Day of Reconciliation

Day of Reconciliation

Two historical events happened on this day, 123 years apart. On 16 December 1838, Voortrekkers (members of Dutch-speaking people who migrated from the Cape Colony into the interior in order to live beyond the borders of British rule) under the leadership of Piet Retief laagered their wagons and fought a fierce battle against Zulu warriors, under the leadership of Dingaan. The facts of the battle were that 470 Voortrekkers, who had gunpowder, faced down an estimated up to 20 000 Zulu warriors, killing 3000 of them. There was so much death that the river flowed red, with the battle gaining the name “The battle of blood river”. The Voortrekkers took this victory as a sign of God ratifying the covenant or vow they believe He had made with them as a nation, and soon afterwards the day was commemorated as the Day of the Vow. It was a day to celebrate, not only the victory of this battle, but that God was on their side in the conquering of the land. Understandably, for black South Africans, this day holds a completely different significance. In many ways, the day symbolized white oppression. The day was chosen by various liberation movements to host various protests against white oppression and black subjugation. It was 16 December in 1961 that was chosen by the ANC to launch Umkhonto Wesizwe (the spear of the nation). The various oppressive measures by the apartheid government forced it to move from passive resistance to armed resistance. It wasn’t until 1990 that peaceful talks began for the end of apartheid. In 1995 it was decided that the day would be renamed “The Day of Reconciliation”, calling South Africans to find unity with each other, even as one day held such different historical significance. It is a new name that recognizes our past, even as we work together to build a shared future.

Why do we remember this day?

The Day of Reconciliation that we celebrate in South Africa is a specific reminder and encouragement to us to be proactive in reconciling with our fellow South Africans. As Christ followers in South Africa, it is a specific reminder to prioritize restoring broken relationships with each other. It is also important to remember that we cannot control/ force/ guarantee that reconciliation will happen. Reconciliation or restoration of relationship with another human being is something that only God can do. Our job is to be willing to participate in what God wants to do, humble enough to receive it and grateful enough to celebrate it.

As Christ-followers, what can we do on this day?

Light a candle and allow a minute of silence to remember and honour all South Africans who lost their lives unjustly over the past 350 years – fighting for freedom, justice and equality. Around the dinner table, consider having family members read these statements and have a moment of remembrance followed by a prayer for South Africa.


  • We remember and honour the thousands of indigenous African people who lived and thrived in this land before being forced to leave
  • We remember and honour all those who were enslaved and brought to the Cape from other countries by force
  • We remember and honour every human being who was killed by someone who believed they were doing God’s will
  • We remember and honour every human being who suffered unjustly because of the inhumane and cruel system of Apartheid
  • We remember and honour every human being who died believing in a future they never got to experience Meditate on this scripture where Paul lists virtues that apply that to inter-ethnic relationships: Colossians 3:11-14, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and
    patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
    How can you put these verses into action today?

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As a family, what can we do on this day?

In collaboration with the Next Generation Ministry Team of Common Ground Church we have created some age-appropriate resources to engage kids in conversations around the public holidays that we celebrate in South Africa.

Here you’ll find a short, simple video clip that explains the significance behind The Day of Reconciliation in South Africa. There is also a placemat template that you can print out for each family member to use on the 16th of December as their place mat for meal time.

Here are some ideas for how to have a conversation with your kids around public holidays:

Watch the video clip beforehand and read up about the public holiday so that you are aware of the context behind it. Find a time in the day (we recommend a mealtime) where you watch the video clip as a family and talk about it afterwards. Print out the placemats for your kids to colour in and answer the questions on the placemat. Allow the placemat to be a conversation starter over your meal. Bring God into the conversation; speak about God’s heart for justice and show passages in the Bible that speak to this. Pray for those who don’t have their human rights protected.

We trust that these resources can equip you in having conversations with your family about South Africa, our past, and God’s heart of justice and love for all people!

Download Activity Placemat

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