So much more than braaivleis

Heritage Day should be an opportunity for South Africans to learn about, and embrace, other cultures.

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I woke up a little later than usual on Heritage Day, and was surprised by the commotion outside. When I went outdoors a short while later, a neighbour asked me why I hadn’t set up my braai. Then I was asked by another neighbour to join him and a few friends for a braai at the park. I declined and went to the shopping centre to run a few errands, only to see people going in and out of the liquor store and butchery. That is when it hit me: it was National Braai Day.

Heritage Day is generally a busy day for retailers, especially butcheries, which in turn is good news for farmers. But I cannot understand why so many South Africans see this important day as little more than an opportunity to braai meat and drink alcohol. Some people even achieved a new Guinness World Record for the highest number of people braaiing at the same time. The previous record, set by Kirin Brewery Company in Japan in 2011, was 2 311 people attending three events. South Africa broke the record with 2 353 individuals.

Could it be that the government has unwittingly created a holiday simply for people to braai?

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History and diversity
The day was originally known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of the Zulu King. The present government changed it to National Heritage Day, with the intention that South Africans should celebrate the heritage of the diverse cultures making up our country’s population. This year, a significant number of people wore beautiful traditional attire to celebrate their heritage. But the commercialisation of the day is somewhat disturbing.

According to former ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga, government is trying to give people the space to define for themselves who they are and what their heritage is. He said that this is being done in an effort to bring dignity to people.
“It will really be a sad day if braaiing becomes more important than celebrating our heritage,” he was quoted as saying.

More than just a day off
In a democratic country, people can decide how they want to celebrate a holiday. And no one wants to be told what to do or how to feel on Heritage Day. But to some extent I agree with Motshekga. I feel that this day should be more than just about people waking up in the morning, taking out meat to braai and drinking alcohol.

We should use the opportunity to learn about other cultures and embrace them. I would therefore support the idea of people of diverse cultures coming together for a braai, as long as the focus is not solely on braaiing. The day is about building the nation, after all.

In a 1996 address on Heritage Day, former president Nelson Mandela said: “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.”