What is Heritage Day and why its Important in South Africa

Heritage Day is an important South African public holiday which is 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 all its people. As the self-proclaimed ‘Rainbow Nation’, boasting a vibrant cultural diversity, eleven official languages, a rich and intricate history and a variety of traditions, Heritage Day is recognized and celebrated in many different ways in South Africa.

History of Heritage Day

What is Heritage Day and why its Important in South Africa

Photo credit: Retlaw Snellac Photography (Flickr)

While many South Africans are aware of Heritage Day, how many know the history behind it, the true reason we celebrate this momentous holiday, 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. To this day, thousands of people gather at the King Shaka Memorial on the 24th of September each year to pay tribute to the great Zulu King.

What is Heritage Day and why its Important in South Africa

Photo credit: Jay Calvin (Flickr) | Shaka kaSenzangakhona (1780s -1828) Bronze Statue – ‘Long March to Freedom’ Monument

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. Eventually, a compromise was reached between the Parliament and the ANC (African National Congress), and it was decided that a national holiday would be created where South Africans of all cultures and creeds could come together and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage – Giving rise to Heritage Day!

“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.”

– Late former President Nelson Mandela in an address marking Heritage Day in 1996

In recent years, Heritage Day has further evolved and become synonymous with National Braai Day. Some call it Shisa Nyama or Ukosa, while others call it a braai. Regardless of what term you use, the intention remains the same – Gathering around a fire, enjoying good food, good company and celebrating your culture and heritage with friends, family, and the ones you love.

Why is Heritage Day Important in South Africa

What is Heritage Day and why its Important in South Africa

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; LGBT rights and freedom; and Level of personal liberty. Each of these categories are 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 its people. 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 us as 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. And, in turn, allow us to understand, appreciate, recognize, and respect each culture and everything it embodies.

At the end of the day, we are ALL South Africans, and our ability to grow and learn from each other is not only endless, but a gift. This will further allow us to grow as individuals and contribute to a more unified South Africa.

Heritage Day therefore 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 – To celebrate South Africa’s profound history and heritage TOGETHER AS ONE NATION!

Living Heritage

Another important aspect of South Africa’s heritage that should not be forgotten is living heritage. In essence, living heritage is the foundation of all communities and an essential source of identity and continuity. The various aspects of living heritage include: Cultural tradition; rituals; oral history; popular memory; performance; indigenous knowledge systems; techniques and skills; and the holistic approach to nature, society, and social relationships. In South Africa, the term ‘living heritage’ is used interchangeably with the term ‘intangible cultural heritage’.

Why is living heritage important and what role does it play? Living heritage plays a vital role in promoting cultural diversity, reconciliation, social cohesion, economic development, and peace. In every South African community, there are living human treasures who possess a high degree of knowledge, skills and history pertaining to different aspects of diverse living heritage. It is important for South Africans to reclaim, restore and preserve these various aspects of living heritage in order to promote and accelerate its use in addressing the various challenges communities are facing today.

South African Cultures

South Africa is the Rainbow Nation, a title that captures the country’s cultural and ethnic diversity. As mentioned, the population of South Africa is one of the most complex and diverse in the world.

South Africa’s black population is divided into four major ethnic groups; namely Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, and Swazi), Sotho, Shangaan-Tsonga, and Venda. There are numerous subgroups within these main ethnic groups of which the Zulu and Xhosa (two subgroups of the Nguni group) are the largest.

The majority of South Africa’s white population (about 60%) is of Afrikaans descent, with many of the remaining 40% being of British or European descent. South Africa’s coloured population have a mixed lineage, which often comprises the indigenous Khoisan genes combined with African slaves that were brought here from all over the continent, and white settlers.

Languages in South Africa

South Africa has eleven official languages:

  • English (9.6%)
  • Afrikaans (13.5%)
  • Ndebele (2.1%)
  • Sepedi (9.1%)
  • Xhosa (16%)
  • Venda (2.4%)
  • Tswana (8%)
  • Southern Sotho (7.6%)
  • Zulu (22.7%)
  • Swazi or SiSwati (2.5%)
  • Tsonga (4.5%)

In addition to its eleven official languages, many other languages from all over the world are frequently spoken in South Africa, some of which include:  Portuguese, Greek, Italian, French, Chinese etc.

