Shaka, Jan Braai and a ‘messy’ rainbow nation

By now, you’ve surely well aware of what is coming next Tuesday. It’s hard to miss with just about every store – especially grocery stores – running adverts shouting about their various specials for the last two weeks.

I am of course referring to National Braai Day, probably one of the most South African holidays on the calendar.

On September 24, we as a nation are encouraged to celebrate the one thing that truly unites us regardless of race, religion, sexuality or gender: the joy of a good ol’ braai.

At least, that’s how some people will be marking the day. For others, September 24 instead marks Heritage Day, a day dedicated to the many different cultures and traditions that make up our this messy rainbow nation. of ours.

Every year, the debate over Braai Day vs Heritage Dday flares up online and I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t see just what the big deal is.
So this week, let’s have a look at the history of September 24 and just how two seemingly opposing celebrations came to fall on the same day.

Heritage Day was first celebrated on a national level on September 24, 1995.
Before then, it had been known unofficially as Shaka Day and was dedicated to remembering the legendary Zulu king. It was mostly celebrated in KwaZulu-Natal and likely would have stayed that way if not for the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

You see, in December 1994 the new democratically elected government put forward the Public Holidays Bill which, as the name suggests, was meant to determine which days of the year would count as public holidays.

One glaring omission from the Bill was Shaka Day, which led the IFP to protest it.
Eventually, a compromise was reached: September 24 would be made a public holiday but it would be renamed to Heritage Day and would be dedicated to all cultures and traditions.

So far so good, but where does the braai fit in all of this?

Credit is usually given to Jan Scannell, also known as Jan Braai. Scannell is largely recognised as first person to come up with the idea of National Braai Day in 2007 and being responsible for the first big push to embed the idea in the public consciousness. The rest, as they say, is history.

Scannell’s actions have drawn heavy criticism from people who see National Braai Day as a cheap commercial take-over of a day meant to celebrate traditional cultures and practices that are often marginalised in the mainstream.

And yet, at the same time, an equal number of people have come out in support of Scannell’s new holiday. No less than Desmond Tutu endorsed National Braai Day in 2008 while the National Heritage Council has also come on board.

In the end, this is a debate that will likely go on forever with no real winner. Regardless of what your stance is, there’s one thing we can all agree on: having a day off work is great.


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