From Heritage day to Braai Day: A history

From Heritage day to Braai Day: A history

On 24 September, millions of South Africans will be commemorating National Heritage Day, also known as National Braai Day. But there’s much more to this culturally-significant day than just braai vleis and beer; it’s also rooted firmly in the history and traditions of KZN.

As a country with 11 national languages, a national flag representative of our colonial past and democratic present, and a national anthem which features three different dialects – the Rainbow Nation is a land rooted in history and tradition.

And Heritage Day is a day which recognizes those shared differences which make us inherently South African.

Symbolically, the KwaZulu-Natal province has played an integral role in recognizing this day as an important one in South Africa’s history.

Prior to the attainment of democracy in 1994, September 24 was commemorated annually in KZN as King Shaka Day – a provincial holiday in honour of the legendary Zulu king.

In the early 1990’s, when the government of national unity began drafting what would later become our Constitution, the day was not included for consideration in the Public Holiday’s Bill. This angered the predominantly-Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) – who refused to sign the bill unless the day was included – and recognized – as a national holiday.

In order to reach a compromise, the date was renamed Heritage Day and included in the bill, with the government’s ultimate goal being to engender unity in diversity.

King Shaka Day is still celebrated annually by Zulus in the province at his burial site in KwaDukuza (north of Durban) – where the Zulu warrior was buried in 1828 after being assassinated by his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana.

According to the National Braai Day mission, the aim is to “encourage all South Africans to unite around fires, share our heritage and wave our flag on 24 September every year.”

Braai Day founder Jan Scannell (popularly known as Jan Braai) says the purpose of the campaign is to actively celebrate a shared South African heritage.

In 2007, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was made national spokesperson of the campaign.

Heritage Day serves as an important reminder of our past – and where we’ve come from as individuals and as a culturally-diverse nation; something former President Nelson Mandela reminded us of back in a 1996 Heritage Day address – which still holds true today:

“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.”