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South African Public Holidays and meanings/reasons (Current)

Meaning and description of South African Public Holidays

Human Rights Day

The Bill of Rights contained in the national Constitution is the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. Flowing from the Constitution, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was established, aiming to promote respect, protection, development and attainment of human rights for all people living in South Africa, and to monitor and assess the observance of these rights.

The SAHRC was launched on 21 March 1996, 35 years after the fateful events of 21 March 1960 when demonstrators in Sharpeville was gunned down by police.

Good Friday

This day commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.

Family Day

Family Day used to be known as Easter Monday, but the name was changed to reflect and show respect to all the different religious traditions of South Africa.

Freedom Day

Freedom Day commemorates the first democratic elections held in South Africa on April 27 1994.

Workers Day

Workers Day is an international recognized public holiday, and also known as May Day in some countries. Workers Day originates from the historical struggles of workers and trade unions in the search for solidarity and fair employment standards.

Youth Day

Youth Day commemorates the protest of 20 000 pupils in Soweto on 16 June 1976. These pupils protested against the whole system of Bantu education in Apartheid South Africa, which was characterized by separate schools and universities, poor facilities, overcrowded classrooms and inadequately trained teachers.

National Women's Day

On 9 August 1956, a crowd of women participated in a national march to petition against pass laws. National Women's Day commemorates these events.

Heritage Day

The aim of this day is to celebrate the diverse cultures in South Africa.

Day of Reconciliation

In apartheid South Africa, 16 December was known as the Day of the Vow. The Voortrekkers, in preparation for a battle on 16 December against the Zulus, took a vow before God. They vowed that, should they win the battle, that they would build a church and that they and their descendants would observe the day as a day of thanksgiving.

This day retained its status as a public holiday, but, this time with the purpose of fostering reconciliation and national unity.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day is in international public holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

Day of Goodwill

Previously known as Boxing Day, the Day of Goodwill was renamed to remove connections to South Africa's colonial past, and to be inclusive of all South Africans. The day is meant for the sharing of festive cheer and goodwill.

Boxing Day originated from the British culture, and date as back as far as the Middle Ages, when it was tradition to give gifts in boxes to less-priviledged members of society. The boxes would be placed in shops in the weeks before Christmas, and people would put monetary and other donations into the boxes.