Facts on Namibian public holidays

Namib Quest – Six days in the saddle
July 31, 2012
Our coast, your photo – Namibia’s largest photographic competition to date
August 1, 2012
Namib Quest – Six days in the saddle
July 31, 2012
Our coast, your photo – Namibia’s largest photographic competition to date
August 1, 2012

Text Bill Torbitt

Necessary and most welcome

Whenever a public holiday comes around, there’s nearly always commentary in one of the local papers bewailing the periodic loss of productivity and calling for a ‘rethink’ on the number of holidays. Funnily enough, these papers usually do not themselves publish on a public holiday!

As with any arrangement, you can have too much of a good thing, but I think that occasional, special, different days are necessary and welcome, just like it’s nice to have a different, special meal every now and then. It also breaks up the monotonous 5–2 routine. Some people commendably celebrate a national day by going to a parade or rally, but it’s just as valid to celebrate it by having a good lie-in.

Namibia has twelve

The number of holidays varies greatly: Bosnia/Herzegovina has 23, not including religious days for their Islamic community, while Djibouti has only four. Namibia has a happy mean of 12. Actually, a couple of years ago, Independence Day fell on Good Friday, and Africa Day and Ascension Day collided, so at least two leisure days were lost. We start our holiday year at Easter, and conclude with Independence Day on 21 March. Independence or liberation is an event celebrated by different names in nearly every country. In fact, with over 200 countries in the world, nearly every day must be an independence day somewhere.

They come in clusters

It’s also strange how holidays seem to cluster together – in the northern hemisphere the purpose is to provide springtime breaks in May, but in Namibia this is also the favourite month for days off. Easter, of course, is a movable feast (the Sunday after the first full moon after the ‘spring’ equinox!) but can take place as late as the 25th of April. Soon after, like most countries where the trade-union movement plays or has played a significant role, 1 May is a public holiday.

The holiday which most captures the Namibia psyche, and is the most sombre, commemorates the hugely controversial South African Defence force raid on the Angolan village of Cassinga, which housed a SWAPO military base but also, without doubt, an unarmed refugee camp. Nearly 700 persons died in the all-day raid on 4 May 1978.

The important Christian holiday of Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, is also, therefore, a moveable feast but always falls on a Thursday, late in May. Close by, on 15 May, we have Africa Day, the commemoration of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963.

The lean months

The country now settles down until 26 August, the day that marks the start of the armed struggle against the South African apartheid regime. This day is celebrated by the Herero people with parades of women in their spectacular traditional dress derived from 19th century missionaries, and the men in khaki military uniform.

The next holiday, 10 December, is international UN Human Rights Day, but coincidentally also marks another tragic anniversary in Namibia, the day when police shot dead 11 people demonstrating in Windhoek’s Old Location in 1959.

After that, with most of the rest of the world, the country celebrates Christmas and New Year, often with the days in between.

Some countries have them at random

The holidays in most of the countries of the SADC region are fairly sensible, featuring the national independence day, Africa Day, the normal religious holidays, and a couple of others. The Kingdom of Swaziland is the best country for connoisseurs of exotic vacations, which generally have no fixed date, actually being invoked whenever the King feels like it. The Umhlanga Reed Dance is the time when young girls from rural villages come to the Royal Queen Mother’s homestead, cut bundles of reeds from the nearby river and use them to effect any necessary repairs on the homestead or its perimeter. After a few days of paying tribute to the Queen, the King in appreciation orders an ox to be slaughtered for the girls to feast on, and everyone presumably goes home satisfied. (The girls had a good feed and the Queen got her fence fixed!) There is also Incwala (‘first fruits’) Day, a kind of harvest festival.

 This article appeared in the May’12 edition of FLAMINGO Magazine.


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