Celebrate Heritage Day in Cape Town

South Africa has 11 official languages and their corresponding cultures and still more unofficial ones that identify as South African. This makes for a melting pot of variety, one that has earned South Africa the fond nickname “Rainbow Nation”. So, it is only right that a public holiday be set aside to celebrate this wonderful diversity: Heritage Day which takes place annually on 24 September.


What it’s all about

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) originally proposed the idea of a public holiday in 1995 called “Shaka’s Day” to commemorate the unification of the Zulu nation brought about by King Shaka in the 19th Century. However, the new South African government (known then as the Government of National Unity, operating under the interim Constitution of South Africa between 27 April 1994 and 3 February 1997), agreed that the day should be more inclusive, and so Heritage Day was born. So 24 September came to be known as the day to celebrate the cultural diversity that makes up South Africa.

The South African government use this day to bring awareness to this broad heritage with themes. In 2016, the theme is “Celebrating Human Treasures by Asserting our African Identity” which brings focus to living heritage and highlights the importance of preserving indigenous knowledge.

Bring on the braai

Around 10 years later, a man known as Jan Braai rallied a few friends together to bring about a national pastime – the barbecue known locally as the braai – as a way to enjoy Heritage Day. His idea caught on and soon Heritage Day was being referred to as National Braai Day.

“Across race, language, region and religion, we all share one common heritage. It is called many things: Chisa Nyama, Braai and Ukosa to name few. Although the ingredients may differ, the one thing that never changes is that when we have something to celebrate we light fires, and prepare great feasts,” Jan Braai explains.

Check out some of the best spots to set up a braai here.

meat on the braai

What we do to celebrate

For many, the combination of the increasingly warm days of late spring and the love of the braai means that Heritage Day is a good time to get together with friends and family to commune around the fire.  South Africans make use of the open flame in a variety of ways, be it simply cooking meat directly above it on the grill, slow cooking a stew in a wrought iron pot known as a potjie, slowly cooking a whole carcass over a fire like a rotisserie… the options are endless.

Food is a strong expression of culture for most in South Africa, and so, you can expect to see a variety of restaurants offering traditional dishes over Heritage Day, such as Cape Malay curries, Malva pudding hailing from Dutch influences, hot Chakalaka and mielie pap, Bunny Chow, samp and beans to name a few.