Unpacking Heritage Day


There’s not going to be a new edition of the podcast today because it is a three-day weekend here in South Africa. [Don't worry, there will be a special holiday (read: intoxicated) edition of the podcast recorded later today and put up sometime on Tuesday!]

Meanwhile, we’re trying to sort out how to feel about Heritage Day, with South Africa celebrates today, other than, “yay! Day off!” It’s a pretty loaded day off. The following summary is cobbled together from Wikipedia entries and scattered South African blog posts:

In the Bad Old Days of South African history, the homeland KwaZulu celebrated 24 September (that’s how you write dates here, which confuses me every time I have to give my date of birth at the pharmacy) as Shaka Day. When the government reformed after Apartheid, Shaka Day was not on the list of public holidays, which upset some Zulu members of parliament. The compromise was to mark the 24th of September as “Heritage Day”, where all South Africans could celebrate their personal backgrounds that contribute to this “Rainbow Nation.”

Trouble is, nowadays “Heritage Day” is more commonly known as “Braai Day”, meaning a day to grill food. Which seems… more than a little gauche:

I think this is what those crazed Fox News commentators are always going on about with the “War on Christmas”? Having a meaningful holiday reduced to something as silly as meat cooked on fire is pretty insulting.

Regardless, we’re going to have a braai today, probably with some “American Hot Dog Sausages” which I guess celebrates our heritage. In the meantime, for my handful of South African readers, I’d love to hear what you think about Heritage Day/Braai Day!

I wonder if immigrants to the US are this confused on Columbus Day.


  1. I actually love Heritage Day, mainly because it marks the beginning of summer and the downhill slide into December holidays for me. I prefer that it’s become more about Braai Day than our heritage stuff because I think that’s more inclusive. Many South Africans have quite complex, and not always pleasant, family backgrounds (e.g. my dad’s family is technically Afrikaans (part of the Great Trek etc.), but he has always been extremely liberal and not identified with Afrikaaner culture) which makes celebrating personal heritage a litle complicated.

    On the other hand, almost all South Africans feel a personal connection with the idea of a braai as one of the symbols of our culture. I think it’s much more unifying.

    • I think that’s a great perspective on it! Also I find it VERY charming how much South Africans love to braai. It reminds me a lot of the way some people in the US are about baseball… where it’s almost a religion.

  2. Heritage Day – 24th September

    Braai Like a South African, Eat Like a King.

    When you think about Heritage Day what comes to mind? You would be forgiven for feeling a little flustered in your explanation. Unsurprisingly, this South African public holiday comes with a little story.

    Not originally intended to be a public holiday, King Shaka Day had been left off of the newly elected governments Public Holiday’s Bill, leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouths of South Africa’s largest tribe. The Zulus. With this omission the Inkata Freedom Party refused to sign the Bill as their most famous Zulu King Shaka was not being remembered with the respect he commanded. Without their signature on the bill it would fail and so after a period of negotiation Heritage Day was born. It represents not only the mighty King Shaka but also the celebration of the rich cultural heritage and diversity that makes South Africa such a vibrant nation.

    Former South African President Nelson Mandela had this to say on Heritage Day 2007: “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”.
    “But what has this got to do with braais?” we hear you say?

    Typically in South Africa, everything!

    In 2005 and in the vein of celebrating shared culture rather than focusing on cultural divisions, an initiative by Braai4Heritage and Jan Braai called upon all South Africans to celebrate their common roots by having a braai (barbeque) on Heritage day. The idea blossomed and today there are more braais on this day than any other. This year Castle Lager are actually going to try break the current world record (see below).

    Over time there have been some really high profile converts who enjoy the ongoing celebration but none more than one of South Africa’s favourite sons, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who in 2007 was made the National Spokesperson for “Braai Day.”
    So why not chuck some charcoal and meat into your car, round up your family, friends and associates and have a braai to celebrate our rainbow nation?

    To find out more about “Braai Day” visit http://www.braai.com

    South Africa will be bustling with local festivals, events and braais so we recommend checking with your local press for events. We have listed a few of our favourites, so take a look if they are in your area.

    Western Cape | Cape Town – Newlands Forrest
    What better way to char those steaks than being surrounded by some of South Africa’s most Jurassic pine trees? Conveniently located on the southern side of Table Mountain you will have plenty of time to kick back while the kids run a-muck. If you really feel up to it why not bring the mountain bikes and work up an appetite on some of the amazing trails?

    Entrance is R30 for up to six people and R10 per person thereafter. Mountain Biking is free. For more information contact Newlands Forrest on 021 422 1601/2.

    Limpopo | Magoebaskloof Spring Festival
    The Magoebaskloof Spring Fair in September is a laid-back affair. Visit a choice of local gardens on show, browse through craft markets, go picnicking or rambling in the forests, set sail on a sunset cruise. The markets are held in the village hall and nearby hotel and sell a range of crafts, textiles and furniture.

    One of the highlights of the Spring Fair is the exhibition of orchids. These delicate and exquisite plants never fail to bring oohs and aahs from visitors. But let’s not forget the fair is not only about the flowers. The local vicinity includes: hiking, mountain climbing, outdoor sports, bands, pubs, dancing, walks and so much more. We recommend booking in advance as the local accommodation is usually sold out when the fair starts.

    The event runs from the 21st – 29th September leaving Heritage Day slap bang in the middle of this fun filled extravaganza. You might be forgiven for not braaing as there really is something for everyone.

    Castle Lager Braai Nation – Braai World Record Attempt

    Get yourself and your crew to a Castle Lager braai event on Heritage Day, 24 September 2013, and help them break the world record for the most people braaing at the same time. The event is being held in 6 cities across South Africa and includes live music, bars and facilities to bring your own food, braai equipment and soft drinks.
    The events will take place in: Cape Town, Durban, East London, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. So why not be part of something huge and help a nation break a world record!

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