Why Heritage Day is so important to us as South Africans: 24th September

Heritage Day is a South African public holiday, honouring the culture and diversity of beliefs and traditions of all South Africans.

Celebrated each year on the 24th of September, the day serves as a reminder that the nation belongs to all its people.
In the KwaZulu-Natal province, the 24th of September was formerly known as Shaka Day, in commemoration of the legendary Zulu king. 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 that a day would be created 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”.
South Africa is an extremely diverse nation, comprising many vastly different cultural groups, and has eleven official languages (one of the highest ranking countries in the world for this). It certainly isn’t known as the Rainbow Nation for nothing. Despite the many differences amongst its citizens, South Africa has a strong sense of unity around longstanding traditions.

Throughout the country, Heritage Day is often celebrated by braaing (barbecuing), to the extent that a media campaign in 2005 sought to rebrand the holiday as National Braai Day, in recognition of the strong South African tradition. At the end of 2007, the name was changed to Braai4Heritage, and the initiative received the endorsement of South Africa’s National Heritage Council (NHC).

Relocation Africa team member, Phumza, in traditional Xhosa dress.

The above image shows traditional Xhosa dress. The Xhosa’s are a proud people and their cultural heritage is close to their hearts. Traditionally, the women’s clothing and ornaments show the stages of their lives. A certain headdress is worn by a newly married girl; a different style by one who has given birth to her first child, and so on. Women’s clothing include dresses in bright colours like orange, green, red and white with braiding and beads over a skirt. The headdress is a colourful braided turban.

The Xhosa people are known for their beautiful beadwork and it forms an important part of women’s traditional clothing. They wear long necklaces of beads, with collars of multi-coloured beads around the neck, as well as beaded arm and ankle bracelets. Other beaded items include ithumbu (the elaborate bead necklace worn by Xhosa women when they perform a traditional dance or iqakabod), iqoqo (a decorative, tasselled and beaded band worn around the lower back), the vulwakabini (a beaded top worn over the upper body and breasts) and isidlokolo (an animal skin hat decorated with large beads and used by healers in traditional dance or when working with patients).

Heritage Day provides a great opportunity for South Africans to put politics and differences of opinions aside, and come together to celebrate the country’s history together.

We, at Relocation Africa, wish all South Africans a very happy Heritage Day!