DAY OF REFLECTION
Traditional leaders campaign for another South African public holiday – to honour ancestors
If Contralesa has its way, South Africa will have another public holiday added to the 12 on the calendar. It would be Ancestors’ Day on 8 May, dedicated to ‘reflection, prayer and appeasement of our ancestors’.
The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) is calling on the government to declare Ancestors’ Day, on 8 May, a national public holiday, to honour and observe African spirituality.
In May 2021, Contralesa, with the support of the National House of Traditional Leaders and the National Khoisan Council, took the decision to officially inscribe 8 May as Ancestors’ Day, according to Contralesa secretary-general Zolani Mkiva. The official inauguration of Ancestors’ Day was held at the Mathibela Royal Palace in Mpumalanga on 8 May 2021, by Contralesa in partnership with Castle Milk Stout.
“We believed it should not only end there, where [8 May] is merely recognised as Ancestors’ Day. We think it needs to be taken further, and be made a public holiday,” Mkiva told Daily Maverick on Friday.
Contralesa is calling for Ancestors’ Day to be declared a national public holiday, which acknowledges and celebrates African spirituality and its role through ceremonies and rituals that honour one’s ancestors, he said.
Mkiva described it as a day of “reflection, prayer, appeasement of our ancestors”, and a day to “honour our forefathers and foremothers”.
He added that while Ancestors’ Day involves some ritual performances, people are expected to select the ways in which they want to remember and reflect on their own ancestors.
“We will not prescribe to people [what must be done on Ancestors’ Day], because it goes in accordance with the rituals and customs of each and every family.”
South Africa has 12 public holidays in 2022, including an additional day off on Monday, 2 May in observance of Workers’ Day on1 May. This is in line with the Public Holidays Act 36 of 1994 which determines that whenever any public holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is deemed a public holiday.
A quick search shows that compared with other countries, 12 public holidays per year is by no means an outlier number. Countries including Kenya, Finland, Italy and Angola enjoy 12 public holidays, too. The UK has eight bank holidays per year, while the US has 11 federal holidays. Egypt has the most public holidays in Africa – 21.
There are longstanding debates over the number of South Africa’s public holidays, with Christian holidays a contentious issue over the years.
Read a Daily Maverick column. here: “From our archives: Public holidays – Enough already, South Africa”
Speaking to Daily Maverick, Mkiva said Ancestors’ Day must “not be singled out because of issues over adding another public holiday” to South Africa’s calendar.
“It must not just be looked at in isolation, it plays a bigger role – we must now begin to liberate the mind and interact with the indigenous knowledge systems, as well as the African wisdom,” he said.
Mkiva said it was “fundamental” that South Africa has one day out of 365 that is dedicated to showing respect to and acknowledgement of African spirituality and heritage.
“It’s important that we have a transformed calendar for South Africa that finds an expression to the African majority.”
Mkiva added that the misconceptions about African traditional beliefs are a “result of miseducation and what [was] done by colonialism to terrorise and brutalise [the African] belief system and culture”.
“With establishing Ancestors’ Day, we are beginning a process of the liberation of the mind, so that we can be able to re-educate society,” explained Mkiva, who said he hoped it would be a catalyst for broader social acceptance of people who practise African spirituality. DM