Conclusion

What is Heritage Day and why its Important in South Africa

Heritage Day is one of the most important National Holidays in South Africa. It is vital to both the nation as a whole and its people that it continues to be recognized, commemorated, and celebrated.

Despite the many differences that exist amongst the various South African cultures, South Africa’s strong sense of unity around longstanding traditions has always remained integral. When needed, our rainbow nation always comes together as a force to be reckoned with.

The ‘Bushman Trail’ is situated in the south-western corner of the Kruger National Park.

A typical walk moves through grassy valleys that are flanked by rolling hills. The crests of these hills are crowned by piles of massive, rounded, blocky, boulders. It is difficult to walk at any pace here as you are tempted to stop and search these huge granite rockeries with your binoculars. They appear to be the perfect hangout for klipspringers, baboons, and leopards. If you look carefully you will see the first two. Leopards are more elusive. However, even if you do not see them, the setting creates an expectation that the cat lives here and will appear at any moment.

Elephant shrews may in fact be one of the tiniest and cutest animals discovered in Africa. They are also known as jumping shrews. The elephant shrew has 19 species in total around Africa. They can survive in all kinds of habitats.  These include places like plantations, plains, mountains, and deserts.

These small mammals are adorable. Here are some fun facts about elephant shrews:

Only one Species of Elephant Shrew is Endangered

Among the 19 species of elephant shrew, the Golden Rumped elephant shrew is the only shrew that is an endangered species.  It is the biggest among all the elephant shrews.

It is endangered because of fragmented forest environments. They live all over the Arabuko-Sokoke forest in Kenya. They are victims of traps in their living areas. Other animals do not like them as prey because of their bad taste.

Elephant Shrews are not Rodents

Elephant shrews are compared to mice, but they are not rodents. They look like gerbils or mice because of their shape. They aren’t really shrews either, but are more similar to tenrecs and moles. The name “elephant” is because of their long flexible snout.

Elephant Shrews like to Feed on Bugs

The elephant shrew feeds on smaller bugs like termites, beetles, ants, millipedes, earthworms, and spiders.

Secret Africa - Facts about Elephant Shrews

These small animals only feed during the daytime. They also maintain insect populations. They create a series of small paths to catch their prey. The elephant shrew has a sensitive sense of smell, sight, and hearing to detect both predators and food.

Elephant Shrews are Faithful

Elephant shrews always travel around or live with partners. They are monogamous animals sticking to their own territory. They keep track of each other’s whereabouts through marking their scents.

Young Elephant Shrews become more Vulnerable when leaving their Parents

In a single year, the elephant shrew can give birth around four to five times. When their babies are born, they are already covered in fur. They are usually kept hidden in the first three weeks and obey their mother for a period of one week. After they become more independent and weaned, the babies will remain in the parents’ territory for another six weeks before moving to their ow  territory.

Elephant Shrews are not Friendly

Elephant shrews are tiny but fierce. They are intolerant of intruders and will viciously evict anyone who invades the sanctity of their peace. Destructive encounters will usually include sparring, shrieking, jerking and snapping. When this happens it can be a huge blur of animals fighting against each other on the forest floor.

So, you’re planning a trip to Africa, how do you connect with the country that you are going to visit? Easy, you learn the language!

Samburu is a Maa language dialect that is spoken by the Samburu tribe in northern Kenya.  Tanzania is home to about 130 different tribes and each of these tribes speak their own language. Swahili is the language used in Kenya and Tanzania, which is fairly easy to learn.

While travelling around Africa, you will meet many Samburu and Maasai natives who live close to game reserves. So, in order to prepare for encounters, here are some basics that you need to learn.

