Normally, South Africa observes 12 days of public holiday throughout the year. However, 2020 is a special year as there will be an extra day off on August 9th — National Women’s Day.
Public holidays in South Africa are regulated in the Public Holiday Act, which also states that when falling on a Sunday, festivities are to be celebrated the following Monday.
In 2020, South African workers will enjoy long weekends and those on a South African visa can take in the festive atmosphere, for example on the 27th of April (Freedom Day) and May 1st (International Workers’ Day) as they will occur on a Monday and Friday respectively.
Public Holidays in South Africa: 2020 Calendar
Find below the list of holidays and festivities for South Africa in 2020.
- 1 January (Wednesday): New Year’s Day
- 21 March (Saturday): Human Rights Day
- 10 April (Friday): Good Friday
- 13 April (Monday): Family Day
- 27 April (Monday): Freedom Day
- 1 May (Friday): International Workers’ Day
- 16 June (Tuesday): Youth Day
- 9 August (Sunday): National Women’s Day
- 10 August (Monday): Public holiday
- 24 September (Thursday): Heritage Day
- 16 December (Wednesday): Day of Reconciliation
- 25 December (Friday): Christmas Day
- 26 December (Saturday): Day of Goodwill
Cultural Significance of South African Holidays
South Africa observes some international holidays that are also celebrated around the world, like May 1st and International Workers’ Day. Moreover, the African state celebrates Christian religious festivities, and particularly Christmas and Easter see workers at home with their families across the country.
Tourists should keep in mind local bank holidays when figuring out the best time for a trip to South Africa as the peak season for local tourism may mean crowded attractions and pricier accommodation. Readers can learn more about South African celebrations in the list below.
Human Rights Day (March 21st)
On the 21st of March 1960, 69 people were killed and 180 wounded as they were protesting peacefully in Sharpeville.
At the time, the Pan African Congress (PAC) organized demonstrations against the Pass (also called Reference Book), a document that individuals needed to obtain in order to travel from a rural area to an urban one. In the early days, the Pass was only required of people of color to enter white districts and it was then extended to the whole South African population.
In Sharpeville and other locations, anti-Pass demonstrators gathered at police stations without a Pass to present themselves for arrest. The order was given to disperse, and police opened fire in Sharpeville. Several Black movements were then forbidden after the massacre but the fight for human rights continued.
A day of bank holiday was subsequently introduced for March 21st in memory of the victims and to celebrate the struggle for an apartheid-free nation.
Freedom Day (March 27th)
Freedom Day celebrates the country’s first democratic, non-racial elections in 1994. It was a historic event, a time when Nelson Mandela was elected to lead the new democratic government.
Youth Day (June 16th)
This public holiday commemorates the Soweto uprising of 1976. On June 16th that year, 20,000 students and pupils began a protest march against the Bantu Education Department’s decision to establish Afrikaans as the official language of instruction in secondary schools together with English.
More than the language issue, however, young South Africans were protesting against an education system that was inadequate, segregated, overcrowded and underfunded. 700 people died in the following weeks as a result of clashes with the police.
National Women’s Day (August 9th)
On the 9th of August 1956, 20,000 women marched to petition against the Pass regulations to the Union Building in Pretoria (more on this topic above).
The march has been commemorated ever since in order to highlight the role played by women’s political activism in achieving a liberated and de-colonized South Africa.
Heritage Day (September 24th)
Every year, Heritage Day is an occasion for South Africans to celebrate the cultural heritage and diversity of the Rainbow Nation. It was created in 1996 by the government of Nelson Mandela, who stated:
“When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.
We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.“
Day of Reconciliation (December 16th)
In 1995, the post-apartheid government established this day to foster unity and reconciliation. This can be done in different ways and with a different focus as each year the government establishes a new theme for the Day of Reconciliation.
The date of December 16th was chosen because of its significance for both the African and Afrikaner culture, in an attempt to promote racial harmony.
Afrikaners remembered December 16th as the Day of the Vow, or the victory of the Voortrekkers (a group of Afrikaners protesting British colonialism and seeking to establish an independent republic) over the Zulus in the Battle of Blood River in 1838.
Several events connected to the fight for the end of apartheid happened on December 16th in different years. Protests and marches against racial discrimination and the Pass law were held on December 16th, 1910, 1929, 1933, and 1934. The All African Convention (AAC) was held in 1935 between December 15th and 18th. In 1961, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) carried out its first ‘acts of sabotage’ by placing bombs in government buildings in Johannesburg, Durban, and Port Elizabeth.