Just like every other country, South Africa has its own public holidays. Of course, the country still celebrates Christmas, New Year, Valentine's Day, and the like. But there are other occasions that, in one way or another, they take more seriously. There's Freedom Day, for instance, which is a pretty solemn holiday even though it's not religious. And Human Rights Day, a holiday that has the country grappling with its tumultuous history again and again. More than just a day off they get to enjoy, South Africa's holidays are steeped in their culture, heritage, and history. Learn more about them here.
Human Rights Day (March 21)
Ever March 21st, South Africa celebrates its national Human Rights Day. This is different from the United Nation
's own set “Human Rights Day” on December 10. And while South Africa still commemorates that too, the one on March hits a little closer to home. The country's own Human Rights Day commemorates the Sharpeville massacre which happened back on March 21, 1960. That day, the police shot at a 7,000-person protest in the town of Sharpeville in Transvaal. It had a total of 69 deaths and 180 injured overall, eventually becoming one of the darkest days in South African history.
Freedom Day (April 27)
Every country has its own national day. From Bastille Day
in France to the 4th of July
in the US, this holiday commemorates the founding and/or independence of these modern republics. Of course, there's also one among South Africa's holidays too. 'Freedom Day' is celebrated every April 27th. It commemorates the day that Nelson Mandela won the first-ever non-racial democratic elections back in 1994, becoming the first black president of the rainbow nation. Prior to this historic event, black South Africans weren't even allowed to vote under the Apartheid Regime. That day was the birth of modern-day South Africa and its diverse nation.
Youth Day (June 16)
Although different countries celebrate their own national Youth Days, the one in South Africa has a pretty grim past to it. Celebrated on June 16, it commemorates a protest that paved the way for the 1976 Soweto Uprising, itself a series of demonstrations led by black school children in the country. The first protest was a response to the Bantu Education Act, which essentially further segregated black and white South African students and immensely discriminated against the latter. It was the iconic picture of Hector Pieterson, a black schoolboy shot dead by the police, that lead the people to protest.
National Women's Day (August 9)
While the rest of the world celebrates Women's Day every March 8th, this “Rainbow Nation” has theirs on August 9. And just like the rest of South Africa's holidays, this one remembers an important event in their history. The National Women's Day in South Africa commemorates the 1956 march of around 20,000 women against the country's “Pass Laws” at the time. These laws essentially required black South Africans to always carry identification documents as a way to maintain segregation during the Apartheid regime. It was a breathtaking show of courage from perhaps the most marginalized members of South African society at the time.
Heritage Day (September 24)
They don't call South Africa the 'Rainbow Nation' for nothing! This country is a whole host of various cultures, ethnicities, and even tribes. And Heritage Day, which is celebrated every September 24th, remembers highlights that. As one of the more joyous public holidays in South Africa, various events are held all throughout the country. There are performances of traditional folk dances and music, speeches given by prominent members of society, and even parades held on the streets. Despite South Africa's tumultuous history, this holiday serves as a celebration of its modern-day diversity as well as a push for more inclusivity moving forward.
Day of Reconciliation (December 16)
Every December 16th, South Africa celebrates the 'Day of Reconciliation.' This holiday commemorates the black and white soldiers who died at the 1838 Battle of Blood River, one of the fiercest armed conflicts that ever transpired in the KwaZulu-Natal province. Even today, there's an arched monument that stands at the very site of the battle. This part of South African history is important for many reasons. One of which was that it paved the way for Prince Mpande's victory over King Dingane. The former eventually became king himself and established modern-day Zulu.
South Africa's holidays are unique and paint a picture a good picture of this nation's history and heritage. And just like in every other country, the people celebrate them in big and small ways. Not to mention getting a day off on these days too!