It's not called 'Braai Day'

It's not called 'Braai Day'

On Sunday, South Africans will celebrate National Heritage Day. 

Pieter van der Merwe opinion

"It is a day on which all are encouraged to celebrate their cultural traditions in the wider context of the great diversity of cultures, beliefs, and traditions that make up the nation of South Africa," reads a post by SA History Online. But unfortunately many South Africans will go about their normal weekend activities, lost on the irony of lighting up a fire without celebrating, well, anything.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Heritage Day was previously observed as Shaka Day. It was commemorated in honour of the Zulu king, King Shaka Zulu, a man who played an integral role in uniting disparate Zulu clans.


However, when the proposed Public Holidays Bill put before the new South African Parliament omitted Shaka Day, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected to the bill.  It was then decided that 24 September would be recognised as Heritage Day, a day where all South Africans could observe and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage.

Like many South Africans, especially my fellow Afrikaners, I will most likely spend the day shoving coals and flipping steaks. A quiet day in the sun on a long weekend is after all ideal for any South African in need of a break from the hectic work week. 

My aim is not to criticise anyone's heritage as I for one believe everyone's traditions, cultures and practices should be respected and celebrated. My concern is with a seeming unwillingness to be exposed to, and be understanding of anyone else's.

Despite what marketers would have you believe, Sunday is not about who puts up the biggest braai, or who scored the biggest boerewors special. Instead, it is an opportunity for South Africans to come together - perhaps around a fire - to celebrate their diversity. It also offers a crucial opportunity for us to discuss the discomfort of our differences.

Jacaranda FM, the company where I work as a journalist, found itself in the eye of a storm over the past 10 days. My colleague Tumi Morake, for whom I have immeasurable admiration and respect, was subjected to hate speech, threats, and unwarranted verbal attacks, for comments she made on air.

How, you might ask, does this relate to our heritage? Celebrating one another goes far beyond beating a traditional drum in a souvenir shop, eating cultural cuisine in an overpriced restaurant, or taking pictures of a traditional dance in a casino.

The response I witnessed to Morake's comments is a clear indication that some of us have not taken the time to listen to our fellow South Africans and learn about not only their heritage, but their lived experiences. Racism, for the most part, stems from ignorance. The behaviour I witnessed is inconsistent with any culture or tradition. After all, intolerance is no one's heritage.

The events of the past two weeks or so is evidence that now more than ever South Africans from all walks of life need to read between the lines of hatred and come together to have frank and constructive discussions. We need to challenge our convictions and prejudices, especially when they are based on misinformation or fear. Perhaps Morake's comments touched a nerve, perhaps they lead to discomfort. That does not mean that an individual needs to be targeted, rather, it is the strongest indicator that we as a people need to engage.

These opportunities present themselves on a regular basis. But we refuse to step forward and engage. Instead, we assemble the coals, close ourselves off from the unfamiliar and retreat to that with which we are most comfortable. In some instances we retaliate, as if we were attacked.

Listening back to the audio, as a white, Afrikaans male, this is not what I experienced.

Yes, you will find me next to the braaivleis vuur on Sunday. But this year, on National Heritage Day, and every other day for that matter, I will listen and try to understand the backgrounds, cultures, belief systems and experiences of my fellow South Africans. I for one have a lot to learn.

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