Stoke the true fires of our heritage

Heritage Day is now widely known as National Braai Day, creating a dream marketing opportunity for retailers. (Clarissa Sosin)

Heritage Day is now widely known as National Braai Day, creating a dream marketing opportunity for retailers. (Clarissa Sosin)

September is the month during which we as South Africans celebrate our rich and diverse historical and cultural heritage. We affirm our unity in diversity as we seek to reconnect with our respective cultural roots. As the well-known saying goes, he who does not know his roots does not know where he is going.

The culmination of Heritage Month is Heritage Day on September 24, a public holiday.
In recent years, however, we have seen the gradual renaming of this day and its changing from Heritage Day to National Braai Day. This is wrong.

At the outset, let me say I am not against braaiing, which is widely recognised as a distinctively South African pastime. But I am aware of the compromise reached in the Parliament of our first democratically elected government when it renamed what was then Shaka Day as national Heritage Day. This compromise was struck to include all the historical and cultural heritages of South African peoples, not just the Zulu. It sought to solidify a truly rainbow nation. 

It is, therefore, a problem to reduce and cheapen Heritage Day by renaming it National Braai Day after a mere pastime, the historical heritage of which can be traced only to certain sections of our population. 

Such a rebranding carries the danger of eroding the true meaning of the day, especially among born-frees and the youth in general. 

We must not allow a national commemorative day to be pervaded by commercialisation, which we are already seeing in supermarket ads jumping on the National Braai Day bandwagon.

We should be celebrating Heritage Month and Day as a nation by recognising aspects of South African culture that are both tangible and intangible, including creative expressions such as music and culture, history, languages and food. It is important for us to know about our roots, to take pride in who we are, as well as to learn more about other identities in our country. 

During Heritage Month, I urge every young person to go to an elder and learn a few things about their family and their past. We cannot be a lost generation. The youth are the future leaders of our great rainbow nation and it is imperative that they understand our histories and cultures. – Rebone Tau is a member of the ANC Youth League national task team

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