Heritage Day in South Africa takes place every 24th of September as a chance celebrate the nation’s unity and a reminder of the country’s cultural diversity. It serves as a medium to preserve historical inheritance, the different languages entrenched in their cultural fabric, creative expression, and food.
The first Heritage Day was celebrated in 1995, after the first free elections that marked the beginning of a new, non-racially segregated nation and the end of the horrific apartheid. However, Heritage Day precedes 1995. Originally, the 24th of September was a Zulu holiday celebrated in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, in remembrance of Shaka, the great chief who united and unified the Zulu tribes. When the South African parliament was passing a bill for the nation’s official holidays, the Zulus were unhappy about Shaka Day not being included so a compromise was reached, and the day was broadened to include the celebration of the heritage of all South African people. Hence, Heritage Day.
In 1996, President Nelson Mandela stated that Heritage Day would help the people of South Africa use their rich and varied cultural heritage to build our new nation. Every year, the government declares a special theme for Heritage Day. Heritage Day celebrations are usually accompanied by the President’s speech, learning about the cultural heritage of diverse South African peoples, potluck-type parties overflowing with “braai” meaning “grill or barbecue”. It is like the Fourth of July picnics that take place in the United States. It also features reenactments of important events, plays, tours to sites like museums and landmark sites.
South Africa has a rich and varied cultural heritage, and visiting the country and experiencing Heritage Day celebrations is one of the great ways to appreciate it.