National Heritage Day

Heritage Day is one of the newly created South African public holidays. It is a day in which all are encouraged to celebrate their cultural traditions in the wider context of the great diversity of cultures, beliefs, and traditions that make up the nation of South Africa.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the 24th of September was formerly known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of the legendary Zulu king, King Shaka Zulu.  When the proposed Public Holidays Bill before the New South African Parliament omitted Shaka Day, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected to the bill.  A compromise was reached when it was decided to create a day where all South Africans could observe and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage.

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, former President Nelson Mandela stated:

"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."

In the vein of celebrating shared culture rather than focusing on cultural divisions, a recent initiative by the Braai4Heritage calls upon all South Africans to celebrate their common roots by having a braai (barbeque) on Heritage day. The idea has had some high profile converts, the most notable being that of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who in 2007 was made the National Spokesperson for "Braai Day."

Archbishop Tutu's favourite sausage is a beef boerewors. Source:

After snubbing the idea in 2007 as trivializing, the National Heritage Council has endorsed it in 2008. Tutu was quoted as saying in an interview: "We're going to have this wonderful thing on the 24th of this month ... 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.”

The Department of Arts and Culture, which organises the government’s official Heritage Day celebrations, announced that the theme for Heritage Month 2013 would be 'Reclaiming, Restoring and Celebrating our Living Heritage'.

What is “culture”, “heritage” and “identity”? Read our article ‘Defining culture, heritage and identity’ to find out more.

• BBC News. Tutu praises 'unifying' barbecues. 6 September 2007 [online] Available at
•  Braai4Heritage[online] Available at
•  Mail & Guardian online. Tutu: One nation, one braai. 2 September 2008. [online] Available at
•  South African Government Information. Public Holidays: Heritage Day [online] Available from
•  Department of Arts and Culture. Launch of the Heritage Month Celebration & Heritage Day[online] Available at [Accessed 31 August 2011]

Last updated : 26-Sep-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 31-Aug-2011