If ever there was a day to celebrate the Rainbow Nation of South Africa, 24 September would be it. Every year on the 24th of September, South Africans celebrate their roots, their rich and incredibly diverse melting pot of cultures, and to ensure that the festive spirit spreads far and wide, this day is usually celebrated with a cookout known as a braai.
Keen on channeling your inner South African? Here’s the lowdown on Heritage Day, or as South Africans lovingly refer to it sometimes, Braai Day!
The Importance of Heritage Day in South Africa
Before it was renamed as Heritage Day, the 24th of September used to be known as Shaka Day, a day that commemorated King Shaka Zulu. This Zulu king united the Zulu clans to form the mighty Zulu nation, and before 1996, South Africans would gather at his grave to honor him.
After initially being rejected when a request for the day to be confirmed as a public holiday was submitted, it was decided that this day marked a noteworthy milestone in South African history. It was thereafter referred to as Heritage Day.
South Africans have since then been celebrating Heritage Day celebrating South Africa’s rich cultural heritage and its wide variety of different cultures that make up their nation on the 24th of September every year.
Heritage Day 101
Did you know that Heritage Day is one of the youngest national public holidays in South Africa? It was first celebrated in 1996 but it wasn’t until 2008 that it was nationally promoted as Braai Day with the hope of bringing all South Africans closer together as a nation.
Today, the entire month of September is dedicated towards Heritage Day, and the nation recognizes September as Heritage Month. This celebration helps foster greater social cohesion and a shared national identity!
Former president, Nelson Mandela, highlighted the importance of Heritage Day in an address in 1996. 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.”
To help foster and celebrate shared culture instead of focusing on cultural divisions, Braai4Heritage called upon all South Africans to celebrate their common roots by having a braai on Heritage Day. The idea was even given the nod by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in 2007 when he became the National Spokesperson for Braai Day. He stated: “There are so many things that are pulling us apart, and this has a wonderful potential to bring us all together. We have 11 different official languages, but only one word for the wonderful institution of braai: in Xhosa, English, Afrikaans, whatever,”
Celebrating Shared Culture
Here at Day Translations, we know how challenging it can be to find common ground between different cultures, but initiatives like Braai Day in South Africa that are bringing people together to celebrate their cultures as one unique aspect is inspiring, to say the least. As Archbishop Tutu said, it might be a simple thing, but irrespective of politics, culture, or race, people can come together to recognize that they might have their unique differences, but as a united front, they form a breathtaking feature.
There’s an isiZulu phrase that says: “Umumtu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, and it translates to “A person is a person because of people.” We believe this phrase crosses language and cultural borders and captures the essence of understanding, love, and unity amongst all cultures!