Basic Samburu Greetings

  • Good morning – “Serian iteperie
  • Good afternoon – “Serian itumumutie mpar”
  • Good evening – “Serian etunye swom”
  • Good night – “Teperie nkai”
  • Hello – “kejua”
  • Goodbye – “ikidua”
  • See you soon – “Ikidua tookuna naatana”
  • See you later – “kidua kenya”
  • Have a good time –  “tewenie nkai”
  • I have to go now – “kaloito taata”
  • It was very nice – “keishupat duo oleng”
  • My name is  – “kaaji nanu nkarna”
  • What is your name?  -“Kijuai nkarna”
  • Pleased to meet you! – “Kasham kutumote”
  • How are you? –  “Aji itiu iye”
  • Fine, thanks. And you?  – “Keisidai, ashe, oh iye”
  • Thank you – “ashe”

Basic General Samburu Terms

Do you speak English? – “Indim airoro lkutuk e lachmb”

  • I don’t understand – “madamuta”
  • Please speak slowly – “iroro akini”
  • Please repeat that – “ngila”
  • Please write it down – “ingero”
  • Excuse me, please – “tining’okija”
  • Could you help me? – “Teretoki”
  • Could you do me a favour? – “Taskaki”
  • Can you show me? – “Ntoduaki ja”
  • How? – “Aikoja?”
  • Where? – “Aji?”
  • When? – “Anu?”
  • Who? – “Ng’ai?”
  • Why? – “Aanyo?”
  • Which? – “Aaha?”
  • I need – “kayeu”
  • Yes – “eeh”
  • No – “mara nejia”

Transcend Cultural Barriers

Secret Africa - Samburu-Kenya-tribe

These easy to remember words and phrases will make your trip even more enjoyable. Now you can converse with the locals, and get to know them a little better.

Africa is home to many beautiful wild animals, stunning scenery, and all kinds of interesting things. The Baobab is the real representation of life in the African plains. This giant, strange looking tree grows in low-lying areas all over Africa, Madagascar, and Australia.

The Baobab has nine different species. It belongs to the genus Adansonia cluster of trees. There are only two species native to the African mainland, which are the Adansonia Digitata and the Adansonia Kilima. Six of the other species can be located in Madagascar and another in Australia.

The baobab tree can grow to enormous sizes and can live up to 3,000 years. They go by many nicknames as well which include boab, boaboa, tabaldi, monkey bread, upside down tree, bottle tree, and dead rat tree, to name a few.

It’s definitely the symbol of the African jungle. To feed your curiosity about this giant tree, here are some quick fun facts about the Baobab tree.

The Baobab Tree is also known as the Tree of Life

This massive tree is also known as the tree of life, because it has many useful properties. It acts like a huge succulent and its trunk is packed with up to 80% water. San Bushmen used to rely on these trees for water when the rivers started to run dry and when there was no rain.  One baobab tree contains 4,500 liters (or 1,189 gallons) of water. The center of the tree can also give people shelter.

Secret Africa, Fun Facts about the Baobab Tree

The bark and inner parts of the tree is soft, fibrous, and resistant to fire. It can be used to weave clothes and rope. Other parts of the baobab can also be used to make rubber, soap, and glue. The leaves and part of the bark is used in traditional medicine. It’s also a source of life for African wildlife. It provides food and shelter for a variety of species, from the tiniest insects to some of the biggest animals in Africa like the elephant.

It has a Nutritious Super Fruit

The baobab tree has a unique fruit that resembles an oblong velvet covered gourd. The fruit has big black seeds and it has a slightly powdery tart pulp in the center. There are a lot of health benefits that you can gain from eating the fruit and leaves. The young leaves can be an alternative to spinach, while the pulp of the fruit can be soaked and blended into a drink.

The baobab fruit is a super fruit thanks to its high levels of potassium, iron, vitamin C and calcium. According to some reports, the pulp has ten times the amount of vitamin C as oranges. It’s recommended for weight loss, skin elasticity, and contains 50% more calcium that spinach. It can also help the health of your cardiovascular system.

There are many Stories and Legends

When it comes to the baobab tree, there are tons of traditions and legends. The African tribes believe that the baobab tree once grew upright. Because it considered itself to be better than all the other trees, the gods decided to teach it a lesson. To stop its boasting, the gods uprooted it and planted the tree upside down to teach it humility.

Secret Africa, Fun Facts about the Baobab Tree

Specific trees in other parts of Africa also have stories attached to them. Zambia’s Kafue National Park is home to one particularly large tree. The locals refer to it as the Kondanamwali or “the tree that eats damsels”.  According to the legend, the tree fell in love with four local women, who rejected the tree and instead chose to look for human husbands. As a form of revenge, the tree pulled the ladies into its bark and kept them there forever.