What is Heritage Day Really About?

‘Heritage Day’ was introduced to South Africa in 1995. Its aim was to celebrate the diverse people of our country. The day had formerly been known as ‘Shaka Day’, celebrating King Shaka’s victory in uniting many Zulu clans. So, it has always been a day of unity and a nation coming together rather than being at war with each other. Given that the New South Africa had many teething pains in its attempt to bring the nation together after the divisive period of Apartheid, introducing the holiday was one of the Government’s methods of trying to bring peace amongst races and cultures. 

In 2005, Heritage Day was ‘rebranded’ as Braai Day, braaing being an activity that most South Africans enjoy. The campaign was a novel one, encouraging people to come together over food and the joy of not having to work that day. It’s also much more comfortable to discuss food and introduce new recipes to each other than to recall whose grandparents messed up more during Apartheid. More wors, anyone? Personally, I think the idea to emphasise food on Heritage Day was a fitting one, given that food is so strongly attached to culture. Regardless of where your forefathers came from, they brought with them a unique selection of meals that makes South African cuisine so diverse. While politics may lead to arguments, nobody can deny a hearty dish made with love and fond memories of those who taught us to cook. 

Even in 2018, where it seems that young people are more cosmopolitan or multi-cultural, culture is still expressed through what you choose to bring to the braai, or using your great-grandmother's recipe for the perfect marinade. Even vegetarian dishes have a place at the table despite braaing having connotations of meat. More people are eating in a health-conscious way and appreciate some veg with their chow. Braaing isn’t for everyone, and perhaps your family (blood-related or chosen) would prefer to celebrate in other ways. If you’d like to learn about your heritage, or the heritage of other South Africans, there are several places you can go to. Some options include: the Slave Lodge, the Castle of Good Hope, the Iziko Museum, the Holocaust Centre as well as the District 6 Museum. Check out their respective websites for ticket prices and student specials.

Ultimately, Heritage Day is about you and those around you. You can choose to learn more about your own culture, or the cultures of others. And if that isn’t appealing to you, you could always just enjoy the day off with family and friends, celebrating the fact that you can enjoy time together over food, stories and an appreciation of one another.