A lot, actually. Although the public holiday, which falls on 24 September, has in the minds of some, become a day to have a braai, be patriotic and not go to work, there’s (so much) more to it.
Even though the 24th of September only became a national public holiday after Apartheid had ended, it has been a historically significant day long before that. Prior to the introduction of Heritage Day, in KwaZulu-Natal, the 24th of September was known as Shaka Day. The day served to commemorate King Shaka, the Zulu king who brought together scattered Zulu clans to form a united nation.
Following the election of the first democratic government of South Africa, the 24th of September was initially not included on the list of proposed public holidays. The predominantly-Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) objected to this omission and, as a consequence, Heritage Day was introduced.
Former President Nelson Mandela summed up the importance of Heritage Day when he 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”.
So, why Braai Day? Although South Africa has 11 different official languages – a braai transcends such differences and is known, across these cultures, for its power to unite. Desmond Tutu, who is the patron of Braai Day, said, “We’ve shown the world a few things. Let’s show them that ordinary activities like eating can unite people of different races, religions, sexes… short people, tall people, fat people, lean people”.