After suffering heavy losses at the hands of the warriors of Zulu King Dingane (c. 1795-1840), a Voortrekker commando advanced against the former in December 1838. As it was evident that they would be faced by superior enemy numbers, the Voortrekkers were induced by A.W.J. Pretorius (1798-1853) and S.A. Cilliers (1801-1871), to enter into a covenant with God. Its exact words were not recorded, but eyewitnesses' later versions concurred that God had been requested to assist them in vanquishing the Zulu Army. Should they be victorious, the Voortrekkers undertook that they and their descendants would annually dedicate the day of the conquest to the glory of God alone. The Battle of Blood River took place on 16 December 1838, marking the Voortrekkers' desired victory. On the same day, the Covenant was fulfilled for the first time on the very battlefield. Thus the oldest Afrikaner national celebration, later known as Dingaan's Day or Day of the Covenant, came about. Initially the Covenant was commemorated in a small way by families and religious associates. In 1864 the General Synod of the Afrikaners' Natal Churches agreed that 16 December would henceforth be celebrated as ecclesiastical day of thanksgiving by all its congregations. This was the result of the efforts of two Dutch clergymen and supporters of Revival Theology, namely Revs. D.P.M. Huet (1827-1895) and F.L. Cachet (1835-1899). In 1865 the Executive Counsel of the South African Republic declared 16 December to be a public holiday in this Boer Republic. During the Anglo Transvaal (1880-1881) and Anglo Boer Wars (1899-1902), the commemoration of the Covenant inspired Afrikaners. The celebrations acquired a deeply nationalistic significance. A growing number of Covenant ceremonies were annually being organised throughout the Boer Republics and northern Natal. In 1894 the Government of the Free State also declared 16 December to be a public holiday. English-speaking compatriots and members of other races in general attached little importance to the Covenant, normally utilising 16 December for recreational purposes only. In 1910 an act was passed by Parliament according to which 16 December would be celebrated as a national holiday (Dingaan's Day) throughout the Union of South Africa, as of 1911. The celebration of the Covenant of 1838 has had an inestimable influence on Afrikaner and even South African cultural history. It played an important religious, national, social and educational role in everyday life, stimulating and shaping the Afrikaner's creativity, historical consciousness, ethics and intercultural relations. In 1952 the name of the day was changed from Dingaan's Day to Day of the Covenant. After 1994, in post-apartheid South Africa, it has still remained a public holiday, even though it is now known as Day of Reconciliation. The fact that it has been retained as a holiday is regarded as a significant gesture of goodwill towards Afrikaners. A study of South Africans' diverse attitudes towards the celebration of the Covenant of 1838, starting with the earliest commemorations between 1838 and 1910, may contribute towards mutual understanding and harmony.
Dissertation (MHCS)--University of Pretoria, 2004.