Why South Africans celebrate National Braai Day on 24 September.
Traditionally, in KwaZulu-Natal, 24 September has been observed as ‘Shaka’s Day,’ in commemoration of the legendary Zulu king, King Shaka Zulu.
When the parties that formed the Government of National Unity were debating the modalities of the new constitution, Inkatha fought tooth and nail for the retention of September 24 as a holiday, with some cultural undertones.
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.”
As alluded to above, the ostensibly simple notion of a day for South Africans to celebrate their shared heritage quickly became complicated when people began to think about what that heritage was. Clearly, the cultural roots of a Nama farmer are quite different from the cultural roots of a descendent of Lithuanian Jews – and yet each has equally the same right to call themselves “South African.” In the wake of decades of segregation, state-sanctioned racism, and rampant violence, the logic behind celebrating a unifying national heritage was simple; the way to actually celebrate it, however, was not.
Eventually, it was Jan Scannell (otherwise known as ‘Jan Braai’), that called upon all South Africans to celebrate their common roots by having a braai (barbeque) on Heritage day. The idea has had some high-profile supporters, the most notable being Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who in 2007 was made the National Spokesperson for “Braai Day.”
After snubbing the idea in 2007 as trivializing, the National Heritage Council endorsed it in 2008. Tutu was quoted as saying in an 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 [‘we do this thing together’]… just South Africans doing one thing together, and recognizing that we are a fantastic nation.”
While we take pride in our cultural diversity, and we treasure our different languages and histories, we are first and foremost South African. Finish and klaar.