- Education and Science»
- History & Archaeology
Day of Reconciliation – 16 December – South Africa
Nelson Mandela & FW De Klerk - 1994
Day of the Vow
December 16 is a public holiday in South Africa - The Day of Reconciliation.
Until Apartheid was demolished in 1994, this day was known as ‘Dingaans Day’, or ‘Day of the Vow’ or ‘Day of the Covenant’ - a religious holiday to commemorate a battle that had occurred on 6 December 1838 between 470 white Afrikaners (Voortrekkers) and about 10,000 to 15,000 Zulus. (Some sources allege 21,000 Zulus!) Relatively safe behind their wagons, armed with rifles, and with a river between them and the storming Zulus, the Afrikaners won this battle without any fatalities, while about 3,000 Zulus were killed.
* The Zulu people are the largest of the etnic groups in South Africa. Dingane was the brother and successor of Shaka. Their weapons of the time were short spears called assegais.
As sincere and devoted Christians, the Afrikaners believed that God has given them the strength to win this battle, therefore they vowed to regard the day 'forever' as a Sunday, traditionally observed as a day of rest and worship.
When the ANC came into power in 1994, they did not demolish this day that holds only bad memories for them. They introduced it as a day to celebrate reconciliation of all races in the country.
The Battle of Blood River
The Voortrekkers (Pioneers) were the culmination of discontented white Afrikaner farmers, (Boers), who had lived on farms on the border of the British-ruled Cape Colony between 1779 to 1879. These Afrikaners were the descendants of European migrants who saw the Cape of Good Hope as an escape from poverty, war and oppression in Europe since 1652.
When these farmers eventually had enough of British Colonialism and its unsuccessful and even careless efforts to protect them against hostile Xhosa-tribes, they decided to cross the Orange River to find a place where they could live in peace and harmony. Numerous preliminary scout patrols had foreseen only peaceful negotiations involving the purchasing of land and non of the sanguinary battles that would eventually in the 20th century end up in the establishment of the unjust regime, Apartheid.
Once on the other side of the Orange River the typical human tendency to divide instead of staying united sent one group straight to the north, the other group to the East and other groups to wherever they thought they would find the peace and prosperity they were yearning for.
The group that went east had a series of mountains to overcome with permission of the then friendly Basothu (people of Sotho) before they finally found themselves in the kingdom of yet another hostile African nation - The amaZulu (people of Zulu), who was prior to the Groot Trek reigned by King Shaka KaSenzangakhona. At the time the Voortrekkers’ met the amaZulu, Shaka's half-brother, Dingane KaSenzangakhona, was their king.
After the leader of one of the Voortrekker groups, Piet Retief, as well as his son and co-negotiators - were massacred during a meeting that was arranged with King Dingaan to trade cattle for land (February 6, 1838), the Voortrekkers realized that their lives were in danger,
The Battle of Blood River was one of many battles during this time, but distinguished by the Afrikaners as a sign that God was truly on their side by giving them - a group of only 450 - a victory over 10,000-plus Zulus. Today we take their victory for granted: 450 guns against 10,000 spears.
Nevertheless, the Voortrekker leader, Andries Pretorius, had made prior to the battle a vow to God: If they win the battle, they and their offspring will ‘forever’ commemorate the day as a Sabbath.
And this is the reason why a small contingent of white South Africans refuse to accept any changes God - or rather their idea of God - has disposed in South Africa while man has proposed.
The Voortrekker Monument
The construction of a majestic monument started on July 13, 1937 to be finally inaugurated on December 16, 1949 as a symbol of gratefulness because God had protected a group of 450 Voortrekkers - while so many did not survive and some had even died from the most dreaded decease, Yellow-Fever, which is until today still a dangerous threat.
This monument was also a prominent symbol of Apartheid, but thanks to the reconciliation policy enforced by Nelson Mandela - the first black president of a democratic South Africa - the monument has been declared a National Heritage site on July 8, 2011. (Nelson Mandela was the country's president from 1994 to 1999; his reconciliation policy has yet not been rejected by the ANC, the ruling party since 1994.)
Today the people of Mzantzi (the Xhosa word for South Africa) still have the privilege to admire and utilize the monument inter alia as a tourist attraction and an ideal venue for classical music and choral performances. With its fantastic acoustics, the Hall of Heroes can accommodate up to 600 people and the lower level, the Cenotaph Hall, up to 900. Read more about the function of this imposing monument at www.voortrekker_monument/
Christians may still regard it as a symbol of God's power to dispose while mankind proposes and even practise their idea of justice and injustice for many years.
In 1993 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Nelson Mandela, the first president of the New South Africa, and Frederik Willem de Klerk, the last president of the Old South Africa with its apartheid regime. These two presidents laid the foundation for a democratic South Africa and were the first politicians demonstrating a spirit of reconciliation that led to the official changing of Dingaan’s Day to Day of Reconciliation.
© Martie Coetser (December 2011)
© 2011 Martie Coetser