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Heritage Day: What Exactly Are We Celebrating?

Heritage Day on 24 September is the celebration of all the different cultures and heritages that make up South Africa’s Rainbow Nation.

24 September 2014

South Africa has a rich and diverse culture. With 11 official languages and many different cultures across our nine provinces, the 24th of September is a national public holiday dedicated to the celebration of everyone’s heritage, traditions and beliefs, and how it contributes to the overall ethos that make up our Rainbow Nation.

…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 – Lowry 21:1995

Heritage Day’s history

The allocation of the date 24th of September as Heritage Day was decided by the Parliament of South Africa after the 1994 Democratic Election. In Kwazulu-Natal the date was already known as Shaka Day in commemoration of Shaka Zulu, the legendary Zulu King who united the various Zulu clans. The Public Holidays Bill then included the public holiday as a day that all South Africans can celebrate their cultural beliefs and it was implemented in 1995. And while there are plenty of events happening on the day, the aim of the holiday is to share a meal with others and tell the story of your heritage and beliefs to cultivate a respective and empathetic nation who are tolerant of everyone’s beliefs.

National Braai Day

As a way to unify the celebrations of the day and to create a unified spirit amongst our diverse traditions, a 2005 media campaign rebranded the holiday as National Braai Day in recognition of the South African culinary tradition of informal backyard braais or barbeques. And while Heritage Day is about celebrating your individual beliefs, Braai Day seeks to unite 50 million people in their love of braai so that Heritage Day can be celebrated together.

National Braai Day

Jan Braai and the Braai Day Mission

Jan Braai is the man behind the National Braai Day initiative. Together with Desmond Tutu who was appoint as patron of South Africa’s Braai Day, Jan Braai’s initiative aims to position National Heritage Day as South Africa’s annual day of celebration. South Africans are called to unite around fires, to share our heritage with other cultures and to celebrate the diversity that forms the core of our country’s unique culture and values.

It is South Africa’s St Patrick’s Day

Where Ireland has St Patrick’s Day, the French Bastille Day and Australia has Australia Day, South Africa’s Heritage Day is the one day where everything South African is celebrated and shared. This day contributes to the strengthening of South Africa as a nation through the act of nation building and social cohesion.

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