23 September 2016

An intern reflects on the meaning of Heritage Day

Working in a heritage based institution leads one to be keenly aware of commemorative days. In particular Heritage Day being celebrated on Saturday 24 September, as we are an institution that stores South Africa’s History and so a part of its heritage.

AL2446_1805 Silkscreen poster from 1984

When Heritage day is then referred to as ‘Braai Day’ is this not displacing heritage and creating erasure? The launch of Braai day was only in 2007 and it is increasingly becoming entrenched as part of Heritage Day celebrations. While the idea of different people coming together over a meal is amiable, is it not merely dismissive of South Africa’s wildlife or historical monuments and diverse cultural heritage that speak to our Nations’ past?

South Africa, as a non homogenous society will always have to grapple with heritage. Is Braai day an excuse for South Africans not to have to deal with our history? One can see the way corporate interests have jumped onto the band wagon of heritage day as ‘braai day’.

A question for the reader to ask themselves is do you know why heritage day is celebrated on 24 of September? This is because historically, in KwaZulu-Natal the 24th was known as Shaka day. The king who ‘brought together’ scattered Zulu clans to form a nation. When the newly formed post apartheid government was allocating public holidays the Inkata Freedom Party objected not including Shaka day. As a compromise Heritage day, a day for all South Africans, was formed. A day for all South Africans to remember their heroes, histories and cultures. 

“When our first democratically- elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we know that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”- Nelson Mandela

However heritage is not static and has different meanings to different people. As long as we are having conversations and don’t succumb to one umbrella identity which may lead to erasure of culture and history, heritage day will stay alive with all South Africans.

The SAHA archive asks you to take a moment to think of South Africa and its diverse cultures and what heritage means to you.