South Africa is an original country. We have eleven official languages, provinces full of natural beauty and multi-cultural people. This is quite an achievement and definitely a reason to celebrate: hello National Heritage Day!
So September 24th is our National Heritage Day. All South Africans know that this is code for ‘public holiday’ and a legit excuse to braai. This year, Heritage day falls on a Tuesday. Yes, that means some of us might get to enjoy a long weekend. Bonus! Before you start making getaway plans and buying the charcoal, let’s take a beat to think about why we actually have a Heritage Day.
What is ‘Heritage’ Anyhow?
This word is thrown around a lot in the History classroom but what does it actually mean? Well, the Cambridge English Dictionary defines the word as
“features belonging to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages, or buildings, that were created in the past and still have historical importance”.
To summarise, your heritage is where you have come from. It describes your culture and identity; your roots. Yup, it’s hella deep. Trevor Noah even has a whole show on this. If you are still unsure about the meaning of heritage, this is a must-watch for you. Pretty educational stuff.
Seriously though, heritage gives you that sense of home and belonging, where you can shout out “those are my people, yo”. To know where you come from and have that feeling of pride that comes with it is what heritage is all about.
Heritage Day: Celebration of Differences
South Africa is rich in diversity. To truly understand the originality of our rainbow nation, you have to get to grips with how different we are, as South Africans.
Here’s a crash course in a few of the cultures that call this country home:
- One of the oldest heritages in South Africa is that of the KhoiKhoi and San. There’s no denying the vibrancy of their culture and their unique way of life. These guys are South African gypsies with traditions that are a huge tourist attraction.
- Kwa-Zulu Natal is home to the Zulu Nation and the original Zulu warrior: King Shaka Zulu. Fun Fact: Heritage Day was originally Shaka’s Day so the Zulu nation have always had a reason to celebrate the 24th of September.
- The Xhosa culture is famous for its dress code which indicates a person’s status. Yup, this cultural identity is on point. The ANC’s founders were Xhosa and let’s not forget the nation’s timeless heroes: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
- The Ndebele culture is known for its bright artistic homes designed by their women. These talented ladies follow the tradition of wearing neck rings all the way up their neck. Stylin’!
- Traditionally, Sothos are known for their craftwork which includes hand-woven baskets from grass. Skill!
- One of the major traditional customs in the Shangaan culture is the belief in Sangomas. They are also known for their special diet which includes the Mopani worm. Don’t hate it ’til you try it.
- The Limpopo province hosts the Venda people. In this culture, drums are a big part of traditional customs and artwork has a spiritual connection. Yes, it’s very cool.
- Cape Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures are also a huge part of the country’s make-up. Traditional Cape Malay foods include Breyani (yum!). While the cultural experience of Chinatown and spices on South Africa’s East Coast bring an Asian influence to the nation.
- The European and British cultures are also part of the mix in South Africa. The Dutch introduced the Afrikaans language, the French introduced wine-making while the British brought some cool building designs. Even the white kids have some culture 😉
South Africans Unite: Heritage Day
These differences have caused separation and conflict in years gone by. It’s no secret that our country has had a difficult past but, as a country, we have risen above and beyond to become the Rainbow Nation.
What does that mean? Well, just like a rainbow has different colours that come together to create something beautiful, South Africa’s multiple cultures have come together as one beautiful nation.
The nation belongs to all its people. As South Africans, we are privileged to be able to experience and live in a country with so many different cultures. It’s our responsibility to embrace these differences since this is truly what makes us great. Although we have different customs and traditions, the South African culture is strong. It involves a celebration of unity. What better way to celebrate than by throwing some meat on the fire and having a good ol’ braai?!
Desmond Tutu said it best,
“We’re going to have this wonderful thing on the 24th of this month… when we all gather round one fire…It’s a fantastic thing, a very simple idea. Irrespective of your politics, of your culture, of your race, of your whatever, hierdie ding doen ons saam [‘we do this thing together’]… just South Africans doing one thing together, and recognizing that we are a fantastic nation.”
It’s South African socialising at its best. Taking action over a blazing braai is traditional stuff. Heritage is about where you are from. South Africans are born of this land and belong to it. This nation IS your roots.
Whether you come from a Zulu, Xhosa, Indian or European heritage, we are all South African. Our nationality brings us together as one people: South Africans. Waving one flag in togetherness and appreciation of our differences. We’re the nation that has seen the darkest days and is now a Rainbow. We are the nation that stands behind the Springboks, Proteas and Bafana Bafana. We are the nation that can be proud of how far we have come. So let’s celebrate our Heritage together, as a nation. Happy braai-ing!