On this Day of Reconciliation – December 16, in history

She died from air pollution from cars. Picture: Family hand-out

She died from air pollution from cars. Picture: Family hand-out

Published Dec 16, 2023


What happened today, back in the day

1431 England’s King Henry VI is crowned King of France in Paris.

1497 Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama sails along Africa’s south-east coast and names it Natal.

1770 Ludwig van Beethoven is born in Bonn, Germany. He created powerful, emotional music and is widely considered the greatest orchestral composer. He suffered from hearing loss before he was 30 and by the time of his last (Ninth) symphony, he was completely deaf. In 1824, he conducts the Ninth Symphony at its world premier in Vienna despite being unable to hear either the orchestra or the applause.

1773 The Boston Tea Party takes place as the Sons of Liberty movement dumps 342 crates of expensive tea into Boston harbour as a protest against the British-imposed Tea Act.

1838 The Voortrekkers, 470 of them, defeat 10 000 Zulu attackers at Ncome River. Commemorated by Afrikaners as Dingaan’s Day and as Day of the Covenant/Vow, it becomes the Day of Reconciliation.

1863 Philosopher George Santayana is born in Madrid, Spain. He is best known for stating, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’.

1901 Beatrix Potter publishes The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Ever popular, it sells more than 45 million copies.

1913 The Women’s Memorial is unveiled in Bloemfontein, to commemorate 26 251 women and children who died in the Second Anglo-Boer War, mainly in concentration camps.

1914 German battleships bombard the English ports of Hartlepool and Scarborough.

1938 The Voortrekker Monument foundation stone is laid.

1944 The Battle of the Bulge begins as the Germans launched a big counter-offensive.

1944 A German V-2 rocket hits an Antwerp bioscope (movie house), killing 638 people. The world's first long-range, guided ballistic missile was unstoppable – there was no defence against it. The V-2 was also the first object to travel into space by crossing the Kármán line (edge of space) with a vertical launch in June 1944. Co-designer Werner von Braun and 100 other scientists surrendered to the US and pioneered America’s space programme. Russia also captured V-2 technology and produced their own rockets.

1947 The Blood River Monument is inaugurated.

1949 The Voortrekker Monument is opened.

1961 Strategically timed, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) performs its first acts of sabotage.

1995 Orlando Pirates becomes the first SA team to win the African League of Champions.

2016 Beijing and 21 other Chinese cities declare a ‘meteorological disaster’ – a 5-day pollution red alert.

2020 China blocks imports of coal from Australia, the world's second-biggest market for the world's biggest coal exporter, due to heightened political tensions. The imports have since resumed with the Asian country importing $1 billion in coal a month. Australia is the world’s second largest exporter and has the third-largest reserves of coal in the world, after the US and Russia. South Africa, which has 18 operating coal stations, produces about 3.3% of the world's annual total and exports about 6% of global exports. The mineral is the major primary energy source for South Africa, which has the biggest proven coal reserves in Africa and which will, at current rates, last another 200 years. The war in Ukraine has been good for South African exports.

2020 A major winter storm hits US north-east resulting in at least seven deaths and Binghamton, New York, receiving a metre of snow overnight.

2020 Ella Adoo Kissi-Debrah', a nine-year-old girl who died of an asthma attack in south-east London in 2013, becomes first person in the world to have air pollution listed as the cause of death. Her death and campaigning by her mother and others leads to the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, or “Ella’s Law", which is passed in 2022. A 2021 report lists 8.8 million people as dying prematurely from air pollution every year.