Day of Reconciliation

16 Dec

Reconciliation Day

Nation Building, Social Cohesion and Reconciliation

The Department of Arts and Culture in partnership with the Gauteng Provincial Government will host the 2013 National Day of Reconciliation at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Provincial Day of Reconciliation Commemorations will be hosted in different provinces.

Activities on the day

The Day of Reconciliation will be held on 16 December 2013 in Union Building Garden Lawns, Pretoria.

The official programme will start at 08:00 at Freedom Park with interfaith prayer. The Minister of Arts and Culture and the City of Tshwane Mayor will be representing government during the interfaith prayers.

The commemorations at Union Buildings will start at 09:00. This will include a cultural programme, messages of support from political parties and a keynote address by President Jacob Zuma.

 Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Paul Mashatile, launched Reconciliation Month in Calvinia on 30 November.

Day of Reconciliation 2013

The 2013 Day of Reconciliation will largely focus on the centenary of the Union Buildings and unveiling the statue of former President Nelson Mandela.

While the statue will be a monument dedicated to the life of former President Nelson Mandela and his contribution to freedom and reconciliation in South Africa, it will also be a collective memorial to the struggles and sacrifice that millions of South Africans made so that our country could be free and her citizens live in peace and prosperity.

The Union Buildings is 100 years old in November 2013. This is an important milestone in the history of our country.

Sir Herbert Baker was commissioned to design the Union Buildings in 1909, a few months before the Union of South Africa was established in 1910. It was only in November 1910 however, that the cornerstone of the Union Buildings was built. The site on which the Union Buildings was built is Meintjieskop, a piece of land which belonged to Stephanus Jacobus Meintjies after whom the hill is named.

In its very conception the Union Buildings was intended to be special and to occupy a significant place not only in the nation’s capital, Pretoria, but also in the political life of South Africa. Its very design symbolised the union between the two rival white groups in South Africa: the English and the Afrikaner. The two wings of the Union Buildings and their meeting point at the semi-circular colonnade/rotunda symbolises explicitly the unity of the two groups (and implicitly the exclusion of the black majority).

It took over 465 white artisans and workers and 800 black labourers,   among whom was a strong contingent of black prisoners, to build the Union Buildings over a period of almost three full years. While Sir Herbert Baker had wanted to use imported granite to build the Union Buildings, his wish was rejected in favour of using material sourced in South Africa. As a result, the Union Buildings were built using local material including mountain stone quarried on site; the freestone used for the exterior walls, the amphitheatre and the major courtyards came from the sandstone quarried from Wolwehoek in the Free State as well as from Pretoria and Witbank; the red roof tiles were sourced from Vereeniging; and the reddish-brown Buiskop stone used to build the two principal inner courtyards was quarried near Bela Bela (Warmbaths).

The beauty and majesty of the Union Buildings was further enhanced by the addition of the gardens, which were planted over a period of 7 years by the Department of Public Works. The layout and planting of the grounds were completed in 1919. Plants used in the gardens were mostly indigenous although 31 dozen roses were imported from England and other plants from the Netherlands.

Over the years there have been several changes to the Union Buildings landscape. Some of the changes actually took place while the Union Buildings were being constructed. For example, in his original design Herbert Baker had wanted to build a “temple of peace” and a “via sacra” on top of Meintjieskop. That idea was scrapped due to financial limitations

Other events are:

  • Declaration of the Union Buildings as a grade 1 national heritage site
  • Development and production of a commemorative coin by the South African Mint
  • Development and production of a commemorative stamp by Post Office.


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 for the first time.

Official invitation to  Day of Reconciliation 2013

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