It seems strangely appropriate that in the middle of one of the craziest weeks in South African politics (and goodness knows we’ve had our fair share of interesting times*) the bulk of the country took a breather to celebrate the Heritage Day national holiday.
The holiday was originally instigated to recognise “aspects of South African culture which are both tangible and difficult to pin down: creative expression, our historical inheritance, language, the food we eat as well as the land in which we live” according the SA government information site.
Prior to the newly elected South African government revising public holidays, the 24th of September was an informal holiday in KwaZulu-Natal, commemorating the Zulu king Shaka.
As the description above itself says, the holiday now recognises difficult to pin down aspects of our culture. Frankly it’s a bit of a mystery to me what I should be celebrating. So I love that the holiday now has been sub-titled National Braai Day. Sure, this came about as the result of a media campaign, and I am sure the supermarkets love it, but in my opinion South Africans of all shapes, sizes and cultural backgrounds have hijacked this concept and made it their own.
This is a great example of an emerging popular culture attaching its own meaning to something that could previously have been considered a loaded symbol. For many a braai used to be a symbol of a white-male dominated, Afrikaans cultural activity.
This gives me great hope for the future of South Africa. It is a great indication of the emergence of a unified South African identity, which has successfully subverted previous negative connotations attached to national symbols.
Most importantly, this is a fairly spontaneous uprising by the general population, and not a top-down programme of cultural identity building.
This is a lesson many companies could do well to take note of. You can hold culture and value workshops until the workforce is able to recite the company mission statement off by heart. But unless the culture and values are reflected in the workforce at large, and more importantly actively endorsed by the staff, this is, in my opinion, just an expensive waste of time.
From the point of view of Brand South Africa – it is things like this that will unite us around a national identity to take to the world, and proudly shout from the rooftops.
*Interesting times is of course said to be the first in a series of Chinese curses.
It’s also the 17th book in the Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.