South Africa: Heritage Day celebrations


The history of South African Heritage Day

The 24 of September is Heritage Day, one of the newly created South African public holidays. It is a day in which all South Africans are encouraged to celebrate their diverse cultural traditions and beliefs that make up our Rainbow Nation of South Africa.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the 24th of September was previously known as Shaka Day, in honour of the heroic King Shaka Zulu. Shaka was the legendary Zulu King who played an important role in uniting opposing Zulu clans into a powerful, united nation.

In 1994, when the proposed Public Holidays Bill went before the newly formed South African Parliament, Shaka Day had been omitted. The Inkatha Freedom Party, who has a large Zulu membership, objected to the bill owing to the exclusion of this important day. Eventually, a compromise was reached and it was decided to create a day in which all South Africans could observe and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage.

Former President Nelson Mandela, in an address marking Heritage Day in 1996 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.”

In 2005, a media campaign sought to “re-brand” the holiday as National Braai Day. It was in recognition of the beloved South African tradition of holding informal backyard braais (barbecues) and in the spirit of celebrating a shared culture rather than focusing on cultural divisions.

On 5 September 2007, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was chosen as the patron of South Africa’s Braai Day, proclaiming it to be a unifying force in a divided country (by donning an apron and tucking into a boerewors).

“There are so many things that are pulling us apart, this has a wonderful potential to bring us all together…. We have 11 different official languages but only one word for the wonderful institution of braai: in Xhosa, English, Afrikaans, whatever,” Desmond Tutu 2007

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… just South Africans doing one thing together, and recognizing that we are a fantastic nation.

“… what Jan Scannell had in mind with the Braai Day initiative… is nurturing and embracing a common South African culture, which is shared across all races and genders. Not one South African person can tell you that they have never witnessed a braai.  Even in rural areas they light a fire and put their meat on it to cook.” (Desmond Tutu, The Times, 12/09/2008)

In the spirit of celebrating the diverse cultures that make up South Africa, the Halo Media studio has decided to share some of our favourite heritage recipes with you. Each of us has a different heritage and a different culture, but we are all Proudly South African. Check out for our Heritage Day recipes!

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