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South African Holidays and Traditions

When Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress came into power at the end of the Apartheid in South Africa in 1994, they decided to change all of the national holidays to new national holidays that would be meaningful to all South Africans. In addition to creating new national holidays, Mandela led the congress to create The Public Holidays Act, which says that whenever any public holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday following it will be a public holiday. Mandela and the congress created seven new national holidays for the country, with the hopes of uniting its citizens and remembering everything they have fought for.

Human Rights Day, celebrated on March 21st, remembers those who died on this day in 1960, due to police brutality. Many of these people were shot in the back while peacefully protesting and the shootings led the government to ban black political organizations all together. Human Rights Day was created as a step to ensure that the people of South Africa are aware of their human rights and to ensure that such abuses never again occur. On April 27th, South Africans celebrate Freedom Day in honor of the first democratic elections held in 1994 as well as when the new constitution took effect in 1997. Worker’s Day, celebrated on May 1st, is South Africa’s version of a labor day. It has traditionally been a day to protest for better wages and working conditions, and given the role that trade unions played in the fight for freedom in South Africa, it is unsurprising that they would commemorate a day such as this. On June 16th, Youth Day is celebrated in South Africa in honor of all the young people who lost their lives in the struggle against Apartheid and Bantu Education. National Women’s Day is celebrated on August 9th, and is meant to serve as a reminder of the contribution made by women to society, the achievements that have been made for women’s rights, and to acknowledge the difficulties and prejudices many women still face. Heritage Day on September 24th honors the diversity of South Africa, including its different cultures, customs, traditions, histories, and languages. Day of Reconciliation on December 16th is a day to focus on overcoming the conflicts of the past and building a new nation. All of these national holidays are considered extremely important to South Africans because they hold a special, different meaning to each person. Most people get national holidays off from work and all children receive national holidays off from school.

Aside from the countries national holidays there are five other public holidays that most South Africans celebrate. New Years Day is a public holiday in South Africa as it is around the world and is celebrated in similar ways as the rest of the Western world. The Day of Goodwill, honored on December 26th, the same day as Boxing Day is celebrated in other parts of the world is a day to give to those who are less fortunate. The other three public holidays are Christian holidays, but since South Africa is 80% Christian, these days are considered to be public holidays. These include Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas Day. Employees are entitled to take a public holiday off from work with pay, however if a person does work on a public holiday they are entitled to a paid day off in the same work week. All students have public holidays off from school.

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