The Day of Reconciliation is a public holiday in South Africa that occurs every December 16th for the purpose of commemorating the end of Apartheid and promoting national unity.
The date was chosen to coincide with two previously existing significant dates: the Afrikaans’ Day of the Vow and the anniversary of the founding of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military branch of the African National Congress in its fight to end Apartheid.
The Day of the Vow is so named because, on this day back in 1838, Afrikaaners vowed to God to build a church and keep for a him a perpetual day of thanksgiving should He be pleased to defeat the Zulu army then surrounding them. At the Battle of Blood River, against all odds, the prayer was apparently answered, for against all odds, an Afrikaans force of 470 routed 10,000 Zulu warriors who assaulted them from every side. Tradition says that only three Afrikaans soldiers were wounded, while 3,000 Zulus were killed. On the 100th anniversary of the battle, the 1938 classic film They Built a Nation re-enacted the event on the silver screen.
As to the ANC and its struggle against Apartheid, on December 16th, 1961, after 69 protesters were killed by the gunshots of South African Police in the infamous Sharpeville Massacre, Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the ANC decided that armed resistance was necessary. They founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, meaning “Spear of the Nation,” which began attacks on government installations. The group was soon labeled a “terrorist organisation” by South Africa (and the U.S.) and blamed for “fomenting violent revolution.” After negotiations for a new, democratic South Africa began on August 1st, 1990, the armed group ceased its activities. In 1994, the first democratic elections without Apartheid were held in South Africa, and the ANC’s military wing was incorporated into the South African armed forces.
In 1995, the Day of Reconciliation was declared a national holiday in South Africa, and December 16th was chosen for its existing significance to those of both African and European descent. Today, the holiday also marks the beginning of the festive season at the end of the year, including Christmas, the Day of Goodwill, and New Year’s Day. During this period, many businesses close and workers spend time at home with their families or engage in various celebrations.