Heritage Day, Our Culture Of Compromise

The irony of this Public Holiday, is it was put in place to unite us as South Africans. Celebrating Heritage Day, was an effort led by the government, to heal the divisions of our past. A marketing campaign that gained legs in 2005 has hijacked the national day, and now I find it divisive, given how it could possibly change how South African history is recorded.

An image from Business Day #feesmustfall
An image from Business Day #feesmustfall

I am now where this young student is. A picture from Business Day at a #feesmustfall demonstration. Every time I hear someone call Heritage Day, Braai Day (or National Braai Day), I age a few years, as I have to calm myself down from the racing anger that shoots through my veins. I can’t change how history gets accounted for, but I don’t have to accept it.

I accept that some of you won’t understand why I would get so angry about people choosing to rebrand this Public Holiday as National Braai Day, instead of Heritage Day. If you have the slightest interest in understanding where I am coming from, then read this piece by John Metta, It’s Not About Race, before carrying on.

History, and access to an accurate account of it, is an important element of shaping our beliefs and therefore who we become as people. I hear my kids say braai day, albeit they look to correct it when I am there to keep the peace. Last year, I ended up making them research Heritage Day and why it is a Public Holiday. So let me remind you, in case you have forgotten, Heritage Day is about the sum total of what we inherited as South Africans.

When the Public Holidays Bill was presented to Parliament in 1995, the 24th September was not a Public Holiday. Historically, the people living in KwaZulu-Natal, had called the day Shaka Day, in commemoration of the Zulu King. The Inkatha Freedom Party appealed to Parliament to add the 24th September as a recognised Public Holiday. Rather than hard-line to the day being called Shaka Day, they reached a compromise. The day was to be inclusive of all our diverse cultures, beliefs and traditions, hence Heritage Day.

President Nelson Mandela, in an address in 1996, marking Heritage Day stated;

When the 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 build our new nation.

We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.”

Jan Scannell is an entrepreneur, who worked on the braai day campaign, which has gained momentum, year after year, and now we find ourselves with the 24th September being called National Braai Day. I don’t think his intention was to hijack National Heritage Day. Having said that, he can’t claim to not being aware of seeing what is happening now. So why isn’t he doing something about it? While The Arch, Desmond Tutu, endorsed this movement in 2007, many have expressed their outcry year after year, and their reasons why.

A braai without open flames is a BBQ
A braai without open flames is a BBQ

What will my grandchildren read of this day, if it is indeed still a Public Holiday? It will possibly still be called National Heritage Day, but referred to as National Braai Day! There will be no context as to how it came into being. That’s how history will account, as there will be no trigger for someone to search Heritage Day.

The plutocracy of how this world works is so pervasive, that people don’t realise that if you mention Jan van Riebeeck to most South Africans, they will have an image of the man, yet ask them what picture they have in their mind of Shaka Zulu, at best they will picture Henry Cele, an actor born in 1949. van Riebeeck came into prominence in 1652 and Shaka Zulu around 1816, yet we have better recording and imagery of the man who was around more than 100 years earlier!

The shrimp on the barbie joke
The shrimp on the barbie joke

This is not about me looking to “piss on your braai”. This is me, creating an audit trail for my children. An audit trail for my children’s children. A place to start their research from, in understanding a piece of their country’s history. When we start compromising our history, we lose a significant part of our story, which is the basis of who we are.


Author: fit4thabo

I'm a Banker by profession, and ubiquitous on social media. Sometimes, it is as if my brain has a mind of its own. Full of life, and love my family, my work, sports, food, whisky and wine.

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