So what is Heritage Day, Exactly?

Heritage Day is one of the newest South African public holidays, which was formerly known as Shaka Day.  Celebrated on the 24th of September it was originally in commemoration of the legendary Zulu King. King Shaka, as some of us were taught at school, was the king of the Zulu’s – the true and original African. Since my last history class however, I found out that the history we were taught at school was inaccurate. It was so inaccurate, in fact that it was eventually called a bald-faced lie. So, let’s move on;

After the ’94 elections, the proposed Public Holidays Bill before the New South African Parliament omitted Shaka Day in an effort to cater to the new ‘rainbow nation’.  The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a political party with a large Zulu membership, objected profusely and a compromise was reached when it was decided to create a day where all South Africans could observe and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage. That’s what happens when you have ELEVEN official languages! Imagine each having a public holiday – expensive nation!

“It is a day in which all are encouraged to celebrate their cultural traditions in the wider context of the great diversity of cultures, beliefs, and traditions that make up the nation of South Africa.”  Political speak for; “Eek, we nearly messed that one up! Quick save, Comrade!”

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, former President Nelson Mandela stated:
“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.”

And if you know what he was saying; good for you, because it really sounds like a lot of talk while saying very little.

In the vein of celebrating shared culture rather than focusing on cultural divisions, a recent initiative by Braai4Heritage calls upon all South Africans to celebrate their common roots by hosting a braai (or barbecue) on Heritage day. The idea has much support, most notably that of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who in 2007 was made the National Spokesperson for “National Braai Day.”

Archbishop Tutu’s favourite sausage is a beef boerewors. Source:

After snubbing the idea in 2007 as trivializing, the National Heritage Council endorsed it in 2008. Said Tutu during a recent interview:

“We’re going to have this wonderful thing on the 24th of this month … when we all gather round one fire…It’s a fantastic thing, a very simple idea. Irrespective of your politics, of your culture, of your race, of your whatever, hierdie ding doen ons saam [this thing we do together] … just South Africans doing one thing together, and recognizing that we are a fantastic nation.”

The Department of Arts and Culture, which organises the government’s official Heritage Day celebrations, announced that the theme for Heritage Month 2011 would be ‘Celebrating the Heroes and Heroines of the Liberation Struggle in South Africa’.  This is generally regarded as an ANC struggle so it does beg the question; just how rich and varied a cultural heritage do we have in our government? I thought the theme was a “braai”, anyway?

The Emergency Services, which organises our fire brigade, announced that on Heritage Day in 2012, they hoped the summer rains would have begun in order to prevent this mass cremation, the air pollution and ridiculous waste of business and tax-payers time and money.

So, what is it, exactly? It is exactly 11 different languages and cultures having a braai!

That is all it is and how it encourages us to celebrate our cultural traditions in the wider context of the great diversity of cultures, beliefs, and traditions that make up our nation because our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation …. Is just beyond

  1 comment for “So what is Heritage Day, Exactly?

  1. 2012/09/21 at 10:24

    I understand that it is wasteful in terms of the economy, but I am just so grateful for a little breather just before the madness of year end starts that I don’t really care. As for whether it is useful nation building thing, in the big picture yes, but on a personal level? I don’t know, I think we just end up with a whole load of segregated chisa nyamas, but maybe I am too cynical.

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