The Resistance Against December 16: A Historical Reflection

The Resistance Against December 16: A Historical Reflection

By Motsane Getrude Seabela, Curator Anthropology, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

Until 1995, a year after the demise of apartheid government in South Africa, 16 December was commemorated as Dingaan’s Dag (Dingane’s Day), a celebration by most of the Afrikaner speaking population as it represented the Voortrekkers’ victory over the Zulus at the so-called Battle of Blood River in 1838. However, to the African-black population the celebration was deemed offensive in that it symbolised “the loss of their land and associated freedom, and the death of a great Zulu chief, King Dingane” thus the day evoked contentious views. The nucleus of Afrikaner Nationalist historiography perceived King Dingane as a “treacherous, uncivilized barbarian”’. The general view was that the King was an anti‐white agitator who was beyond redemption. However, for African nationalists and workers, King Dingane was regarded as “one of the original freedom fighters who resisted the oppression of the land‐grabbing white settlers and Voortrekkers of the nineteenth century”. The African nationalists and workers’ interpretations of King Dingane’s relationship with white settlers show the later as disrespectful imperialists and dishonest men, who were hell-bent on enriching themselves at the expense of the indigenous population.

As a way of dissent against a celebration which symbolised loss of land, freedom and continuous subjugation of black people in South Africa, on 16 December 1929 the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) later the South African Communist Party (SACP) organised anti-pass protest in Potchefstroom in the then Transvaal. “In one meeting addressed by Edwin Thabo Mofutsanyane and John Beaver Marks a group of white people invaded the gathering and fired a gunshot meant for the leaders resulting in the death of one person” The incident was followed by a strike that lasted until 1930. Thence, the CPSA continued to hold anti-pass campaigns and meetings on 16 December which ultimately led to the burning of passes. The racial policies of Prime Minister Hertzog too, were challenged in 1935 from 15 December to 18 December during the All-African Convention (AAC) held in Bloemfontein. Accordingly, the 16th of December during the “1920s and the 1930s became a day that highlighted divisions in the country. The actions of the CPSAs resistance permeated consciousness.


  • Ndlovu, S.M. 2017. ‘Remember Dingaan’s Day: The Passing of African Independence’: Public History and the Counter-Commemoration of King Dingane, 1920–1930, African Perspectives of King Dingane kaSenzangakhona: 129-166.
  • Ndlovu, S.M. 2000. Johannes Nkosi and the Communist Party of South Africa: Images of ‘Blood River’ and King Dingane in the Late 1920s–1930. History and Theory. Studies in the Philosophy of History. 39(4).


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