Heritage Day: What’s a Braai gotta do with it?

Heritage Day: What’s a Braai gotta do with it?

As 24 September draws near and the typical wood versus briquette debate “flames up” (again), I’ve had many musings ahead of the celebrations: Why is the day important to us? What should we be doing? What is our “heritage”? Why does it even matter?

I found myself perplexed with one question in particular that, perhaps, is one of the simplest and  at the same time most head-scratching-it’s-so-simple-it’s-not-simple questions: “But what is Heritage Day actually all about?”

The answer? “Well it’s about heritage… or something.” This was one of the replies I got when I  asked a friend. Both my friend and I were mortified: my friend for not being able to answer more  eloquently; me for not being able to add to this statement.

After a simple Google search, some foot-long proclamations popped up very movingly conveying a mouthful of opinions and definitions. To save you time, I’ve filtered it down to this:

It is the celebration of unity in diversity. A day on which we all commemorate who we are individually against the bigger backdrop of who we are nationally.


Unity in diversity. I repeat: Unity in diversity. 

Why is unity so important?

Given that Common Ground Church has just done a whole preaching series around Diversity, I wouldn’t really need to explain in too much detail, right?

However, allow me explore: Apartheid caused much harm and injury to the majority of our populace. Our history of segregation has especially undermined our cross-cultural understanding and fellowship with one-another. It’s therefore important that we (a) acknowledge this history in  order for us to (b) strive towards reconciling ourselves to one another.

“The whole is better than one”. I don’t know who said that, but those six words are wisdom in a nutshell. And wisdom we should heed to. South Africa has only seen growth and development in the areas where we have better unified in our diversity. Where our knowledge of one another has served to create sustainable understanding, respect and fellowship with one another. Where there is unity, there is development. And we, South Africa, love (and need) development.

I’m sure you all remember the movie Invictus? Or maybe the actual 1995 Rugby World Cup? That is an excellent example of when unity in South Africa translated into development – here, of a sport, a national identity and the development of a new South Africa.

Why then light a fire?

Owing to my Afrikaans heritage, I approach the occasional ‘tjop and dop’ (chop and drink) with much glee and delight. Family and friends gathering around a fire has always sparked in me this sense of cultural nostalgia prompting thoughts such as “this is what we do” and “this is who we are”.

But the thing I love most it? It’s celebrated across most, if not all, cultures in South Africa – whether it is the Afrikaans Braai or Zulu ‘Chisa Nyama’.

And here the reason why I love and believe that many South Africans should celebrate Heritage Day by lighting a fire and grilling some nub: Because it is a common practice, braaing is a celebration between our many and varied cultures; it serves as a tool we can use to transcend the boundaries of “this is what we do” and “this is who we are” because, actually, we all do it. It’s a practical way for us to celebrate our culture(s) cross-culturally.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the patron of the “Braai4Heritage” brand, says this: “When we all gather round 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 recognizing that we are a fantastic nation.”

Add to this the great thought from CS Lewis: “Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another: What! You  too? I thought it was only me.”

Yes, braaing is that simple thing that can make all of say “What! You too?” Braaiing can be that one thing that actually helps us to start building more diverse friendships. Braaiing can help us understand (even if just a little) those people who we think are different to us.

Fan diversity into flame 

Celebrating Heritage Day doesn’t only mean that you should char-grill your fare (although, it’s a tasty way to get things started). Instead, I want to encourage you to create unity in our diversity throughout the year – long after the fire is out and the meat has been eaten. How? Well, glad you asked! Here are two very easy, simple things to you can do :

  • Be open about your (lack of) knowledge, and learn something! Whether it is to say “Good morning” in Xhosa, studying a bit of South Africa history or learning how to make a proper “pap-tert” or “melk tert”. Learning is the key to understanding, and with understanding comes love, respect and even friendship.
  • Don’t be “cliquey” or exclusive. Challenge yourself to invite people who you think are different to you to your next event, invite them for a coffee or simply start a conversation with them. In other words, open your life up to new influences and opinions.

My parting shot comes in the word of our late, beloved Tata Mandela: “We can change the world and make it a better place [but] it is in your hands to make the difference.” I look forward to not only lighting the fire to our braai, but the fire of unity in diversity in my own life. Why not join me and make a difference – whether big or small – in this country?

This post was written by
Marieke is a friend to many, sister to some, daughter to two and wife to one (Jaco). She is also an events manager and a member of the Common Ground InnerCity congregation.

2 Comments on "Heritage Day: What’s a Braai gotta do with it?"

  • Margreet du Plessis says

    Well written Marieke !! You sure make me think again and again .

    I think that although we are diverse, we have more in common than we think .

    The older I get, the more I realize that we must look up ( to God ) and around us ( fellow
    humans ) and just be friendly , say ‘hi’ , or smile or pinch a little one’s cheek .

    We need to be more friendly to each other to start with . Acknowledge differences.
    Learn from it . And feel blessed . Because we are . Blessed .

  • Sue Franzoso says

    Very well written, thanks and agree so whole heartily to the call to try something different, that what makes things so interesting…..well done

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