Heritage Day or Braai Day? It’s Time to Choose.
- ORESTI PATRICIOS
- 05 Oct 2016 12:20 (South Africa)
Heritage Day has been rebranded as National Braai Day by most retailers, and while even the much-loved Arch, Desmond Tutu, has been persuaded to promote the national sausage party, not everyone is happy about it. To be accurate, loads of people are rather pissed off.
I know that it’s not for me to dictate what people do on a national holiday. Some might like to go and watch music, connect to tradition, attend a sporting event, or listen to politicians wax lyrical in a stadium. I’m not here to opine with moral superiority.
If you prefer to light a fire, throw some wors on, and stay home – I’ve got no problem. The case I am making is that we’ve missed a trick with Heritage Day. No, we’ve missed a massive opportunity.
South Africa has become a fractious society. And there is a significance to Heritage Day that should not be forgotten, nor overlooked. Significance that could help us get to know and understand each other better.
According to SA History Online, Heritage Day – September 24 – replaced Shaka Day, which was especially dear to the people of the Zulu nation, South Africa’s largest population group. Parliament under Nelson Mandela was all set to scrap the holiday, but the IFP objected, and Heritage Day was created as a compromise, so that all South Africans could celebrate their cultural heritage.
For many South Africans this is an opportunity not only to teach their children about their own cultural heritage, but also to learn about each other’s cultures. Mandela said that the decision to create Heritage Day was important because “we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation”. The intent with creating this public holiday was to celebrate our differences with a spirit of appreciation, rather than focusing on that which divides us.
Let’s face it, there is so much of a drive to divide South Africans, and politicians are spectacularly good at this. Politics today, locally and across the world, has become a populist push to divide and conquer.
Enter Jan Braai (real name: Jan Scannell), a financial services bloke with a good sense of marketing. His idea? Instead of looking at what makes us different, why not look at what unites us? Great concept – but how was it executed?
Scannell got a bunch of retail chains to buy into his concept of Braai Day, which would conveniently be held on a day at the start of spring, when people dust off their Webers and buy a new set of tongs. Yup, it is a fun idea, and I’m not saying that the self-styled Jan Braai wasn’t sincere when he suggested that braaing is common to many ethnicities in South Africa.
But there were problems. First, the majority of people in this country haven’t bought into the idea that Braai Day should fall on Heritage Day and should “supplant” the celebration of our respective cultural identities. Second, it’s become a bandwagon that many marketers have jumped onto — not only those that sell boerewors and beer, but even insurance companies now create Braai Day campaigns.
Insurance company King Price, for example, has an admittedly funny ad called “Braai Laai” (Barbeque Drawer). It features a group of corporate cubicle-dwellers who come up with a way of turning the drawers of a desk into a braai: the bases of the top drawers are replaced by mesh griddles and a two-bar heater in the bottom drawer provides the heat. It’s a scene reminiscent of slacker comedy Workaholics and the comedic performances are great, but it’s hard to figure out what this has to do with insurance — or heritage, for that matter.
Braai Day celebrated on Heritage Day has become just another commercial opportunity. Food Lovers Market doesn’t refer to it as Braai Day in their ad, but you can get your steak, chicken, potatoes and onion at a special price on this day only. Game go all the way with filmmaker/TV cook Justin Bonello presenting a crash course on shisa nyama, showing viewers how to make a basic marinade from various common sauces and ingredients. In his presentation he throws in a ‘rainbow nation’ and something about ‘out of this diversity the famous Shisa Nyama was born’ — whatever that means. The term is actually just isiZulu for “burn meat”. This ad doesn't even mention Heritage Day.
Now that you’ve seen some of the ads, notice anything distinctive about these commercials? They’re not exactly diverse or reflective of who South Africans are. These ads only reflect one culture — which is the problem with Braai Day.
Research by Ornico showed that about 121 ads were broadcast to position brands with Heritage Day or Braai Day. Out of a total of 121 ads on TV, radio and in print, 54, or 44.6%, of the total were associated with Braai Day. That’s close on half of the ads that used the term Braai Day exclusively, or focused offerings on braai meat and equipment, and didn’t mention Heritage Day. This means that brands see Braai Day as a strong commercial opportunity, regardless of people’s protests.
