The History Behind Heritage Day

Heritage Day, Braai Day or Shaka Day, which do you celebrate on the 24th of September? If you aren’t sure how the day even came to be, then here’s a quick crash course in South African history.


Commonly referred to as Heritage Day, September 24 encourages South Africans to reflect on their cultural diversity, their beliefs and traditions, and their delicate, intricate history.


But Heritage Day was originally known as Shaka Day or Shaka’s Day. It was dedicated to honouring King Shaka Zulu in the year of his death in 1828. The king is described as having played a pivotal role in bringing together various Zulu clans into one cohesive Zulu nation in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Every year, on September 24, thousands of people still gather at the King Shaka Memorial, to remember this famous Zulu king.


Heritage Day was declared a public holiday in 1996. This, was after Shaka’s Day was initially omitted from the proposed Public Holidays Bill, and a political party objected. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and it was decided that a national holiday would be created.


In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, former statesman, President Nelson Mandela, said, “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.”


Since then, the day has become synonymous with National Braai Day. Some call it “ukushisa inyama” or “ukosa”, where many South African households have an informal braai in recognition of the South African culinary tradition.

On 5 September 2007, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was made the national spokesperson for Braai Day.

Addressing the initiative, Tutu said, “There are so many things that are pulling us apart, and this has a wonderful potential to bring us all together. We have eleven different official languages, but only one word for the wonderful institution of braai – in isiXhosa, English, Afrikaans…”

However, you choose to commemorate the day, we hope you own your heritage.

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Lindile Mpanza

PR Specialist at BET Software

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