National Reconciliation Day is celebrated annually on 16 December in South Africa. The day is deliberately singled out to serve as a symbolic moment to foster reconciliation after the complicated and painful history that it had during the colonial and apartheid era. The National Heritage Council of South Africa (NHC) is interested in whether we are making the desired progress in forging the reconciliation that we intend to inculcate in the nation.
“We need to re-examine the reconciliation agenda in South Africa. The persistent public racial outbursts and rampant hate speech tendencies in our communities is a sign of deep rifts. I however do not think that these are irreconcilable. It is up to the people to find a space for healing so that the nation is reconciled,” says Adv. Sonwabile Mancotywa the CEO of the NHC.
The Council believes that culture and heritage is at the centre of nation building and national unity. The NHC is busy with a survey that seeks to find out how South Africans relate to their heritage and that of their fellow citizens. This study will be made public in 2019 with a campaign to educate South Africans about the importance of heritage.
The deep societal divisions caused by the history surrounding this day is one of the impacts of colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. During the earlier part of the 19th century, many Afrikaner farmers left the Eastern Cape and moved inland. Among them were the Voortrekkers, a group of Afrikaners protesting British colonialism and seeking independent republics on empty land.
On 16 December 1838, 10 000 Dingane’s troops under the command of Dambuza and Nhlela attacked the Voortrekkers, but the 470 Voortrekkers, with the advantage of gun powder, warded them off. More than 3 000 Zulus were killed during the battle. Many may ask are we celebrating a war? Not anymore. In apartheid South Africa, 16 December was known as the ‘Day of the Vow’, but with the advent of democracy this date has come to be known as the ‘Day of Reconciliation’, so as to foster reconciliation and the spirit of national unity.
“Despite this sad history, South Africans were positive to adopt the 16 December as the Reconciliation Day to bring harmony and a peaceful progressive future for the nation. I have confidence that if we embrace our diverse cultures, heritage and seek to understand each other better, even the other associated challenges such as the land question will be less complicated to resolve,” adds Mancotywa.
The Umkhonto Wesizwe started to celebrate 16 December in 1979 as Heroes Day in honour of those soldiers who have fallen in the battles against oppression.