Khaya Dlanga

Braai Day is a farce

2010-10-06 08:10

Let's be honest. There has been a bastardisation of Heritage Day by calling it National Braai Day. We cheapen it. Trivialise it. Before you chew my head off, read the whole column and then comment dear reader.

Now I am not faulting the founders of National Braai Day at all, after all, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu is the patron saint of Braai Day. I am faulting those who have allowed the words National Braai Day to overshadow what the day is actually about. The question is, whose responsibility is it to make sure that it doesn’t overshadow what it’s supposed to be about? Ours.

Over the weekend at the Loerie advertising awards (the Oscars of the advertising industry for those who don’t know), I watched a great ad by advertising agency TBWA Hunt Lascaris for the Apartheid Museum that has stuck with me since I saw it. The adverts are a series of minute long interviews with university and high school youth.

A young lady off-camera asks the young people who are in their late teens and early 20s a series of questions. She shows the young people various pictures of famous celebrities and asks them who they are, obviously they answer easily. Then they get shown a picture of Joe Slovo. They have no idea who he is. The line at the end of the commercial reads, “A history forgotten, is a future lost.” That hit me in the stomach like a Mike Tyson punch in his prime.

I have nothing against braais. I love them as much as the next Afrikaaner or black dude or English or Coloured or any colour of our rainbow. Just so long as I get there in time to eat. I don’t want anything to do with the smoke and lighting up and all that waiting one has to endure before indulging.

I was disturbed that most people have no idea why we celebrate Heritage Day. They don’t know that we got it because KwaZulu used to celebrate Shaka Day on the 24th of September during the bad old days (although sadly there are some who call them the good old days.) The IFP protested when that day was excluded in the new South Africa. A compromise was reached that it would become National Heritage Day. This meant that all South Africans would celebrate their history, heritage and all things that make them who they are. But now it has just become a Braai Day.

I must admit, I supported Braai Day for the longest time until I thought about it. I still support it, but it can’t be bigger than Heritage Day. We need to step in. To use the words that were used in the struggle, “Each one, teach one.”

The department of Arts, Culture and Technology issued the following statement in regards to Heritage Day in September 1996: Heritage has defined as "that which we inherit: the sum total of wild life and scenic parks, sites of scientific or historical importance, national monuments, historic buildings, works of art, literature and music, oral traditions and museum collections together with their documentation."

In 1996, then president Nelson Mandela in a Heritage Day address 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.We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy." This is what it is about. Not a braai.

The braais should be one of the ways we embrace our culture. The braais on Heritage Day should be more than just braais; they must be part of a cultural learning, an extension if you wish. We could braai while telling the history of this nation. The stories of the Great Trek of Hintsa and Shaka. Stories of Chris Hani. Stories of the first prisoners on Robben Island, long before Nelson Mandela was even born. Some of the histories may make others uncomfortable but they make us who we are and we can’t pretend they are not part of our history.

The braai must merely be a facilitator. After all, in the days of old, the elders would pass on history to the younger generations around a camp fire, telling stories. Let’s do it again. Get those history books and learn about each other. How can we know where we are going as a nation if we don’t know where we come from? If we don’t leave the future generations any history, all the history they’ll pass on to their children is that of Lady Gaga’s meat dress and Justin Bieber’s hair.

We cannot celebrate our heritage over a day. Heritage must be something we get reminded of everyday. It is not to divide us. Nor show our differences, not to say who is to blame for what, it is merely to show that we are a nation rich with history.  A history forgotten is a future lost.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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