Heritage day is an important South African public holiday celebrated on the 24th of September each year. It is a day on which all South Africans are encouraged to celebrate their culture and the diversity of their beliefs and traditions, in the wider context of a nation that belongs to its entire people. Known as the ‘Rainbow Nation’, South Africa offers an abundance of cultural diversity, eleven official languages, an extensive history, and a wide variety of traditions that the country recognizes and celebrates on Heritage Day.

Heritage day is well known to many South Africans, but how many people are aware of its history, the true reasons we celebrate it, and its connection to various cultures and traditions.

Heritage day was initially known as ‘Shaka day’ or ‘Shaka’s day’, a day dedicated to commemorating the legendary King Shaka Zulu on the presumed date of his death in 1828. Shaka Zulu played an important role in uniting different Zulu clans into one cohesive Zulu nation in Kwa-Zulu Natal. A tribute is paid to the great Zulu King King Shaka every year on the 24th of September at the King Shaka Memorial.

When the bill presented to the new post-Apartheid Parliament of South Africa in 1996 omitted Shaka day from the proposed public holidays Bill, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, strongly objected to the bill. It was eventually decided by Parliament and the ANC (African National Congress) to create a national holiday on which South Africans of all cultures and creeds could come together to celebrate their diverse cultural heritage – giving rise to Heritage day.

In the recent years, Heritage day has further evolved and become synonymous with National Braai day. That some people call it Shisa Nyama or Ukosa, and while others call it a braai. Regardless of the term you use, the intention remains the same, having a good time with friends and family, enjoying good food, good company and celebrating your culture and heritage.

South Africa ranks among the 10 most culturally diverse countries in the world. A county’s relative diversity is determined based on several factors and high-level considerations, including: level of ethnic diversity; number of immigrants; number of spoken languages; number of religious beliefs; number of political parties; level of religious freedom; LGBTQIA rights and freedom; and level of personal liberty. Each of these categories is further divided into sub-categories, to ultimately determine the level of cultural diversity in any given country.

In addition to being one of the most culturally diverse countries, the population of South Africa is one of the most complex and diverse in the world. It is because of this intricate and vast diversity that Heritage day is so important in South Africa and should be celebrated by all people staying in it. National Heritage day is dedicated to recognizing the cultural wealth of our nation in its entirety. By acknowledging, embracing, and celebrating our various cultures, traditions, and heritage against the background of our unique diversity, we build pride in ourselves, our fellow South Africans, and our nation as we remember the difficulties and hardships of the past, share in the victories of the present, and raise hope for the future.

One of the most important aspects of Heritage day is the fact that it exposes South Africans to different people, cultures, traditions, beliefs, and religions we may never have been exposed to or encountered otherwise. It encourages us to step outside of our own ‘cultural bubble’, and urges us to learn, grow, explore, and experience the vibrant and diverse range of cultures that exists within our glorious rainbow nation. In turn, it allows us to understand, appreciate, recognize, and respect each culture and everything it represents.

Our ability to grow and learn from each other, as South Africans is not only endless, but a gift. Hence, this allows us to grow as individuals and contribute to a more unified South Africa. Heritage Day provides a great opportunity for all South Africans to put their differences in politics, perspectives, and opinions aside, to unite and come together in a single shared purpose and objective, which is to celebrate South Africa’s profound history and heritage TOGETHER AS ONE NATION!