South Africa is a country that is rich in culture with great cultural diversity, the country probably has more public holidays than most countries in African region, this can be attributed partly to it’s divisive history, there are currently 12 public holidays in South Africa and anytime a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is usually made the public holiday as determined by the Public Holidays Act (Act No 36 of 1994) [PDF]. In the past, Public holidays in South Africa in the past used to reflect the beliefs of the ruling white minority government. However, the present government wants public holidays to be for all the people of South Africa irrespective of their gender, age, race or religious affiliations. This article highlights the 12 National Public holidays in South Africa
Public holidays in South Africa
Public holiday 2015
1 January 2015 – New Years Day
21 March 2015 – Human Rights Day
3 April 2015 – Good Friday
6 April 2015 – Family Day
27 April 2015 – Freedom Day
1 May 2015 – Workers Day
16 June 2015 – Youth Day
9 August 2015 – National Women’s Day
24 September 2015 – Heritage Day
16 December 2015 – Day of Reconciliation
25 December 2015 – Christmas Day
26 December 2015 – Day Of Goodwill
More Information on some key South African National Holidays
21 March [Human Rights Day]
The Constitution of South Africa which is the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa provides for the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC ) with the aim of promoting respect for human rights, promoting the protection, development and attainment of human rights, and monitoring and assessing the observance of human rights in SA. The SAHRC was launched on 21 March 1996, 35 years after the fateful events of 21 March 1960 when demonstrators in Sharpeville were gunned down by police, the day has come to be a National public holiday every year in South Africa.
27 April Freedom Day
Freedom Day is a day that commemorates the first democratic elections held in South Africa on 27 April 1994.
1 May Workers’ Day
This day is used to celebrate the role played by trade unions, the Communist Party and other labour movements in the struggle against apartheid. It came as a result of May Day, which was originated from the industrial struggle for an eight-hour day.
16 June Youth Day
In 1975 protests started in African schools after a directive from the then Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as a language of instruction in secondary schools. The issue, however, was not so much the Afrikaans as the whole system of Bantu education which was characterised by separate schools and universities, poor facilities, overcrowded classrooms and inadequately trained teachers. On 16 June 1976 more than 20 000 pupils from Soweto began a protest march. In the wake of clashes with the police, and the violence that ensued during the next few weeks, approximately 700 hundred people, many of them youths, were killed and property destroyed. Youth Day commemorates these events.
9 August National Women’s Day
This day commemorates 9 August 1956 when women participated in a national march to petition against pass laws (legislation that required African persons to carry a document on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’).
24 September Heritage Day
“The day is one of South Africa’s newly created public holidays and its significance rests in recognising aspects of South African culture which are both tangible and difficult to pin down: creative expression, our historical inheritance, language, the food we eat as well as the land in which we live. Within a broader social and political context, the day’s events…are a powerful agent for promulgating a South African identity, fostering reconciliation and promoting the notion that variety is a national asset as opposed to igniting conflict. Heritage has defined as “that which we inherit: the sum total of wild life and scenic parks, sites of scientific or historical importance, national monuments, historic buildings, works of art, literature and music, oral traditions and museum collections together with their documentation.” (Statement issued by the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, 17 September 1996)
16 December Day of Reconciliation
16 December is a day of great significance in South Africa because of two historical events that took place on that date.
In apartheid South Africa 16 December was known as Day of the Vow, as the Voortrekkers in preparation for the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838 against the Zulus took a Vow before God that they would build a church and that they and their descendants would observe the day as a day of thanksgiving should they be granted victory.
The second historical event that took place on 16 December was in 1961, when Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC), was formed. Prior to its formation, the ANC had largely approached the fight against apartheid through passive resistance, but after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, where peaceful protestors were indiscriminately shot by police, passive resistance was no longer seen as an effective approach in bringing apartheid to an end. MK mostly performed acts of sabotage, but its effectiveness was hampered by organizational problems and the arrest of its leaders in 1963. Despite this, its formation was commemorated every year since 1961.
With the advent of democracy in South Africa 16 December retained its status as a public holiday. South Africa’s first non-racial and democratic government was tasked with promoting reconciliation and national unity. One way in which it aimed to do this symbolically was to acknowledge the significance of the 16 December in both the Afrikaner and liberation struggle traditions and to rename this day as the Day of Reconciliation.
On 16 December 1995, the Day of Reconciliation was celebrated as a public holiday in South Africa
[Source: South African Government Information]