As a nation, there is more that unifies us than that which divides us. A history of reconciliation remembered…

The history of the annual holiday of reconciliation celebrated on 16 December in South Africa dates back to the year 1995 – at the end of apartheid. The day was made as an effort to reconcile a nation, which had been cracked from the foundation up by apartheid and colonialism.

However, before 1994, 16 December was also a public holiday – but for a very different reason.

It was the day that the Afrikaners celebrated their victory over the Zulus in an 1864 battle called the Battle of Blood River. In this, more than 3000 Zulu soldiers were killed. The fighting lasted for hours. Zulu soldiers, armed with spears, fought against Afrikaners fighting in laager formation and armed with guns. This marked the end of the Zulu resistance to the Afrikaners who were taking control of KwaZulu-Natal land.

During apartheid times, the public holiday was known as the ‘Day of the Vow’ as Afrikaners believed the victory had been given to them by God.

It was also a significant date for the struggle against racial discrimination and apartheid. Many protests were held on the day – even as early as 1910.

On 16 December 1961, the military wing of the ANC, uMkhonto we Sizwe was founded. This was in response to the apartheid government’s violent crackdown on peaceful resistance that started at the massacre at Sharpeville. Here unarmed people, who were protesting against the pass laws, were shot by the apartheid police, and 69 people were killed. This led to protests all over the country, and it was Nelson Mandela, a leading figure of the ANC, who called for the establishment of uMkhonto we Sizwe – the military wing of the ANC.

It was perhaps appropriate that when South Africa became a democracy, the date of 16 December – previously commemoration of bloodshed and war – was transformed by President Nelson Mandela and his government of national unity to become a symbol for reconciliation and healing, and to serve as a reminder that there is more unifying us as a nation than dividing us.


Tell us: What are your thought on Day of Reconciliation