David Moseley

I believe in Braai Day

2014-09-18 14:30

David Moseley

It's a fascinating quirk of circumstance that I should be writing something regarding South Africa's collective heritage on a day when Scottish people are taking to the polls to decide the fate of the United Kingdom. You see, in a country with so many heritages, I'm something of a heritageless man.

My family on my mother's side, including my mother, is Scottish. My dad is an English-speaking South African. My uncle is a Dutch South African and one of my cousin's was born in Namibia. My brother belongs to the postman. That leaves me in no-man's land when it comes to things like Heritage Day in South Africa.

Which heroes do I celebrate? What momentous occasion, and in whose historical timeline, do I support?

Melktert and koeksisters had no bearing on my upbringing, so surely I can't look to Afrikaner practices like braaiing and praying every time I score a try?

The Zulus sent the Brits packing at Isandlwana, so how can I possibly raise a glass on a day that was originally dedicated to Shaka (I know he was long gone by the Battle of Isandlwana)?

A complicated notion

Should I wear clogs while stopping to admire the windmills? And so on and so on.

Heritage in South Africa is a complicated notion, while Heritage Day itself was only implemented in 1995 as a sop to those who didn't fancy the idea of Shaka Day.

So if you have a problem with what Heritage Day has become, then look to your pals in power, the ones who manufactured a public holiday in the first place.

We are all different, and that should be celebrated. However, that doesn't mean we need to throw assegais when someone comes along and attempts to unite us with a common thread.

And so to Braai Day, the campaign by Jan Braai to get us all to sit around a fire and reflect on where we are and how we've come to be there.

It's probably still to come in 2014 because Heritage Day is only next week and opinionistas will need a comment piece done before the public holiday, but last year we reached peak wailing and gnashing of teeth when it came to Jan's initiative.

The gist of the issue for many, from my limited understanding, is that Jan has appropriated this deeply sentimental public holiday that South Africans have warmly embraced to their bosom since 1995, and forced the white man's pastime down the country's throat.

Many arguments

Okay, I'm being facetious. There are many layered and nuanced arguments for and against Braai Day, but it certainly comes across that the main problem is that a "wit ou" dare impose his will on the people.

I interviewed Jan in 2013 to get his thoughts on the criticism, something you can read here.

The first to have a dig at Jan this year is the writer TO Molefe, someone whose thoughts and writings I respect and enjoy reading.

In his National Braai Day a day of forgetting column yesterday, Molefe wrote that, "In South Africa today, with our racial and gendered history and government-regulated market economy, power is vested in what feminist activist bell hooks describes as the white supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy.

"With National Braai Day, Jan Braai appears to have conjured all of the white supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy's powers to overrun and overpower the original intentions of commemorating the day."

"…Jan, acting in obliviousness to the day's origins, rapped on the doors of supermarket chains, abattoirs and breweries, and convinced them to join his campaign to turn Heritage Day into National Braai Day."

Now, I like Molefe. I don't always agree with what he has to say, but every time I read something he's written it makes me think. That's the sign of a good columnist. Yesterday, however, I feel he was off the mark.

(Please note this is not a personal attack on the writer, rather an argument against his view on a particular topic).

What is the problem?

Molefe starts off lamenting that Braai Day will make South Africans forget their heritage, or that's certainly the direction his title points us in, but ends up railing against the capitalist system and sounding slightly sour that Jan might be making a buck off Braai Day.

Towards a somewhat sloppy conclusion in a piece that was inspired by Molefe noting the confusion of "school kids, particularly black school kids" about the past and present (as I understand it), he writes, "he (Jan) now has a TV show on kykNET, has penned two books and is currently on an eight-day nationwide braai tour, sponsored, surprise-surprise, by a beef supplier whose board and management is comprised almost entirely of white men."

So what is the problem really? Is it because Jan is white? Is it because supermarkets make money from selling meat?

Is it because brands made adverts that enforce gender stereotypes with men at the fire while "women make salad and drink 'pink drinks' in the kitchen"?

Is it an identity issue? Because that’s something Jan has always tried to get past by making the braai an all-inclusive experience.

I understand that as a white man defending another white man - the very definition of power in South Africa - this might come across to some people as a privileged viewpoint defending the privileged actions of another. Well, so be it, because at least Jan is trying to do something that has a positive spin.

We can get mired down in philosophies and views and opinions and theories and labelling of people's opinions and actions to such an extent in this country that nothing will every change.

Embrace the intentions

At least Jan has taken an essentially moribund public holiday and injected some life into it.

It can be more than what it was and more than what it is if people embrace the philosophy and intentions behind Braai Day

Ah, "but you know what they say paves the road to hell", argues Molefe. (It's "good intentions" for those of you who don't know).

I wrote to Molefe on Twitter, saying, "a thought provoking piece. But I feel it's unreasonably harsh on Jan and his motives." To which Molefe replied by pointing me in the direction of another comment piece titled, Intent vs. Impact: Why Your Intentions Don't Really Matter.

I won't summarise that opinion piece because I found the argument, though well intentioned, to be facile and overly contrived. I thought it failed to connect with Molefe's piece too. You can read it and make up your own mind.

Suffice to say, without intentions, good or bad, what are we left with - a slew of theories and opinions that might stop any change dead in its tracks, people theorising until they’re knee-deep in treacle, inaction?

It's my estimation that we analyse every minor occurrence, utterance or happening in South Africa to the point of paralysis. We might reach a stage where everyone is so scared to have their say, put forward their idea or reach for their dream for fear of offending another.

As it is, right now, we're in a good place, where a black South African writer can have his say, and a white South African writer can respond without resorting to name-calling and pettiness.

A credit to Braai Day

In fact, I'd argue that the very fact this discussion is happening is a credit to Braai Day. It's stirred something in the soul of countless South Africans, and now we are discussing heritage and what it means to be a South African. That's a win for Jan Braai, I'd say.

And so back to Scotland and the question of heritage. Jan wants us to get along. I want us to get along. Molefe, I would imagine, wants us to get along. We are all so different; me, Jan, Molefe - all with different life experiences - so let's never forget that.

But let's also embrace the efforts of someone who would like us to share something. That's to be applauded.

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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