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Heritage Day traditions and why we do them

Heritage Day traditions and why we do them

Heritage Day is here, and we are either spending time eating, sleeping or chilling with loved ones. But do we know how this day came about or why it is called Braai Day?

What is Heritage Day and how did it come about?

While many South Africans are aware of Heritage Day, how many know the history behind it, the true reason we celebrate this momentous holiday, and its connection to various cultures and traditions?

Heritage Day was initially known as ‘Shaka Day’ or ‘Shaka’s Day’, a day dedicated to commemorating the legendary King Shaka Zulu on the presumed date of his death in 1828. Shaka Zulu played an important role in uniting different Zulu clans into one cohesive Zulu nation in Kwa-Zulu Natal. To this day, thousands of people gather at the King Shaka Memorial on the 24th of September each year to pay tribute to the great Zulu King.

When the bill presented to the new post-Apartheid Parliament of South Africa in 1996 omitted Shaka Day from the proposed Public Holidays Bill, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, strongly objected to the bill. Eventually, a compromise was reached between the Parliament and the ANC (African National Congress), 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 – Giving rise to Heritage Day!

Heritage Day on 24 September recognises and celebrates 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.

How did it become Braai Day?

In recent years, Heritage Day has further evolved and become synonymous with National Braai Day. Some call it Shisa Nyama or Ukosa, while others call it a braai. Regardless of what term you use, the intention remains the same – Gathering around a fire, enjoying good food, good company and celebrating your culture and heritage with friends, family, and the ones you love.

In 2005, an initiative started by the media aimed to re-brand the day to ‘National Braai Day’. Two years later, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu became the national spokesperson for National Braai Day.

Tutu liked the idea of using braai to unite the people of South Africa as it is common for people from our country’s various cultures to gather together around a fire to cook and celebrate. Cooking a meal in this way is something that crosses racial, cultural, religious and social boundaries.

Besides braaiing, how else is Heritage Day celebrated?

South Africa is a beautiful mix of cultures and heritages, and what better way to do this than to dress up? South Africans love dressing up in traditional attire on Heritage Day. This is a wonderful way to celebrate our cultural roots and remember where we came from.

We love to eat, and besides braai and snacking on biltong, some South Africans take to the kitchen to make Cape Malay dishes and share these with friends and family.


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