South Africa: 16 December – a Day to Learn From the Past

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).

bloodriver

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.

This year's theme is Social Cohesion, Reconciliation and National Unity in the 20 Years of Democracy.

The national event for 2014 will take place at the Ncome Museum in the uMzinyathi District Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal. President Jacob Zuma will deliver a key note address at the event.

Source: SA government

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