The history of Heritage Day
Heritage Day is one of the public holidays which came into being after 1994. Before being instituted as Heritage Day in 1995, 24 September was celebrated in KwaZulu-Natal as Shaka Day in honour of the Zulu king. It became, however, Heritage Day, a day “…when South Africans celebrate the diverse cultural heritage that makes up a ‘rainbow nation’. It is the day to celebrate the contribution of all South Africans to the building of South Africa” (21:1995).
A few years ago Braai Day was started as an informal way to celebrate Heritage Day and to promote fellowship. According to the Braai Day website, Braai Day is a day for “South Africans to unite around fires, share our heritage and wave our flag … every year”. It was lauded by some – Desmond Tutu included – to be an excellent way to bring the people of South Africa together in a manner which is proudly South African. Others, however, criticised Braai Day as being a way in which the true meaning of the day is diminished and that it is a way of forgetting the past – and, therefore, the heritage of the country.
What heritage means
Yet “heritage” means something different to almost everyone. For some it strictly means their culture or their religion, while for others it can simply be family. And you should be able to celebrate what you want and how you want to one this day especially because of this difference in understanding. Perhaps this is also part of reconciliation – accepting that everyone thinks differently from each other.
A way to promote fellowship
It may be that the different understanding of Braai Day is also what is causing the criticism – for some it is too informal, while for others Heritage Day seems to forced and formal. Informal celebration – instead of the grand and huge celebrations organised by government – is the best and easiest way to get to know one another, as well as one another’s heritage better. I have yet to see friendships forged through force, but through informal talk and meetups friendship and fellowship can form that can grow to include a mutual understanding and appreciation for one another and the heritage of all.