December 16 marks what was once known in South Africa as the Day of the Vow, commemorating the Battle of Blood River in 1838, when a group of Afrikaans-speaking Voortrekkers under Andreas Pretorius and Sarel Cilliers defeated a Zulu army under Dingane, thereby opening up the interior to Afrikaner settlement. The story goes that Pretorius and Cilliers led their people in making a public vow to God that if he would grant them victory, they would consecrate and forever honor the day. December 16 thereafter became a powerful symbol of Afrikaner nationalism. One can visit the Church of the Vow in Pietermaritzburg, a reconstructed laager at the Blood River site, and most impressive of all the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, where on December 16 at noon a shaft of light beams down onto the cenotaph, on which is inscribed “Ons vir jou Suid-Afrika” (“We for you, South Africa,” the final line of the first stanza of “Die Stem“).
Needless to say all this has been rather dodgy since 1994, but the ANC does not appear willing to knock down the Voortrekker Monument any time soon. The Blood River site now features a number of exhibits from the Zulu perspective. The Day of the Vow is now the Day of Reconciliation.