Heritage Day, 24 September, is a South African holiday that celebrates the nation’s rich diversity of cultures and traditions. This year, all around the country festivities will take place under the theme Celebrating South African Craft, Our Heritage.
The public holiday is the culmination of the annual Heritage Month campaign, which is overseen by the national Department of Arts and Culture (DAC). The programme is aimed at building national pride and increasing social cohesion through the month-long series of events.
On 24 September this year South Africa’s deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe will travel to Moroke, Greater Tubatse municipality, in the north of Limpopo province, to address crowds at the national Heritage Day celebrations.
Motlanthe, Arts and Culture Minister Lulama Xingwana, Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale and other government representatives will lend their weight to the day’s proceedings.
To start, there will be a traditional cleansing ceremony at the Bapedi heritage site of Tjate in the historical Sekhukhune district. Here, in 1879, the Bapedi (Pedi people) under King Sekhukhune I fought heroically against colonial occupation, taking on a combined British-Boer-Swazi force. Outnumbered and outgunned, they ultimately lost the battle.
This ceremony will be followed by the main event in Moroke. A craft exhibition titled Beautiful Things has been arranged as part of the celebrations, where crafters from all nine provinces will be able to sell their wares. Various cultural groups will also perform.
While this is the national event, other functions are planned for elsewhere in the country – these include street parades, craft exhibitions and the launch of various Investing in Culture projects.
The DAC’s Investing in Culture programme supports craft initiatives around the country, 40% of them in rural areas, through funding and training. Since the programme’s inception in 2005 it has invested about US$40-million (over R300-million) in craft projects.
Thriving craft sector
About 38 000 people earn a living through an estimated 7 000 small enterprises around the country, and 1.2-million in total support themselves and their families through craft and related enterprises.
Moreover, the Department of Trade and Industry estimates that craft contributes $269-million (R2-billion) or 0.14% to South Africa’s GDP annually.
“The crafts sector can also be used as a catalyst for rural economic development and for fostering expanded participation in the economy, especially by women,” said Xingwana. South Africa’s crafters are predominantly female.
Xingwana deplored the exploitation of rural crafters by intermediaries and unscrupulous retailers, adding that access to reputable markets is an ongoing problem. She also noted the lack of a national body to represent this sector, saying that as individuals, crafters do not have a strong enough voice to negotiate on pricing and often they have to take what they can get.
“Paying attention to the crafts industry will help forge a national identity,” she said, “restore respect between the knowledge holders who transmit skills to our youth, and promote Proudly South African products and their economic potential to South Africans”.
On the eve of Heritage Day Xingwana will host a gala dinner in Polokwane, Limpopo’s capital. At this event DAC and the Old Mutual Foundation, the social investment arm of financial services group Old Mutual, will sign a memorandum of understanding to collaborate in helping crafters with basic business and leadership training, and better access to markets.
Not only is the 24 September a celebration of culture and craft, it’s also designated National Braai Day. This event falls in line with the vision of Heritage Day, and that is to bring people together to enjoy one of the country’s great traditions – the braai (Afrikaans, meaning barbeque).
The non-profit, non-political organisation Braai4Heritage is behind Braai Day, encouraging South Africans to celebrate this unique aspect of their heritage, while cooking up a storm.
This culinary custom originated in the Afrikaner community, but has since transcended demographics and become popular among all ethnic groups and countries in the Southern African region.
The patron of National Braai Day is the esteemed Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. When approached in 2007, Tutu gladly accepted the patronage, saying that the braai is a force for unity.
“It’s a fantastic thing, a very simple idea,” enthused the archbishop on the first Braai Day two years ago. “Here is one thing that can unite us irrespective of all of the things that are trying to tear us apart.”
The Nobel Peace laureate then reached for an apron and tongs and took his place beside the fire before tucking into a boerewors roll. Boerewors (Afrikaans, meaning farmers’ sausage), a braai essential, is a spiced beef sausage packed into long casings. Popular variations in Southern Africa include flavours such as chilli, garlic and cheese, as well as different meat fillings such as kudu or springbok.
Initially the braai idea came under fire from the National Heritage Council due to fears that it would demean Heritage Day, but the meaty organisation later received the blessing of the council and Braai Day has now become a driving force for nation-building.
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