Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash


South Africa has a total of 12 public holidays in 2020 and since public holidays are not counted as leave, they can be a real bonus, with many people targeting them to make long weekends last even longer.

In terms of holidays this puts South Africa slightly above the world average of 11 days, according to data collected by qppstudio, an online platform that compiles worldwide calendar data and creates software for calendar typesetting automation.

According qppstudio the country with the most holidays is Iran with 27 paid public holidays.  This was after Cambodia, which was formally ranked 1 and with nearly a month of holidays 28 days, cut theirs down to 22. Cambodia reduced their public holidays following, among other things. complaints from international investors that it had more vacation time than others, reported Algoa FM.

List of Public Holidays 2020 and 2019. Source Sout
List of Public Holidays 2020 and 2019. Source South African Government.

Last year we had 13 thanks to Election Day, as proclaimed in Government Gazette 42250 of 26 February 2019). 

Here are what they represent:


1 January - New Year’s Day

New Year in South Africa is celebrated according to the Georgian calendar on its first date of January 1st. 


21 March - Human Rights Day

Commemorates the events of 21 March 1960 when demonstrators in Sharpeville were gunned down by police protesting the Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 against the Pass laws.

The day became known as Sharpeville Day and although not part of the official calendar of public holidays the event was commemorated among anti-apartheid movements.

March 21 also commemorates the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which was launched on 21 March 1996. The Bill of Rights is contained in the Constitution - a cornerstone of South African democracy.  


10 April - Good Friday

The dates on which Good Friday and Easter Sunday fall are determined according to the ecclesiastical moon. It varies each year, but they fall at some point between late March and late April.


13 April - Family Day (Follows Easter Sunday)

Family Day follows the Monday after Good Friday making it a long weekend known as "Easter Weekend". In 1995 it was renamed from Easter Monday.


27 April - Freedom Day

Freedom Day commemorates the first democratic elections held in South Africa on 27 April 1994. Freedom Day celebrations.


1 May – Worker’s Day

Worker’s Day, or International Workers' Day, or May Day, is celebrated globally.

The date commemorates the events of the Haymarket affair, which took place in Chicago,in the US, in 1886. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an 8-hour work day but ended in tragedy, turning into a riot after someone threw a bomb at police.

In South Africa it likewise celebrates the historical struggles of workers and trade unions, according to SA History.


16 June - Youth Day

In 1975 protests started in African schools after a directive from the then Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as a language of instruction in secondary schools. 

The Bantu education system was characterised by separate schools and universities, poor facilities, overcrowded classrooms and inadequately trained teachers.

On 16 June 1976 more than 20,000 pupils from Soweto began a protest march. In the wake of clashes with the police, and the violence that ensued during the next few weeks, approximately 700 hundred people, many of them youths, were killed and property destroyed.

Youth Day was previously known as Soweto Day.


9 August - National Women's Day

This day commemorates 9 August 1956 when 20,000 women participated in a national march to petition against pass laws. Legislation required African persons to carry a document on them to 'prove' that they were allowed to enter a 'white area').

The march has been celebrated since 1995 to recognise the important role political activism by women played during the struggle for liberation against colonisation and apartheid.


24 September - Heritage Day

Heritage Day is one of South Africa’s newer created public holidays. South Africans support it as a day to celebrate their cultural heritage.  

It is commonly referred to as ‘National braai day’ because it happens to coincide with the first months of Spring, when the weather is warmer and when South Africans enjoy cooking their food on open outdoor braais.   


16 December - Day of Reconciliation

In apartheid South Africa 16 December was known as Day of the Vow, as the Voortrekkers, in preparation for the battle on 16 December against the Zulus, took a vow before God that they would build a church and that they and their descendants would observe the day as a day of thanksgiving should they be granted victory.

With the advent of democracy in South Africa, 16 December retained its status as a public holiday, however, this time with the purpose of fostering reconciliation and national unity.


25 December - Christmas Day

Christmas Day is celebrated as a public holiday on December 25. While it is a Christian holiday, it is also a time for South Africans to share with friends and family.


26 December - Day of Goodwill

Prior to 1994, this holiday was known as Boxing Day. The Day of Goodwill is celebrated on December 26. 


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