Exploring our country and heritage together

16 September 2021

With Heritage Day coming up this month we’re taking this time to celebrate what we love most about our beautiful country and why Mzansi is simply like no other place on earth.  September is all about celebrating our unique heritage, culture and beliefs throughout all of our nation’s diverse people.

We explain why it’s also the perfect time to get a braai going and offer some suggestions to a few of our favourite local experiences and destinations.

How Heritage Day came to be

We know that our country is as diverse as it is beautiful. South Africans craved a day that all citizens of our vast rainbow nation could celebrate the very reason that makes our individual culture unique. A day that has a unifying factor; that each culture, race, and creed is different but we understand and appreciate the mutual desire to have a celebration of our own heritage and traditions.

King Shaka Day

Our fellow KZN community will tell you though, that Heritage Day stems from King Shaka Day and they would not be wrong!

The 24th of September is also considered to be King Shaka Day. This was seen by many as a day to honour the famous Zulu King, Shaka Zulu, who united his people and although not a public holiday, it was widely observed, especially since King Shaka’s death, where it has become an annual tradition for Zulu warriors to gather at his grave in Stanger, to honour him on the 24th of September.

Initially, when the public holidays for South Africa were being chosen and debated by the government, the list of considerations did not include 24 September. When the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) realised this, they knew their members would not be happy at the omission of this important cultural day.  The IFP then suggested that all South Africans should have a day to celebrate their diverse cultural heritage, and since Shaka Zulu stood for unifying his people, it seemed like the perfect day to carry that meaning for all South African citizens.

So, why’s it also called National Braai Day?

Because no one knows how to braai like a South African!

Braai’s are synonymous with any social gathering spent outdoors in SA, involving flame-cooked foods, ice-cold beverages, and good conversation.

The collective trait that every South African has a common love for a good old braai, sparked flames to come up with the idea that despite our mixed heritage and different traditions, all rainbow nation citizens enjoy the fellowship and sense of community that a braai brings out. The nickname “National Braai Day” came about in 2005, and this tradition was later continued by Braai4Heritage.

There is even a National Braai Day anthem! You’ve got to love the passion South Africans have for our beloved outdoor lifestyle!

Originally, the National Heritage Council considered the idea of letting Heritage Day advocate braaiing but turned it down. However a year later, in 2008, they decided to throw their endorsement behind the braai idea, since it had been so eagerly embraced by the South African public. We must not forget though the true meaning of the day and respect the cultural heritage of other people. This public holiday has noble intentions with togetherness and community, but cultural pride is what matters most.

A fantastic nation

Fun fact! Did you know that Desmond Tutu, our internationally renowned Emeritus Archbishop, was appointed patron of the South African Braai Day? And that his official title is;

“National Spokesperson for Braai Day”.

Tutu has been quoted as saying “We’re going to have this wonderful thing on the 24th of this month… when we all gather around 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 (this thing we do together)… just South Africans doing one thing together, and recognising that we are a fantastic nation”.

A good way to celebrate this day could be by visiting one of the many World Heritage Sites in South Africa to learn about other cultures.

South Africa has eight World Heritage Sites proclaimed by UNESCO, namely:

Robben Island (Western Cape)

Most famous for the incarceration of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected President of South Africa, was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years in jail.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park (KwaZulu-Natal)

 Formerly called the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, it has both one of the largest estuary systems in Africa and the continent’s southernmost coral reefs.

Cradle of Humankind (Gauteng)

It includes the hominid fossil sites at Swartkrans, Sterkfontein and Kromdraai.

Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park (KwaZulu-Natal)

The park has outstanding natural beauty, Africa’s highest mountain range south of Kilimanjaro, and the largest and most concentrated series of rock art paintings in Africa.

Mapungubwe Heritage Site (Limpopo)

A “place of the stone of wisdom”, was South Africa’s first kingdom and developed into the subcontinent’s largest realm, lasting for 400 years before it was abandoned in the 14th century. Its highly sophisticated people traded gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt.

