Founders Day in Orania Date in the current year: April 6, 2024

Founders Day in Orania Founders Day (Stigtingsdag), also known as Van Riebeeck’s Day, was inaugurated to commemorate the arrival of the first Dutch settlers in South Africa. It used to be a public holiday, but today it is only celebrated in the semi-autonomous town of Orania inhabited by Afrikaners (descendants of European settlers).

Jan van Riebeeck was a Dutch navigator who laid the foundation of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Born in 1619, he joined the Dutch East India Company at age 20. During the following three decades, van Riebeeck served in a number of posts in the East Indies.

In 1650, he proposed selling hides of South African wild animals to Japanese feudal lords and volunteered to administer the first Dutch settlement in South Africa. On December 24, 1651, van Riebeeck’s expedition consisting of three ships departed from Texel.

The first two ships landed at what is now Cape Town on April 6, 1652, and the third ship arrived the following day. The first settlers (82 men and 8 women) built a fort, which became a way station for Dutch merchant ships sailing from the Netherlands to the East Indies, or vice versa. In South Africa, ship crews could take a break and stock up on fresh food and water to reduce deaths en route.

Van Riebeeck administered the Cape Colony from 1652 to 1662. He oversaw the construction of the fort, the planting of cereals, fruit and vegetable, the acquisition of livestock from indigenous tribes, and the expansion of the lands controlled by the Dutch.

The first Dutch settlers, who arrived in South Africa with van Riebeeck, are the ancestors of the Afrikaners, a South African ethnic group descended from European settlers. Today, the term “Afrikaners” is used to refer to the white Afrikaans-speaking population of South Africa, whereas the descendants of the Cape Dutch are also referred to as the Boers.

Van Riebeeck’s Day was first celebrated in the 17th century, but it wasn’t proclaimed an annual national holiday until 1952. In 1980, the holiday was renamed Founders Day to honor not only van Riebeeck, but also the rest of the first settlers.

After the 1994 South African general election, which marked the culmination of the four-year process that ended apartheid, all public holidays celebrating the colonial history of South Africa were abolished, including Founders Day.

However, four years before the elections and a few months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, several Afrikaner families acquired a plot of land near the Orange River and established a settlement to preserve Afrikaner cultural heritage. Present-day Orania is a semi-autonomous Afrikaner enclave in the middle of South Africa with a total population of about 2,500.

Oranians don’t celebrate South African holidays, instead they observe their own holidays that celebrate important events in Afrikaner history. Founders Day in particular has a double meaning: it is the anniversary of both van Riebeeck’s arrival in South Africa in 1652 and the moving of the first inhabitants to Orania in 1991.

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Founders Day in Orania, holidays in South Africa, holidays in Orania, unofficial observances, Jan van Riebeeck