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”.

2 responses to “What’s the Big Deal about Braai Day?”

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    Zanokuhle :

    Interesting read. This has certainly been a contentious issue in Mzansi, particularly of the legacy of our divisive past.

    I think the Braai Day initiative is good in theory but fails in practice. As abantu baseMzansi (people of South Africa), we are still not one people. And while the aim of initiative is to bring us all together, it fails to recognise and address the complications of not just from our history but of our present.

    The important question to ask regarding initiatives that try bring us together as abantu base Mzansi is “on whose terms?”. You’ll find that celebrating braai day for most South Africans would mean dropping the things they do believe in celebrating, for something that doesn’t have much of a meaning in their culture – it’s celebrating culture on someone else’s terms and thus inadvertently silencing or even erasing other people’s cultures.

    This is why I think it’s best we keep it as Heritage Day and let everyone celebrate what they want, the way they want. If we do that – and also take time to teach and learn from each other – then somewhere down the line we’ll find what brings us together. Unity in Diversity.

    • SimoneG replied :

      Hi Zanokuhle, thank you so much for your very insightful comment – and our apologies for taking a while to respond. As you say, it is essential to celebrate our cultural diversity but to do so in a way that enhances, rather than obviates, the unique aspects of each cultural group. Being mindful of how cultural diversity is celebrated is hugely important!

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