Saturday, December 16th, is the Day of Reconciliation in South Africa. The occasion marks efforts to unite South Africans of different cultures, traditions and interests. However, before being celebrated as a day of reconciliation, December 16th had a more somber history.
From Johannesburg, VOA reporter Delia says, “The 16th of December has been a holiday in South Africa for many years. In fact, since the National Party came to government in 1948. They made it a holiday to commemorate the Battle of Blood River in Natal (in 1838), which had followed the earlier slaying by the Zulu Chief Dingane of a Boer leader called Piet Retief and some of his lieutenants. And after that, the Boer forces set up an encampment next to a river and the Zulu forces attacked the Boer forces there and were defeated.”
Robertson says the Boers had prayed for victory and promised to commemorate the day if they were victorious, which they were. The National Party made the day a national holiday in 1948.
But Robertson says December 16th is also an important date for Black South Africans. “It’s the anniversary of the founding of the military wing of the African National Congress in 1961, called Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation. It was also the day on which the Congress of the People was held, at which the Freedom Charter was adopted.”
Following democratic elections in 1994, the new government decided to retain the day as a holiday, and Robertson says, “To put the past behind as it were. They gave it a new meaning and a new name: the day of reconciliation.”