National Heritage Day in South Africa: What is Heritage Day and Why Do We Celebrate It

 September is Heritage Month in South Africa, the 24th of the month as National Heritage Day.

Each year in early spring, people across the nation get together to eat, drink and be merry, and to celebrate what makes us all uniquely South African.

This is one of the Rainbow Nation’s newly implemented public holidays and encourages us to celebrate our cultural traditions, communities and heritage.

In the following post, we discuss South Africa’s Heritage Day; how it began, the connection to braais and how you can celebrate this year.

The History of Heritage Day

The 24th of September marks ‘Shaka Day’ or ‘Shaka’s Day’, a day which commemorates the legendary King Shaka Zulu. Shaka Zulu played an important role in uniting different Zulu clans into one cohesive Zulu nation in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Each year, thousands of people gather at King Shaka’s grave to pay tribute to his and to honour his memory.

To learn more about the history, life and legend of King Shaka Zulu, the Anglo Zulu war and Zulu culture, book either the:

  • KwaZulu-Natal Shakaland Zulu Village Tour, or the
  • Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift Battlefields Tour

Entertainers at Shakaland Tour KwaZulu-Natal

When the New South African Parliament omitted Shaka Day from the proposed Public Holidays Bill, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected.

Eventually, a compromise was reached, 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.

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, the late former State President Nelson Mandela 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.”

We did so, knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.

In more recent years, National Heritage Day has become synonymous with National Braai (Barbecue) Day. Some call it Shisa Nyama or Ukosa, while others call it a braai, but whatever the occasion, nothing beats gathering around a wood fire to cook a meal and celebrate together.

Why Do We Braai on Heritage Day?

There is nothing more South African than lighting a fire and cooking a meal, and it’s something that crosses racial, cultural, religious and social boundaries. The National Braai Day was developed by Stellenbosch native, Jan Scannell – more commonly known as ‘Jan Braai’ – who quit his job in finance in 2005 to focus on the National Braai Day Initiative.

Just like the Irish have St Patrick’s Day, the French have Bastille Day and Australians have Australia Day, National Braai Day calls on all South Africans to unite around fires and share and celebrate our unique culture and heritage.

In 2007, Archbishop Desmond Tutu became patron of South Africa’s Braai Day, backing the idea that donning an apron to braai a boerewors (farm sausage) could be a unifying force in a country that had been previously divided. The following year, the initiative received the endorsement of South Africa’s National Heritage Council. It couldn’t be a more apt way to bring a rich and culturally diverse nation such as South Africa together in unity, because what good South African doesn’t love a braai?

How You Can Celebrate Heritage Day

There are plenty of opportunities to celebrate South Africa. Here are ten ways to enjoy this year’s Heritage Day. 

  • Run through the vines of Anura Vineyards, in Stellenbosch on the 24th September. Choose between a 5km, 10km and 17 km route. After the race, there will be a fun day with live music, food trucks, wine tastings and kids entertainment.       
  • Experience local talents showcase their artistry at the upcoming Alter Concepts African Festival hosted in the amphitheatre at the V&A Waterfront this Heritage Day. The non-profit company will be providing entertainment from dancers, singers, poets, rappers, bands, motivational speakers and other talents across South Africa. 
  • Cape Town is known for its delectable traditional dishes, so why not learn how to make them. Spend Heritage Day by booking a cooking class to learn some of the local favourites such as koeksisters, braaivleis and gatsby. One of our personal favourites is the Cape Malay style cooking classes offered in the historic area of Bo-Kaap. Some of our favourite cooking classes are from Lekka Kombuis and Ginger and Lime. 
  • Celebrate Heritage Day at The Afrofest 2019. The annual festival collaborates with local artists, businesses, activists and creatives to bring together an amazing festival in celebration of African culture and heritage. Locations this year include, CBD, Observatory, Langa and Khayelitsha. 

Whatever you choose to do to celebrate National Heritage Day, enjoy it with friends and family, wave the South African flag proudly, and remember your heritage and the place it holds in South Africa’s multicultural landscape.

Heritage Day 2020

24 September

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.

Living heritage is the foundation of all communities and an essential source of identity and continuity. Aspects of living heritage include: cultural tradition, oral history, performance, ritual, popular memory, skills and techniques, indigenous knowledge system and the holistic approach to nature, society and social relationships. In South Africa the term “intangible cultural heritage” is used interchangeably with the term “living heritage”.

Living heritage plays an important role in promoting cultural diversity, social cohesion, reconciliation, peace and economic development. In every community there are living human treasures who possess a high degree of knowledge, skills and history pertaining to different aspects of diverse living heritage. It is therefore important for South Africans to reclaim, restore and preserve these various aspects of living heritage to accelerate the use of living heritage to address challenges communities are facing today.

The Department of Arts and Culture developed a draft policy on the South African living heritage.

Heritage Day is a public holiday in South Africa.

Join the coversation on #heritageday2020


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