It’s that time of year again. Blog posts and newspaper columns bombard us with the latest pontification about why we should braai or not braai on 24 September. What kind of narcissistic aspiring blogger would I be if I didn’t chime in?
Besides the plight of T-bone-less vegetarians on this auspicious day, there is almost nothing new to add to the debate. There is one thing, however, that still remains to be said, and I hope I can elucidate it here.
The problem with Braai Day is not that it falls on the same day as when Heritage Day falls; the problem is that Braai Day fails exactly where Heritage Day fails.
Heritage Day comes from pre-1996’s Shaka Day. Shaka Day was a day meant to commemorate the ultimate Zuluness of King Shaka (excuse my shaky history). The new dispensation decided to invite all the other cultures and proclaimed the day Heritage Day.
Let me start getting to the point. The vision behind Heritage Day, I presume, was to bring South Africans together in a common appreciation of their different cultures. The mistake behind the vision was making 24 September the specific day on which to sample delights from our nation’s cultural buffet.
That is just too much pressure to put on one day.
It is not as though the government did anything to help the public. Long, boring speeches at stadiums or any public platform the public officials could lay their foot on – this is what Heritage Day came to be about for black people. For white people? A long lunch at Mugg and Bean maybe.
Frankly, we as a nation were united in our confusion over the meaning of Heritage Day.
And so, being the young capitalists that they are, the creators of Braai Day saw the huge, yawning gap in the market and, with braai tongs in hand, found something else for the nation to crowd around: the braai stand.
This was not necessarily nefarious (to use a favourite word of politicians) on their behalf. But, in true South African style, it was ignorant. It carried with it the same rainbow-eyed ignorance we displayed in the TRC’s hope that truth-telling and forgiveness could replace economic justice, that Bafana Bafana could qualify for any tournament other than the ones we host, and that sticking red horns on the bumpers of our cars will stop the scourge of rhino poaching.
Oh we are such a hopeful, wretched nation! It’s the reason behind our rise as a people and behind our downfall. It’s our inheritance, really.
But we’ve inherited something far worse than our misguided hope: distrust.
Distrust of other ethnicities is the reason why many of those people huddling around sizzling boerewors on Heritage Day are so alike. They braai with those they trust, those they accept, those they approve.
And if they participate in some sort of public braai where the majority of people don’t know each other, the comfort they hold on to is that they have 364 days left in the year to avoid/ignore the disconcerting other.
The braai, instead of forming bridges between us, will actually just be enforcing bonds that are already there between us and the people we already know, whose difference does not make us uncomfortable.
The braai is the new political speech: so full of promise, but in the end just another reminder that our differences will take more than one day of symbolism in a year to overcome our inherited distrust of those who are different from us, regardless of how many boeries we swallow on 24 September.
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