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24 September 2015

All the beautiful things that make us South African – Heritage Day

The National Heritage Day Celebrations will take place on Thursday, 24 September 2015 at Ramokgopa Stadium, Mokomene in Limpopo.

Not all of us will be heading through to Limpopo though, and with Heritage day falling on a Thursday this year, we just know a lot of promoters have arranged events for the long weekend. Check out what’s vibing on our events tab but before we plan on getting turnt we just wanted to touch on some of the more sentimental aspects of National Heritage Day.

Not everyone knows that, before the 24th of September was made a public holiday, it used to be Shaka day; the date happens to be the anniversary of the death of the great monarch. He was responsible for uniting the Zulu clans under his banner and still today, many isiZulu gather at his grave to honour him. It was in deference to this ideal of unity that the newly democratic South Africa decided to “Make the circle bigger” and recognise the day as a holiday and name it Heritage Day, so that all South Africans could celebrate their diverse cultures and heritage. In Hout Bay, for instance, their annual seafood festival kicks off on Heritage day with an army procession and the re-enactment of the 1795 Battle of Hout Bay.

In the more recent past, advertising campaigns have sought to rebrand Heritage Day as National Braai Day. While we love things that brings people together, it is important that a whole nation’s heritage does not get eclipsed by one aspect of our South African culture.

There are many common experiences we inherited and created that speak to us as South Africans. Shisanyama is just one tile that repeats itself on the beautiful mosaic that is life in South Africa. It’s so Mzansi, but so is magwinya; Spokes Mashiyane’s pennywhistle; knowing a can of cooldrink is a “groovy”; drinking home-brewed beer; dancing and singing together; mala mogodu; calling all toothpaste “Colgate”; red-polished concrete stoeps; rooibos tea; saying “Assomblief”; sweeping the earth outside our homes; schoolgirl dance troops dancing to “Special Star” at the taxi ranks; morogo; kafees with the Portuguese owners that give you chappies or matches instead of change; asking for “Jackson Five” when you want chocolate eclairs; what it means to call someone a Nongqawuse; house music; biltong; going chiskop; Samuel Mqhayi’s poems; MaBrr; wearing traditional outfits; pap; chakalaka; skopo; thunderstorms; milktart; and words like “Aweh, “Shap Shap” and “Heita” (Can you think of anymore? Please add to our list in the comments.)

All these things remind us that heritage in our country cannot be divorced from the politics of identity, and we South Africans have strong identities. There are some harsh realities when we explore this within ourselves but Heritage day is a reminder that South Africa is not poor, but rich in languages; traditions; rituals and beliefs. And with the announcement of Homo Naledi it seems South Africa is the birthplace of humanity too.

In a Heritage Day address in 1996, 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 inequalities 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.”

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