Of the ads, 45, or 37.2%, were exclusively classified as Heritage Day ads, and these included public service announcements and ads for Heritage Day events (that were not braai-oriented). And 22 of the ads – 18.2% of them – combined both Heritage Day and Braai Day, or managed to conflate the two conceptually. By way of example, an ad that had Heritage Day in the copy, but which primarily used the advertising opportunity to sell braai food or supplies, was categorised as conflated in our research.
Among marketers, the Braai Day brand is therefore a stronger sell than Heritage Day. Brands that used the opportunity are more interested in selling kettle braais, tongs, wors, steak, alcohol, charcoal or whatever they’re pushing, than in promoting national reconciliation and understanding. Or, one could say that the brands are invested in short-term, retail focused thinking rather than cultural or social harmony.
The sample Ornico looked at was 121 adverts broadcast on channels such as Highveld Stereo 947 and SABC TV, and published in publications like The Star, Beeld and the Diamond Fields Advertiser. As such the research didn’t include social or digital campaigns. Brands that embraced Braai Day included Checkers, Pick n Pay, Food Lover’s Market and Picardi Rebel Liquors, while those that elected to promote through Heritage Day included The Cradle of Humankind, Celltone Skincare, Rama margarine and OK Furniture.
What this research shows is that Braai Day is a commercial construction that’s being propelled by brands and advertisers who want to sell stuff. Fair enough – but what about listening to the customer?
Essayist T.O. Molefe is more pointed in his criticism [and rightly so]. Molefe says: “Jan Braai appears to have conjured all of the white supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy’s powers to overrun and overpower the original intentions of commemorating the day.”
Harsh. But Molefe is not a lone voice in the wilderness. This is a popular view among a lot of people and it needs to be heard. Let’s go to SA’s Twitterati to find out what they think of Heritage Day being transformed into a Braai Day:
@Lomzi89 – “It’s NOT braai day. It’s heritage day.”
@thandiswamazwai – “Every day is heritage day! Tsek with your braai day. I realise I have a historic aversion to braais actually.”
@SureKamhunga – “Marketers who ride on the wave of Heritage Day to sell their wares to encourage folks to braai etc abusing what is actually an important day.”
@PieterHowes – “Great discussion with @GugsM now on @Radio702 about what Heritage Day truly means. It is certainly NOT white-appropriated braai day.”
@LuyandaD_ – “When are we having the discussion of how abelungu baseSatafrika try to take away our Heritage Day by making it National Braai day?”
@MzLee_ – “Don’t annoy me by telling me that Heritage day is Braai day. I’m not interested in that concept. Thanks.”
@PutFootRally – “Heritage Day! Remember today is about our people, culture, history and not just a braai.”
@zikhonasodlaka – “It’s HERITAGE DAY. My heritage as a Xhosa person, is foods such as umvubo. Not BRAAI, Heritage.”
@donscot23 – “The fact that advertising today related to Heritage Day all refers to braai just shows how advertising thinking is dominated by whites. Sad.”
Eina! And there’s a lot more where that came from. But if that’s what even a minority of people think, then it’s important for marketers (and the National Heritage Council, which endorsed this idea) to take notice: do you really want to alienate a vocal, upwardly mobile segment of your market, even if it’s in the name of unification? The old adage ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions’ comes to mind.
Heritage Day is a magnificent opportunity for South Africans to get to know each other. We have a rich diversity in language, dancing, drumming, comedy, singing, poetry, story-telling, clothing, theatre, food, history, and so much more. This could be a magnificent opportunity to discover and celebrate, instead of alienating each other.
People from all over the world travel thousands of kilometres to experience what’s special about us, but we have grown blasé about this magic. And to reduce it all to a day that celebrates cooking meat on a fire, and a day that appeals to a narrow section of our vast community, is a slap in the face of many people’s cultures.
There is much that unites us as South Africans: sport, music, our amazing sense of humour, our “can-do” sensibilities and resilience, our love of peace, our strong entrepreneurial outlook. But we live in a time and place where politicians appear to want to fracture us.
Now, more than ever before, we need to work together to solve problems, not by blindly following some sort of “we are one” mantra, and not by homogenising Heritage Day into Braai Day. But through curiosity, discovery and understanding. Through debate, discussion, play and reaching out to each other.
We need to genuinely see each other and recognise how our differences are our strength, how our cultures create a rich tapestry that both identifies and unites us. And we need to work together to address some of the massive challenges that lie ahead of us. And there is a lot of work to be done. DM
Oresti Patricios is CEO of Ornico