Let’s take a look at Heritage Day, what the day is about and where ‘Braai Day’ originated. However you choose to celebrate the day, we hope you have an amazing time!
Heritage Day, Braai Day or Shaka Day. Depending on who you ask, 24 September means something different to South Africans. Here’s what you need to know about the public holiday.
Heritage Day is a South African public holiday, celebrated on 24 September every year. The main idea behind the day is to celebrate our unique cultures, beliefs and tradition while also looking at the things that bring us together.
In a country with 11 different official languages (soon to be 12 once sign language is officially accepted), it’s never going to be a straight-forward thing, though.
While most of us like the extra time off, heritage is a complicated matter in South Africa. One of the sticking points with the public holiday is that one person’s heritage is another person’s trauma.
Where Heritage Day started
Originally, the day was known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of King Shaka Zulu. In 1995, as South Africa transitioned into democracy, the day was not on the list of proposed holidays. There were fears that granting an official national day to commemorate a Zulu hero might revive “tribalism”.
But the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected.
After some debate, an agreement was reached to include the day and celebrate it as Heritage Day.
In 1996, during an address marking Heritage Day, former President Nelson Mandela said:
“When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”
As you can tell, things became increasingly complex when everyone tried to decide what exactly this shared heritage was.
The beginning of Braai Day
And so, as time went on, some people tried to find something all South Africans share.
In 2005, a media campaign began to package the holiday as National Braai Day. South Africans love a braai, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. In 2007, Archbishop Desmond Tutu celebrated his appointment as patron of Braai Day.
The campaign evolved. The National Heritage Council first dismissed the idea as trivial, but later endorsed it and Braai Day changed its name to Braai4Heritage
Tutu was quoted as saying in an interview:
“We’re going to have this wonderful thing on the 24th of this month… when we all gather round one fire…It’s a fantastic thing, a very simple idea. Irrespective of your politics, of your culture, of your race, of your whatever, hierdie ding doen ons saam [‘we do this thing together’]… just South Africans doing one thing together, and recognizing that we are a fantastic nation.”
But “Braai Day” has not been well received all round. Some pundits have said that it’s all a ploy to make people forget the history and the original meaning of why the day was created. Others feel like it cheapens a necessary conversation about the impact of the varied heritage.
While these discussions are necessary and whatever you might think about the “Braai Day” marketing, one thing is for sure: shisa nyama, braai, barbeque… call it whatever you want… South Africans love getting together around the fire. At the very least, we all love a day off.
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