans in inhumane ways through apartheid. It had a psychological effect on South Africans.
This form of racial segregation affected the whole country socially, morally, and politically. Its effects were felt powerfully on the country’s educational system too. To date, the results still reverberate across the country, which is yet to heal completely from decades of apartheid.
Through it, South Africans hoped that they would find healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation from what had been a dark past. Actually, all the activities banned in 1980 were restored. Since then, South Africa celebrates it religiously and through cultural parades as well as festivities.
When is the day of reconciliation observed?
This country observes this public holiday every year on December 16th. What is more, a theme is chosen for each year’s celebrations. For example, the 2013 theme was “Nation Building, Social Cohesion, and Reconciliation.”
In 2014, the theme was “Social Cohesion, Reconciliation, and National Unity in the 20 Years of Democracy.” The chosen theme never deviates too much from the holiday’s primary goal of celebrating the country’s reconciliation.
In 1995, the country’s new political leadership could have opted to scrap the public holiday. However, it voted against that. Instead, the new crop of leaders decided to retain the original date – December 16th – but added a further purpose or goal.
In it, President Mandela’s team hoped the country would use this occasion to foster reconciliation and unity within the whole nation. They redefined its purpose in 1994 but allowed South Africans to celebrate it for the first time in 1995.
Since then, the holiday has become a powerful tool in:
a) Healing the wounds left behind by apartheid
b) Celebrating minority cultural groups around the country
c) Promoting non-sexism
Day of Reconciliation Facts
1) The term for Day of Reconciliation in Afrikaans is “Dag van Versoening.”
2) It was first celebrated as it is now in 1995, which was one year after South Africa’s first democratic elections.
3) It seeks to reconcile the country from its dark, divided past and embrace the need for enhancing national unity as well as reconciliation within a new political order.
- “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, then there are also roads that lead to those goals”,- Nelson Mandela on 16 December 1995.
- “We choose reconciliation and nation-building instead of hatred and revenge”, -Nelson Mandela.
- “More than 75% South Africans believe that it is desirable to create a united country”, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
What is meant by Day of Reconciliation?
In any 16th of December Day of Reconciliation picture that you see, it is clear that South Africans take this day seriously. They set it aside to remember the dark past that informs their history while hoping for a new future that is free of recriminations.
The whole country wishes that they can exist together as members who belong to one nation. But it is evident that the holiday means a lot to a country that has yet to recover from the effects of racial segregation fully. However, the country’s determination to forge ahead through this holiday is admirable.