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Braai: The Politics of Grilled Meat

October 2, 2014

THE braai (Afrikaans for barbecue) is a cornerstone of social life in South Africa. It typically involves a marathon session of drinking, eating dead creatures cooked over coals, and enjoying the sunny climate. But the beloved braai is at the centre of controversy over the rebranding of a September 24th bank holiday. It was once celebrated by Zulus as King Shaka Day. It was declared a new holiday, Heritage Day, under Nelson Mandela’s government in a compromise meant to include all South Africa’s diverse cultures, rather than just one tribe. But it is now proving divisive.

The holiday falls in the southern hemisphere’s spring, offering a chance for the first braai of the season. However a campaign to remake September 24th as “National Braai Day” has touched an unexpectedly deep nerve. A champion of the rebranding is a white man who goes by the moniker Jan Braai, and who likens Braai Day to America’s Thanksgiving. He sees the holiday as a unifier— South Africans of all backgrounds putting aside their differences and gathering around fires to grill in harmony. The official patron is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who declared with a characteristic giggle that, “the braai, like rugby and sunny skies, is in our DNA!”


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