Is it OK to call Heritage Day Braai Day? I’m a feral academic who works in advertising, which means that debates like this are especially interesting to me. I wrote my thesis on the role of advertising in post-apartheid South African identity, and nothing crystallises the arguments over exactly what we stand for quite like this one.
This year, for the first time ever, I have that very rare and precious commodity: a client who offers an opportunity to talk about national identity and heritage in interesting and useful ways. Given our recent history of xenophobia and the battles that still rage in the opinion pages over our fraught and difficult history, it’s always good to reflect on how much diversity has contributed to our collective identity, that culture is mutable and adaptable, and that we should not feel threatened by change.
I’m very aware of the sensitivities of talking about brands on Thought Leader, but because the best way to talk about the Braai Day vs Heritage Day debate is to show you what I’ve actually done as somebody who works in marketing, I hope you will forgive me for including links and images. It’s not possible to explain the thinking without them.
As it happens, my client is the perfect brand to talk about South African heritage. According to the Sunday Times Top Brands survey, it’s the most loved brand in South Africa after Coca-Cola, which makes them the most loved South African brand of all. And as it happens, they make a very popular product that is three things:
1. Uniquely South African — it developed in the townships (nobody seems to be quite sure how).
2. Strongly influenced by Indian cooking.
3. An essential ingredient of any township shisa nyama — or braai, if you prefer.
Nothing reminds us that diversity brings flavour than the food we eat. So I decided to explore the diverse heritage of South Africans through the lens of two things we do with our mouths: speaking and eating.
Every day, we’ve looked at a different language and associated food — from Xitsonga and Tshivenda to Hindi and Cantonese, Portuguese and Italian. My designer created Pinterest-friendly plates designed to bring together different elements, like this one for Yiddish:
This one for Cantonese:
And this one for Portuguese:
I’ve learned so much — I had no idea that Afrikaans was first written in Arabic, that over 300 Jews fought on the side of the Boers, or that the great Portuguese poet Pessoa was schooled in Durban — and I hope that others have too. (If you want to participate, you can find out more here.)
My team and I created this tongue-in-cheek herald for the campaign featuring South Africa’s favourite braai foods:
Mnandi, Monate and Lekker all mean more or less the same thing (although monate — from Tswana and Sotho — is nicer than lekker and a good word to add to your vocabulary).
I bring my academic research to bear on this, but through Facebook and Twitter it is translated into language that non-academics can relate to. That’s the power of working in advertising: you can have more of an impact on people who don’t read the opinion pages in newspapers.
So, to get back to the original question. Braai Day vs Heritage Day?
I call it Heritage Day because that is its proper name, but I’ve gone beyond that and named the whole of September Heritage Month, because heritage is a vast subject, and worthy of more than just one day.
Celebrating it by braaing is both meaningful to ordinary South Africans, and appropriate. It’s an opportunity to connect with others, to reflect on the different paths that led us here, and celebrate our histories both personal and collective. Whether we eat shigwala, xigwimbi, seswaa, vhuswa, isibijane, dim sum, chutney, tzatzkiki, kneidlach, vetkoek, or chakalaka, while we enjoy the flavour that diversity brings to our nation.