According to the South African Government (2021), the Day of Reconciliation is a public holiday in South Africa which is celebrated annually on 16 December. This public holiday has changed names over decades.
It was once called ‘Day of the Vow’, the ‘Day of the Covenant’ and was once called ‘Dingane’s Day. This day was originally commemorating the Great Trek, which was the migration of the Afrikaners from the Cape Colony where they first settled in 1652 to the interior of South Africa, which sparked conflict with indigenous people.
It was also celebrating the Afrikaner victory over the Zulus in the Battle of Blood River in 1838. This day was declared a public holiday in 1910, and its name changed in 1952 to the Day of the Covenant, emphasising the alleged covenant that the Afrikaners, also known as the Voortrekkers made with God before the Battle with the Zulus, changing again in 1980 to the Day of the Vow due to the allegation that the Afrikaners had made a vow to God that if they succeeded in defeating thousands of Zulu warriors in the Battle of Blood River of 1838, they were going to build a church where they and their descendants would observe this day as a day of thanksgiving and use it for religious observation.
Sporting events together with theatre performances were banned in order to focus on the religious essence of this day. This day had an added significance in 1961, when the military wing of the African National Congress, known as Umkhonto Wesizwe chose it to form an armed conflict against the apartheid government.
In 1995, a year after South Africa held her first democratic elections, this public holiday was officially renamed the Day of Reconciliation to foster national unity, social cohesion, equality and reconciliation between the diverse population groups that co-exist in South Africa (Mayipase, 2021). 27 years into democracy, South Africa has not succeeded in closing the gap between the rich and the poor.
The country’s wealth is still concentrated in the hands of the few and those, who during the onset of democracy, were classified in the category of the previously disadvantaged, in reality, they are still disadvantaged. The process of reconciliation should start with redressing the inequalities of the past, root out systematic and structured forms of discrimination that are deeply entrenched in social ills such as racism, tribalism, factionalism, Gender Based Violence, and others.
The first step to reconciliation and national unity would be equal access to land and other economic resources, contextualizing tourism around the Black people’s culture and heritage for better understanding of this sector and to ensure inclusive tourism growth. Reconciliation starts in the mind and it should not be one-sided, but all South Africans should make a concerted effort to ensure equality in resource allocation, thereby achieving economic empowerment and emancipation, leading to sustainable livelihoods for all, irrespective of race, colour and social class.
Department of Cultural and Heritage Tourism,
University of KwaZulu-Natal,
College of Humanities Durban, South Africa
Email: [email protected]