What is it about December 16?

In South Africa, nothing is over till December 16.

We all keep doing what we do, and then suddenly, on that day, everything seems to come to a standstill. Summer is here, and those who can, take a break.

December 16 is a public holiday, with layers and layers of meaning. Mostly, we don’t think about all those layers of significance, but they are still there.

These days it’s called the Day of Reconciliation. Before the democratic era, it was called the Day of the Vow, celebrated in commemoration of the Voortrekker victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838.

If I remember the apartheid-era history drummed into me in primary school correctly, the vow was this: if God granted the Voortrekkers victory over the Zulus, they (the Afrikaners) would forever keep the day as a sabbath.

When I was growing up, people called it Dingaan’s day, after Dingane, the Zulu chief who led the Voortrekkers.

(Prosaically, it was also, by long tradition, the start of the builders’ holiday, the three-week break that everyone in the building industry took.)

The story of that battle in 1838 is a uniquely South African one, subject to argument and fractiousness. The Wikipedia entry about the Day of the Vow has this to say :

Up to the 1970s the received version of events was seldom questioned, but since then scholars have questioned almost every aspect. They debate whether a vow was even taken and, if so, what its wording was.

The day also marks the founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe by the African National Congress (ANC). And every five years, the ANC has its national elective conference, starting on December 16. 2022 is one of those years.

A line in the sand

So the Day of Reconciliation carries our national psyche: all our history, all the blood, all the fighting. We argue our way through the first two weeks of December and then we pause and remember, even if we don’t do any reconciling.

For people who work in news in this country, December falls neatly into two halves: frantic deadlines and non-stop events, followed abruptly by the “silly season” in which nothing seems to happen at all.

I for one am always grateful when December 16 rolls around. For me, it means it’s time to wind down, to think about the past year and to start planning for the new one.

I hope that all my readers will be able to take a break too – and I wish everyone a festive season in which bodies and souls are refreshed and restored.

Main picture: Pineapple Supply Co., Unsplash

* This is my last post for 2022. I’ll be back at my desk on January 16, planning to have my first post live on January 19.

The stuff that’s always at the bottom of blog posts….

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media).

I write a post every week – sometimes about books and reading, sometimes journalism, sometimes editing or writing. And sometimes opinions. I like to think they’re helpful, or entertaining, or both. If you’d like a simple weekly notification, via email, when a post is published, subscribe here.

Comments are closed.