Public Holidays and National Celebrations in South Africa

more than a year ago

South Africa has 12 public holidays. No matter how solemn their intention, they are regarded by most as shopping-extravaganza days. The city slows down dramatically from around December 16 each year until early January, with the shopping frenzy tapering off between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day when locals take a break, often heading for the coast or to family in other provinces. Most big malls are open on public holidays (see Shopping for details). Whenever a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday following it is also a public holiday.

January 1 – New Year’s Day

March 21 – Human Rights Day. A public holiday in honour of human rights and to commemorate the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 when police opened fire on a crowd of unarmed people protesting against the Pass Book Laws, killing 69

Good Friday and Family Day (also known as Easter Monday).

April 27 – Freedom Day. A celebration of South Africa's successful fight for freedom and democracy. On this day in 1994 the first democratic elections were held in South Africa. 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of South Africa's democracy

May 1 – Workers’ Day

June 16 – Youth Day. Commemorates the Soweto riots of 1976 in which hundreds of black schoolchildren from Soweto, who were protesting against the poor state of Bantu education and particularly the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in all South African schools, were shot by the apartheid police.

August 9 – National Women’s Day. On this day in 1956 more than 50,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the imposition of the passbook laws.

September 24 – Heritage Day. Celebrating the cultural heritage of the many different ethnic groupings that make up the rainbow nation. Many South Africans choose to wear traditional clothing to mark this day. Also unofficially known by many as National Braai Day!

December 16 – Day of Reconciliation. This holiday came into effect following the end of apartheid in 1994. It is a holiday intended to foster national unity and reconciliation. This date was chosen as it was on this day in 1961 that Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation, the armed wing of the ANC) was founded and as the date is also significant to Afrikaaners (on this day the Boers defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River in 1838).

December 25 – Christmas Day

December 26 – Day of Goodwill


January/February - Chinese New Year. This is a particularly popular holiday in Johannesburg where there is a very well-established Chinese community. The lively traditional celebrations, complete with firecrackers and dancing dragons take place on consecutive Saturdays in the city's two Chinatowns based on Commissioner Street and on Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene.

May 25 - Africa Day. Commemorates the day in 1963 when leaders of thirty-two independent African states met to form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). This is a public holiday in many African countries (but not in South Africa).

July 18 - Mandela Day. The late Nelson Mandela's birthday is celebrated internationally as Mandela Day. On this day people across the globe are encouraged to continue Madiba's struggle for universal dignity and social justice, by donating 67 minutes of their time (representative of the 67 years Mandela spent serving the country) to charitable and community activities. To find out how to get involved in Mandela Day go to


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