So my niece was in primary school, I can’t remember the year or even her grade. I can barely remember which niece it was. Heritage Day (24 September) was approaching. The little darlings were obviously being prepared for this important civic holiday because my niece was jabbering on about it.
“Ismail has a Muslim culture, and Spiros has a Greek culture, and Gretel has a German culture, and Lerato has a Sotho culture.” I doubted the latter. Lerato was the adopted daughter of ageing white parents and the closest to Sotho culture that Lerato came was her name. Maybe, at a pinch, the domestic worker employed by Lerato’s parents was Sotho. My niece babbled on about all the types of culture and what ‘they’ do.
I asked her: “And you? What’s your culture?” My niece raised herself to her full height, tilted her head imperiously and said proudly, “We don’t have any culture!”
Ah, the pitfalls of being a member of a dominant culture in society!
Heritage Day started out as Shaka Day, and became the day “..when South Africans celebrate the diverse cultural heritage that makes up a “rainbow nation”. It is the day to celebrate the contribution of all South Africans to the building of South Africa.” Heritage Day is pretty meaningless to many people. We are what we are. Some of us don’t need or even want to celebrate it. For much of the year we try to escape being ‘labelled’, not perhaps actively, but certainly in a myriad subtle ways.
In 2005 Jan Scannell (also known as “Jan Braai”) organised a media campaign sought to “re-brand” the holiday as National Braai Day, in recognition of the South African culinary tradition of holding informal backyard braais (or barbecues as the rest of the world knows braais). Two years later Archbishop Desmond Tutu became the patron of South Africa’s Braai Day on the grounds that it was just about the only thing that all South Africans, bar the few grumpy ones who for reasons of their own dislike braaing, enjoy equally. The intention is not so much to have mass braais, but smaller ones with friends and family. Presumably events where one can drink one’s heritage drinks and eat side orders of one’s heritage snacks and dishes.
I enjoy a great social on a warm day with a cold beer and some braaied meat in bun and maybe a salad. I enjoy a great social on a cold evening with a glass of red wine and some braaied meat with pap and chakalaka. On Heritage Day I will be celebrating Braai Day (24 September 2013) at the Johannesburg Good Food and Wine Show at the Northgate CocaCola Dome. Amongst other stalls I will be visiting Braai Boy’s stand. Braai Boy has braaied every day, rain or shine, since 17 April 2009. It started as a one year adventure and hasn’t stopped. Basically Braai Boy is an expert on braaing by now. I will report back.
Braai Day works for me as a concept. It is my heritage, it is my culture. And in my culture – we braai.