“On this Reconciliation Day, I call on each of our citizens to thinks of the simple things they could do to reach out across the racial divide in their everyday lives. One way of doing this is to learn another South African language”. President Cyril Ramaphosa

Reconciliation Day and The Battle of Ncome/ Blood River


South Africa has come a long way since the dawn of democracy in 1994. The Rainbow Nation, as termed by Archiboshop Desmond Tutu, has not always been a unified one. The history of Reconciliation Day began in 1838 with a battle between the Voortekkers and Zulus. On this basis, Reconciliation Day is a culmination of the Battle of Ncome/Blood River, the 1960s uprisings for a democratic government, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiation process, multi-party democracy and eventually a constitutional democracy from 1994.

The infamous Battle of Ncome/Blood River (Ncome in Zulu and Bloedrivier in Afrikaans) took place on 16 December 1838 at the river bank of Ncome in Natal. The conflict was over land. The Afrikaner farmers had left the British Cape Colony and were set to settle in Natal with the hopes of getting land from King Dingaan. Seeing that the 470 Voortrekkers were outnumbered by over 14 000 Zulu warriors, the Voortrekkers made a covenant with their god and prevailed. Consequently, the Battle of Ncome/ Blood River known as the Day of the Vow and/or Dingaan’s Day was commemorated annually in South Africa.

Colonisation and apartheid were violent and brutal in nature, leaving communities and citizens wounded and scarred. Building a non-racial society is proving to be a mammoth task. However, the new dispensation believed that one of the ways to heal the divisions of the past was through the joint commemoration of the 1838 battlefield. Accordingly, the Day of the Vow was renamed Reconciliation Day in an effort to intensify nation building and reconciliation. This came about as the result of including the perspectives of Zulu warriors and paying homage to those who had lost their lives in the battle.

Since democracy, South Africa has made strides to heal the divisions of the past and as such, the National Library of South Africa (NLSA) is one of government’s custodians for fostering social cohesion. The NLSA is able to contribute to social cohesion through our Outreach Projects. One such project is the Community Publishing Grant (CPG) which is a publishing grant awarded to aspiring writers to harness their skills in writing and to self-publish their work. The CPG is an initiative that preserves and promotes writing in indigenous languages. South Africa is a multilingual country and in order to elevate languages previously marginalised, the recipients of the grant are mostly writers who show a keen interest in preserving indigenous languages for posterity. Annually, the NLSA awards the grant to 20 budding writers.

In his weekly letter to the citizens, President Ramaphosa urged fellow South Africans to learn another South African language. “On this Reconciliation Day, I call on each of our citizens to thinks of the simple things they could do to reach out across the racial divide in their everyday lives. One way of doing this is to learn another South African language,” he wrote.

The President’s call for action to learn a new language dovetails with NLSA’s goal for the cross-translation of the Reprint of South African Classics books. Books that are considered to be classics in indigenous languages are reprinted and cross translated into other languages. This will promote the usage of South African languages.

The injustices of the past are a mammoth task to reconcile but the NLSA supports the government’s efforts for a tolerant non-racial rainbow nation.


A lithograph of a scene depicting the Battle of Blood River.