September is Heritage Month in South Africa, the 24th of the month as National Heritage Day.

Each year in early spring, people across the nation get together to eat, drink and be merry, and to celebrate what makes us all uniquely South African. This is one of the Rainbow Nation’s newly implemented public holidays and encourages us to celebrate our cultural traditions and heritage.

The History of Heritage Day

The 24th of September marks ‘Shaka Day’ or ‘Shaka’s Day’, a day which commemorates the legendary King Shaka Zulu. Shaka Zulu played an important role in uniting different Zulu clans into one cohesive Zulu nation in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Each year, thousands of people gather at King Shaka’s grave to pay tribute to his and to honour his memory.

To learn more about the history, life and legend of King Shaka Zulu, the Anglo Zulu war and Zulu culture, book either the:

Entertainers at Shakaland Tour KwaZulu-Natal

When the New South African Parliament omitted Shaka Day from the proposed Public Holidays Bill, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and it was decided that a national holiday would be created where South Africans of all cultures and creeds could come together and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage.

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, the late former State President Nelson Mandela said, “When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.

We did so, knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.”

In more recent years, National Heritage Day has become synonymous with National Braai (Barbecue) Day. Some call it Shisa Nyama or Ukosa, while others call it a braai, but whatever the occasion, nothing beats gathering around a wood fire to cook a meal and celebrate together.

Why Do We Braai on Heritage Day?

There is nothing more South African than lighting a fire and cooking a meal, and it’s something that crosses racial, cultural, religious and social boundaries. The National Braai Day was developed by Stellenbosch native, Jan Scannell – more commonly known as ‘Jan Braai’ – who quit his job in finance in 2005 to focus on the National Braai Day Initiative.

Just like the Irish have St Patrick’s Day, the French have Bastille Day and Australians have Australia Day, National Braai Day calls on all South Africans to unite around fires and share and celebrate our unique culture and heritage.

In 2007, Archbishop Desmond Tutu became patron of South Africa’s Braai Day, backing the idea that donning an apron to braai a boerewors (farm sausage) could be a unifying force in a country that had been previously divided. The following year, the initiative received the endorsement of South Africa’s National Heritage Council. It couldn’t be a more apt way to bring a rich and culturally diverse nation such as South Africa together in unity, because what good South African doesn’t love a braai?


How You Can Celebrate Heritage Day

This year, Heritage Month is themed around Nelson Mandela’s centenary as ‘The year of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: Advancing transformation of South Africa’s heritage landscape’ with the official celebration taking place in Kokstad, nestled in the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal.

Kokstad is significant as it is named after Griqua chief, Adam Kok III who settled there in 1863 and reigned for many years, famously resisting colonial occupation. The Griqua community has had a significant impact in shaping the history and socio-political landscape of our country.

Elsewhere around the country, there are other ways to mark the occasion. Check out these braai-themed events happening around South Africa:

If you’re looking for something a lively, get down to the Centurion Shisanyama National Heritage Day Pre Braai Party on Sunday 23 September and dance the night away.  Hosted by the likes of B-Soul, T-Man Soul, Dipstaa SA, and K-Mash, to name a few, festivities kick off at 12pm on Sunday and are expected to go on until early into the morning of National Heritage Day.

The Maslow Sandton Hotel will also be celebrating National Heritage Day on Sunday, 23rd September from 1pm with an authentic braai, ice-cold beer and good music. Tickets are R300 per person and include a complimentary CBC beer. Guests can kick back and relax while enjoying live entertainment playing the very best in local hits.

Cape Town
The Beerhouse on Long Street will be hosting a Heritage Day Braai Off, where Piet Marais “Gees’ and Murray Slater the ‘Beer whisperer’ will take on the might of Greg & Karl from Beer Country in a straight-shooting braai duel on the Beerhouse balcony. Teams will battle it out, producing three canape courses that will be paired with beers from Drifter Brewing Company and Lakeside Brewing Co.

In the beautiful Cape Winelands, Dirtopia Café in Stellenbosch will be hosting a spit braai (spit roast) on Monday, 24 September. Guests can tuck into a delicious lamb on the spit served with baby potatoes, green salad, pasta salad and garlic bread. Booking is essential as seats are limited.

Head over to Botha’s Hill Market for a ‘Bring and Share Heritage Day Vegan Braai’. Guests are encouraged to bring along some friends, some veggies and a little creativity to whip up their best braaied vegan recipe.


Whatever you choose to do to celebrate National Heritage Day, enjoy it with friends and family, wave the South African flag proudly, and remember your heritage and the place it holds in South Africa’s multicultural landscape.

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