Cape Floral Kingdom (Western Cape)

It makes up only 0.04% of the world’s land area, yet contains an astonishing 3% of its plant species, making it one of the richest areas for plants in the world and one of the globe’s 18 biodiversity hotspots. The protected areas include:

Table Mountain

De Hoop Nature Reserve

Boland mountain complex

Groot Winterhoek wilderness area

Swartberg mountains

Boosmansbos wilderness area

Cederberg wilderness area

Baviaanskloof

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape (Northern Cape)

It covers 160 000 hectares of dramatic mountainous desert in the northwest part of South Africa.

Vredefort Dome (Free State)

Some two billion years ago, a meteorite 10 km in diameter hit the earth about 100 km southwest of Johannesburg, creating an enormous impact crater.

Explore other’s heritage with these local favourites:

Cape Malay cuisine in the Bo-Kaap

Nowhere else on earth can you find the unique, sweet and savoury flavours and dishes that define Cape Malay cuisine. This uniquely South African style of cooking was born in the kitchens of the colourful homes of Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap neighbourhood. It’s the most amazingly colourful place and creates the perfect backdrop for a photoshoot! Local cooking classes teach guests how to make dhaltjies, bobotie, samoosas and true Bo-Kaap koesisters.

Both the Bo-Kaap Museum and District Six Museum nearby are also highly recommended.

A Wild Coast lost in time

The heartland of isiXhosa culture lies along the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast. The tiny villages that dot the rugged coastline of Coffee Bay and surrounds still look much as they did decades ago. Traditional thatched rondavels overlook the sea, cows laze on the beach and the only signs of modernity are the spaza shops selling airtime. Port Edward is nestled on the border between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and is just a two-hour drive from King Shaka International Airport. The Wild Coast Sun has been a favourite with South African families for generations. There is also backpacker and simple but comfortable accommodation in Coffee Bay.

Hole in the Wall is one of the most impressive landmarks on the South African coastline.

In the footsteps of warriors

The sunny province of KwaZulu-Natal offers more than just year-round sunshine and warm ocean waters. It’s a veritable melting pot of cultures. The Nelson Mandela Capture Site near Howick is a cultural and historical exhibition that is situated at the site where Nelson Mandela was apprehended for his anti-Apartheid activism acts in August 1952. There’s the chance to walk in the footsteps of the Zulu warriors, explore the famous Midlands Meander, the Mahatma Gandhi settlement and more.

The bunny chow is a uniquely South African favourite, found nowhere else than in Mzansi!

Rooibos tea in Clanwilliam

Another unique South African product, and one of Mzansi’s most famous exports, is rooibos tea. The distinctive yellow and green boxes are commonplace in our kitchen cupboards, whereas elsewhere in the world this tea is a treat – and comes at a premium price too.

Clanwilliam in the Western Cape is the rooibos capital of the world. The House of Rooibos takes you through the history of rooibos and tea production, has a tea room offering a variety of rooibos infused beverages, meals and even sells skincare and medicinal products.

The origins of humanity

The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is world-famous as the site where humankind originated. It’s a journey back millions of years to where it all began.

It's located about 50 km northwest of Johannesburg and consists of notable sights and limestone caves.

The Soul of Soweto

Bustling Soweto is the number one Gauteng spot to explore not only the origins of our democracy but also the cultural diversity of South Africa’s oldest and most historically significant township.

Local-led bike tour visits Soweto’s notable sights (like the famous Vilakazi Street).  And at the Soweto Towers, brave visitors can embark on their hair-raising adventure activities (including abseiling, zip-lining and pendulum swinging). Chaf Pozi, the tourist-favourite shisa nyama establishment at the base of the towers is a popular spot to celebrate your bravery with a hearty meal and drink.

No matter how you choose to spend your Heritage Day this year, it’s a good reminder to count your blessings and remember what matters most – your health and that of loved ones.

We hope that after reading this, we have shed some light on Heritage Day - its history, its sense of fellowship and of course why we gather around the hot coals year after year. If you are interested in exploring more of your or another culture, we would love to help you arrange any travel needs you may have when planning on exploring more of Mzansi!