According to the South African History Online, before Heritage Day also became known as Braai Day, it was celebrated as Shaka Day by the Zulus in KwaZulu-Natal.
The idea for Braai Day came from the Braai4Heritage organisation.
In 2005, a media campaign tried to “re-brand” the holiday as National Braai Day “in recognition of the South African culinary tradition of holding informal backyard” braais. The organisation aims to have all South Africans “celebrate their common roots by having a braai (barbecue) on Heritage day.”
Who created Braai Day
The event was created by Jan Scannell who is also known as “Jan Braai.” On 5 September 2007, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was made the National Spokesperson for Braai Day.
Addressing the initiative Tutu said: “There are so many things that are pulling us apart,” and “this has a wonderful potential to bring us all together…. We have 11 different official languages but only one word for the wonderful institution of braai: in Xhosa, English, Afrikaans, whatever.”
At the end of 2007, National Braai Day changed its name to Braai4Heritage and the initiative received the endorsement of South Africa’s National Heritage Council (NHC). However, there’s been some controversy over the name and goal behind the initiative.
The controversy behind the rebranding
Some believed the initiative was created as a ploy to make people forget the history and the original meaning of why the day was created. A supporter for the day to remain about heritage.
“It doesn’t make sense because Heritage Day is supposed to be a day where we remember where we come from, where we celebrate our history.”
Another supporter agreed adding:
“I think it’s more about celebrating our history rather than having a jol at a braai. For us it’s definitely Heritage Day, where we recognise our history and the past struggles.”
A Braai Day supporter disagreed saying:
“I don’t feel that it takes anything from Heritage Day because you do get everything of the culture from the food that you eat and you have fun as well.”
Celebrating heritage instead of braais
In 2014, Asanda Ngoasheng wrote an opinion piece speaking against rebranding the holiday to be about braaiing. He wrote: “There are millions of children and adult books, films, art and music documenting, reflecting on and recording the culture and heritage of English and European people in South Africa and the world.”
He continued noting:
“It should therefore not be a surprise when people from such cultures in South Africa don’t see the point behind Heritage Day. If your heritage is celebrated every day then you won’t see a need to dedicate a day to acknowledge and celebrate heritage.”Asanda Ngoasheng
Scannell stated what he hoped for the non-profit initiatives future. He said he wished for it to have the same impact and relevance as St Patrick’s Day or the Fourth of July in the United States.
Hopefully the controversy won’t prevent South African’s from honouring the day in whatever way they feel best.