Jan Braai (Jan Scannell) is the man behind the National Braai Day initiative. Picture Leon Lestrade.
Jan Braai (Jan Scannell) is the man behind the National Braai Day initiative. Picture Leon Lestrade.

Heritage Day traditions and why we do them

By Yasmine Jacobs Time of article published Sep 19, 2021

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Heritage Day is here, and we are either spending time eating, sleeping or chilling with loved ones. But do we know how this day came about or why it is called Braai Day?

What is Heritage Day and how did it come about?

Before Heritage Day was dubbed ’Braai Day’, it was known as Shaka Day. Shaka Day was originally named in honour of the legendary Zulu king, Shaka Zulu, who convinced Zulu clans to unite against the Boers and the British.

However, this important day of commemoration was in danger of being lost after 1995 due to it not being included in the Public Holidays Bill. To fix this, it was included in the Bill in 1996 with a new name – Heritage Day.

Heritage Day was to be an all-inclusive day on which to celebrate the heritage of all South Africans and celebrate each unique heritage and contribution to South Africa.

How did it become Braai Day?

In 2005, an initiative started by the media aimed to re-brand the day to ‘National Braai Day’. Two years later, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu became the national spokesperson for National Braai Day.

Tutu liked the idea of using braai to unite the people of South Africa as it is common for people from our country’s various cultures to gather together around a fire to cook and celebrate. Cooking a meal in this way is something that crosses racial, cultural, religious and social boundaries.

Besides braaiing, how else is Heritage Day celebrated?

South Africa is a beautiful mix of cultures and heritages, and what better way to do this than to dress up? South Africans love dressing up in traditional attire on Heritage Day. This is a wonderful way to celebrate our cultural roots and remember where we came from.

We love to eat, and besides braai and snacking on biltong, some South Africans take to the kitchen to make Cape Malay dishes and share these with friends and family.

Living in South Africa, it is important to know about the different cultures. Another great way that some celebrate this day is learning about different cultures and people.


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