Braai4Heritage – a common celebration of South Africa's heritage
"This thing we do together..."
"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 recognising that we are a fantastic nation.” So said Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu at the launch of Braai4Heritage in September 2008.
"Here is one thing that can unite us irrespective of all of the things that are trying to tear us apart," he said in explanation of his support of the Braai4Heritage initiative. He is now the national patron of the Braai4Heritage.
Heritage Day, 24 September, is a day when South Africans celebrate the rich cultural heritage which has made of South Africa the “fantastic nation” that Tutu spoke of. The national Tourism Authority used to have the slogan “a world in one country” and that about sums up South Africa's rich heritage.
A national symbolic activity
In a country with 11 official languages and somewhere around 25 spoken ones, culture has the potential to divide, to, in Tutu's words, “tear us apart.” So finding a national symbolic activity that could unite all the citizens of the country, from whatever cultural background they might come, is useful to build a sense of national cohesion. This is the purpose of the Braai4Heritage organisation of which Tutu is patron. The organisation spells out its purpose thusly: “Braai4Heritage is an initiative that calls all South Africans to actively celebrate their common heritage by braaing on Heritage Day, 24 September. After all, braaing is a deep-rooted tradition in South Africa that cuts across all demographic groups.”
The organisation calls on South Africans all over the world to join in the celebrations by having a “braai” wherever they find themselves on that day.
Sports events are important such activities, but even there there are differences which seem to still echo the divisions of the apartheid nightmare – soccer is followed more by blacks than by whites, rugby and cricket more by whites than by blacks, for instance, though this is slowly, oh so slowly, changing.
But almost all South Africans enjoy shisa nyama, braaivleis, barbeque, whatever you choose to call it. Indeed the smoke of “braais” has become quite a standard feature of many sporting events.
The word “braaivleis” is an Afrikaans word meaning literally roast or grilled meat. The pedants among us would insist that what we do is have a vleis braai at which we eat braaivleis (a meat grill at which we eat grilled meat) but the word “braaivleis” has just come to mean the activity as well as the meat that is eaten.
A typical braai in South Africa would include various cuts of meat, salads and, of course, lots of beer. Essential ingredients of a braai are also “pap” (maize porridge) and “sous”, which is usually a tomato and onion relish. Another traditional essential is “boerewors” (literally farmer's sausage) which, according to the Braai4Heritage site, is “basically a culmination of culinary skills of the local tribes, European settlers, and Eastern arrivals. Boerewors is thus a true rainbow nation creation.”
While the majority of South Africans are able to fully participate in this festival of food, there are of course vegetarians who won't eat meat, and there are also religious minorities whose participation is not always possible – for instance if Braai Day happens to fall in the Holy Month of Ramadan Muslims will not be able to participate, at least not during daylight hours.
My daughter Caitlin and I went to one of our favourite places in Tshwane (Pretoria), Zita Park, today to see how people were celebrating Heritage Day. The accompanying photos give some idea of how people were doing it with family and friends, and generally enjoying the holiday atmosphere.
From babes in arms to gogos (grandmothers) people were out in large numbers at the park, which resonated to the sounds of laughter, shouted conversations, thumping of rubber balls and the bass-heavy beat of ghetto-blasters, and over all a heady aroma of meat on the grill.
It was a glorious occasion of South Africans being South Africans, having fun in the sun. Not too much wrong with that.
The link below is to the Braai4Heritage site where there is much interesting information about braaing, including some recipes for those who might want to try them.
Braai4Heritage is an initiative that calls all South Africans to actively celebrate their common heritage by braaing on Heritage Day, 24 September. After all, braaing is a deep-rooted tradition in South Africa that cuts across all demographic groups.
The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.
© Tony McGregor 2010