Day of Reconciliation

Chris Hani inspects MK soldiers at a rally held at Langa Stadium, Cape Town,1991

Chris Hani inspects MK soldiers at a rally held at Langa Stadium, Cape Town, 1991

Next Friday, on the 16th December, South Africa celebrates the Day of Reconciliation. But while the public holiday in its current form has only been in existence since 1995, the 16th December has been commemorated in South Africa since 1910, when it was originally referred to as Dingaan’s Day. It was on this day that 470 Voortrekkers, having the advantage of gunpowder, defeated the 10 000 strong Zulu army at the Battle of Blood River. Prior to the change in government in 1994, the 16th December was also known as the Day of the Covenant or the Day of the Vow, referring to the belief that the Voortrekker victory over the Zulus was ordained by God. The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria was built in recognition of this day.

The 16th December is also an important date in the history of the ANC. It was on this day in 1961 that the armed wing of the ANC was formed with the establishment of Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation). MK, as it came to be known, was a response to the Sharpeville massacre, and was evidence of the realisation that the party could no longer limit itself to non-violent protest.

Their fist act of sabotage as MK was targeted against government buildings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban – against institutions viewed by the ANC as apartheid structures. In Durban it was the building that now houses the KwaMuhle Museum that was bombed, as it served as the headquarters for the Department of Native Affairs, and was where Black South Africans queued for their passes (dompas) which gave or denied them the right to seek employment in the city. If found in the city without their dompas they would be jailed.

The KwaMuhle Museum, now home to The Liberation Heritage Route (amongst other things), recognises the dark history of the space it occupies through a permanent exhibition of documents and video footage relating to the now infamous ‘Durban System’.

Images courtesy of SA History Online and South African History Archive


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