Heritage Day in South Africa and What it Means

Words: Crush

What’s in a name? Heritage Day in South Africa, or Braai Day as it has colloquially become known, is an opportunity for everyone to celebrate their particular heritage and culture in a meaningful way.


What is Heritage Day in South Africa?

Heritage Day, once known as Shaka Day, is celebrated in South Africa on September 24th. Shaka Day was originally named in honour of the legendary Zulu king, Shaka Zulu, who convinced multiple Zulu clans to stand together, united against the Boers and the British.

This day of commemoration was in danger of being lost after 1995 as it had not yet been included in the Public Holidays Bill. It was subsequently included in the Bill in 1996 but with a name change – Heritage Day. This was to be an all-inclusive day on which to celebrate the heritage of all South Africans – for all of the diverse cultures to come together, unified, to celebrate their particular unique heritage and contribution to South Africa.

Why has Heritage Day in South Africa morphed into braai day?

An initiative was started by the media in 2005 to rebrand the day ‘National Braai Day’. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu became the national spokesperson for National Braai Day in 2007 and the name was changed to Braai4Heritage – still unofficially Braai Day. There’s even a National Braai Day anthem.

Archbishop Emeritus Tutu thought that the idea of using the braai to unite people was a very good one as it is common for people from various cultures in South Africa to gather together around a fire to celebrate.

Tutu has been quoted as saying “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 recognising that we are a fantastic nation”.

Heritage Day in South Africa

Not Everyone Agrees with Braai Day

The unofficial (still called Heritage Day) renaming of the day to National Braai Day has been criticised by some. Those that think that the name change bastardised the meaning of the day into nothing more than a day of grilling meat over a fire. They are in the minority, however, with most people embracing the name. It is, however, important to still remember the true meaning of the day and to respect the cultural heritage of other people. This public holiday has noble intentions with pride, togetherness and community being high on the list of objectives.

Cooking on Heritage Day in South Africa

South Africans will celebrate this day in many different ways and that is part of the appeal. Some South Africans will dress in traditional clothes on Heritage Day to celebrate their cultural heritage, while others will spend time with friends and family. One thing is for sure – a braai will never too far away.

A good way to celebrate this day could be by visiting one of the many World Heritage Sites in South Africa to learn about other cultures.

Whatever you decide to do on Heritage Day, be sure to take some time to celebrate, or at the very least, to acknowledge your heritage. If you do decide to cook as part of your celebrations, check out our selection of classic heritage recipes or click the images below.

Heritage Day Recipe Inspiration

If these boerewors rolls have you salivating, then check out our favourite braai recipes and braai sides and salads. The next thing you need is pudding, so check out this list of best braai desserts. Also, if you have a herbivore coming to your Heritage Day celebrations then check out these vegetarian braai recipes – there are even a few vegan-friendly ones too.

Heritage Day in South Africa - Best Braai Recipes

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