Heritage Day: Braai, and braai proudly!

Apparently the tension between culture and commerce is strong in this country. The ANC's former chief whip Mathole Motshekga for one is upset about it.

"Heritage Day is becoming like Christmas day: we buy clothes, meat and alcohol, then invite friends over for a jolly good time," Motshekga said earlier this week

"The government is trying to give people the space to define for themselves who they are, what their heritage is and where they are going. This was done in an effort to bring dignity to who our people are. It will really be a sad day if braaing one day becomes more important than celebrating our heritage."

Motshekga, it seems, is convinced that South Africans don't share in each other's cultures outside of the state mandated day. Has he really never been invited to a wedding by a friend from a different cultural background, partaken in a tray of post-Diwali goodies at the office or attended a bris?

To be honest, this constant moaning about Heritage Day is getting a bit stale. It's been going on ever since 2007 when South Africans were first urged to throw some meat on the coals to celebrate the day. 

But it's a bit rich to ask people whether they understand the true value of a public holiday, which was declared less than 20 years ago and only included in the list after the Inkatha Freedom Party objected to it being left out. September 24 was originally celebrated as Shaka Day in KwaZulu-Natal, to commemorate the life of the Zulu king.

The problem in South Africa is that we're too dedicated to navel-gazing. It seems all our public holidays are dedicated to political events on the road to democracy – Human Rights Day commemorates the Sharpeville Massacre, Freedom Day, which celebrates the first free and fair elections, Youth Day marks the Soweto student uprising, and so it goes.

That's all fair and well. I'd take a holiday over no holiday any day. But if you're going to require that people take these things seriously, at least let that mean more than reading op-eds and attending boring speeches by aged politicians. So if somebody suggests that I could spend the day having a braai with my nearest and dearest, who am I to argue? Mathole Motshekga is certainly not offering up any helpful ideas on how to celebrate the day.

Heritage Day, we're told, seeks to recognise "aspects of South African culture, which are both tangible and difficult to pin down: creative expression, our historical inheritance, language, the food we eat as well as the land in which we live".

Government rallies are a dime a dozen on the day and museums and parks are open – free to the public, we're told. People are invited to explore their common heritage; all good and well if you're the hiking, picnicking, museum-going, rally-attending type and you happen to have those things in your town. (What, you think everyone lives in the city?) Just don't try that stuff with a cranky toddler in tow. 

Other than this, nobody outside of the folks behind National Braai Day has actually volunteered any helpful hints on how they think we should be celebrating the day.

The British have altogether dispensed with fancy names for their holidays, declaring instead a series of "bank holidays". Having royalty of course means sometimes you get a few extra days thrown in. The queen's Diamond Jubilee was celebrated with a day off and, following some gentle suggestion from the powers that be, a proliferation of blue and red bunting and traditional street parties featuring quintessential British food.

Americans have a set of public holidays with which South Africans are intimately familiar, thanks to the power of film. Independence Day on July 4 is synonymous with fireworks and that Will Smith film. Thanksgiving is all about turkeys and pie. 

But when it comes to South Africa, we're still stuck in political rally mode. And just you try to pin down exactly what constitutes traditional South African food. A braai – or shisa nyama if you like – is about as close as you'll get.

I'd take a street party, some fireworks and a generous helping of pumpkin pie over a trip to the museum or a tedious political rally any day, especially now that there are tots involved. 

I didn't originally plan anything for Heritage Day. Having not had the foresight to take the Monday off and get a four-day weekend getaway, I was just happy to have a four day week. My plans went as far as sleeping in, lounging about in my pyjamas and then making either a trip to the mall or to the park to feed the ducks (tots, remember?) – the same as on any other public holiday. But lounging in the garden with friends and family, eating gooey, roasted marshmallows off a stick and feeding them to the kids for the first time sounds infinitely better. I could build a tradition around that.

This year government is holding Heritage Day celebrations under the theme "reclaiming, restoring and celebrating our living heritage". When I read that it makes me think I need to sit down with my granny and have a cup of tea and a chat about the good old days as well as the bad old days. Alas, neither of my grannies are alive today but if they were, I'm pretty sure they would be at my braai. 

So, how do you celebrate Heritage Day?

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Indigenous food revivalists are cooking up a spiritual connection

Culinary activists such as Zayaan Khan and Tapiwa Guzha are prompting us to revisit and reclaim familiar, familial and traditional identities

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza: Liberating Africa from land of liberté

The cultural and political activist is on a quest to bring looted treasures back home

The Portfolio: George Tatakis

The Greek photographer is on a quest to document traditional costumes around the country

Black futures in the age of apocalypse

Curating the End of the World deploys Afrofuturism to respond to Covid-19, anti-black violence and capitalism

Africa needs businesses that build and strengthen the continent

Africans should know by now that they can’t depend on leaders and should rather learn to do it themselves

Children left speechless, denied identity

Parents think it benefits children to lose their African language, but it leaves them lost instead

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Limpopo big-game farmer accused of constant harassment

A family’s struggle against alleged intimidation and failure to act by the authorities mirrors the daily challenges farm dwellers face

Did Botswana execute ‘poachers’ ?

The Botswana Defence Force’s anti-poaching unit has long been accused of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Over 20 years the unit has killed 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans

Zondo tightens his grip with criminal complaint against Zuma

The state capture commission’s star witness now faces a criminal complaint and another summons

Sharp sting of the Green Scorpions

Crime busters secure a 97% conviction rate and register more criminal dockets for range of crimes

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…