Heritage Day is a National Holiday celebrated on 24 September to recognise and to celebrate the cultural wealth of our nation. South Africans celebrate the day by remembering the cultural heritage of the many cultures that make up the population of South Africa. Various events are staged throughout the country to commemorate this day.
September is Heritage Month in South Africa, the 24th of the month is National Heritage Day.
Each year in early spring, people across the nation get together to eat, drink and be merry, and to celebrate what makes us all uniquely South African. This is one of the Rainbow Nation’s newly implemented public holidays and encourages us to celebrate our cultural traditions and heritage.
What is Heritage Day in South Africa?
Heritage Day, once known as Shaka Day, is celebrated in South Africa on September 24th. Shaka Day was originally named in honour of the legendary Zulu king, Shaka Zulu, who convinced multiple Zulu clans to stand together, united against the Boers and the British.
This day of commemoration was in danger of being lost after 1995 as it had not yet been included in the Public Holidays Bill. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and it was decided that a national holiday would be created where South Africans of all cultures and creeds could come together and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage.
In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, the late former State 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.
We did so, knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.”
It was subsequently included in the Bill in 1996 but with a name change – Heritage Day. This was to be an all-inclusive day on which to celebrate the heritage of all South Africans – for all of the diverse cultures to come together, unified, to celebrate their particular unique heritage and contribution to South Africa.
Why has Heritage Day transformed into Braai Day?
In more recent years, National Heritage Day has become synonymous with National Braai (Barbecue) Day. Some call it Shisa Nyama or Ukosa, while others call it a braai, but whatever the occasion, nothing beats gathering around a wood fire to cook a meal and celebrate together.
There is nothing more South African than lighting a fire and cooking a meal, and it’s something that crosses racial, cultural, religious and social boundaries. The National Braai Day was developed by Stellenbosch native, Jan Scannell – more commonly known as ‘Jan Braai’ – who quit his job in finance in 2005 to focus on the National Braai Day Initiative.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu became the national spokesperson for National Braai Day in 2007 and the name was changed to Braai4Heritage – still unofficially Braai Day. There’s even a National Braai Day anthem.
Archbishop Emeritus Tutu thought that the idea of using the braai to unite people was a very good one as it is common for people from various cultures in South Africa to gather together around a fire to celebrate.
Tutu has been quoted as saying “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 (this thing we do together)… just South Africans doing one thing together, and recognising that we are a fantastic nation”.
How to Celebrate Heritage Day
South Africans will celebrate this public holiday in many different ways and that is part of the appeal. Some people will dress in traditional clothes on Heritage Day to celebrate their cultural heritage, while others will spend time with friends and family. One thing is for sure – a braai will never too far away.
A good way to celebrate this day could be by visiting one of the many World Heritage Sites in South Africa to learn about other cultures.
Whatever you choose to do on Heritage Day, be sure to take some time to celebrate, enjoy it with friends and family, wave the South African flag proudly or at the very least, acknowledge your South African heritage.