Braai Day: It’s about more than just wors

2017-09-24 11:23 - Anje Rautenbach
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In Cape Town’s CBD, right in front of the Cullinan Hotel, a choir of Harley Davidsons arrives with a roar and a rev.

A few hundred people gather on the lawn and in the streets some pedestrians come to a complete halt of curiosity as multiple South African flags flap in the wind, almost in sync with the rhythmic strokes coming from Siyabuya, the Capetonian Miramba band.

I lift my camera, zoom, and see the excitement radiating from the enthusiastic South African faces in front of me; faces colourful, different and proudly representing cities and towns from all over South Africa.

I get a tap on the shoulder.

“What is this?” a gentleman asks in a French accent as he points to the flags, the branded cars and the Harley Davidsons.

The voice of the MC, Letshego Zulu, towers over the excitement as she welcomes everyone.

“It is a National Braai Tour,” I answer.

The French tourist looks lost; it is a six letter sentence and not one word is making absolutely sense to him.

Oh merde. How to explain it?

“This group of people,” I say as I point with collective fingers to the lawn of excitement, “will travel through South Africa for the next week with Jan Braai; they will camp, visit heritage sites, and uhm, have a few barbeques along the way.”

Barbeque. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

He shakes his head up and down with an, “Oh okay.”

And before I can explain to the gentleman that a barbeque in South Africa is all about getting around a fire with your family or a group of friends, he disappears into the crowd.

Au revoir.

SEE: #Braai4Heritage: Want to go camping? Do it like Jan Braai!

(Photo: Anje Rautenbach)

(Photo: Anje Rautenbach)

(Photo: Anje Rautenbach)

It’s serious braai-business: 2017 National Braai Tour

Whether you want to call it braai or shisa nyama, the act of making a fire and throwing meat on that fire is firmly embedded into the South African culture as a whole. Just ask most South Africans who live abroad; if you go without it for too long you will begin to notice that something is missing, and it is not just about the meaty flavours, but the atmosphere and togetherness between mates or family around the fire play an even bigger role.

While living in South Korea I nearly smoked everyone out of my apartment building while trying to braai in my almost enclosed balcony; you can take a South African away from its braai, but you can’t take a braai away from a South African.

With that in mind, I knew from the beginning of the 2017 National Braai Tour that the weeklong trip would be serious braai business.

But nothing could prepare me for just how serious the participants got down to their braai business as they travelled from Cape Town to the Overberg, the Karoo and the Garden Route to end the trip in Port Elizabeth.

This was next level braaing, next level fires and next level meals; seven days, 40 teams and more than 200 fires over the course of the tour.

But that’s only counting the evening braai, not even the fires from the prime braai that happened en route from destination A to destination B, or the breakfast lamb spit braai that replaced the roosterkoek one morning.

Half of the fun was in the braaing. The other half was all about the teams with their unique names and team spirit who came kitted in ready-to-have-a-good-time team gear; some had specially printed t-shirts with the team’s logo, one team wore khaki kilts with the South African flag printed on the pleats and another was dressed in hard hats and colourful overalls that brought back university RAG memories.  During the day they waved their flags, explored South African heritage spots like Cape Agulhas, Robberg Nature Reserve, the Cango Caves and Donkin Reserve or ventured off the road to go surfing and at night they united around a massive bonfire and danced to anything and everything from golden-Klipwerf-boereorkes-oldies to proudly South African kwaito hits.

While it might just look like seven days of braaing from the outside it is much more in retrospect.

It is seven days of letting go, seven days of enjoying one of the favourite pastimes of South Africans, seven days of seeing curious onlookers joining in for a Jan Braai selfie, seven days of meeting new people, seven days of uncooked leftovers and other donations being donated to the communities in the area, seven days of discovering and re-discovering the beauty of our country, seven days of seeing Jan Braai having a chat here, sharing a boerewors there and seven multi-cultural days of uniting around a fire, sharing our heritage and waving our flag.

It is seven days of peeking into the future of South Africa, seven days of getting a glimpse of Jan Braai’s goal to see 53 million people unite around a fire, seven days screaming possibility. 

“My friends and family all have FOMO,” said Letshego Zulu, the MC of the 2017 National Braai Tour, “to go on a road trip, explore your country and all you do is braai, chill, chat to people and just let go of all your daily stresses, is very refreshing.”

(Photo: Anje Rautenbach)

(Photo: Anje Rautenbach)

(Photo: Anje Rautenbach)

Do heritage and braai sit around the same fire?

While the Oxford English Dictionary defines 'heritage' as 'property that is or may be inherited', 'valued things such as historic buildings', and 'relating to things of historic or cultural value’, the debate of whether or not South African heritage and braai sit around the same fire is still inextinguishable.

Funnily enough, the debate is probably just as inextinguishable as South Africans’ love for throwing a chop on a fire.

The intention of the Braai Day initiative, that Jan Scannell started 13 years ago, is not to take the focus away from South Africa’s multicultural heritage or to change Heritage Day. And it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu (also the patron of the initiative) who said, “What Jan Scannell had in mind with the Braai Day initiative is nurturing and embracing a common South African culture, shared across all races and genders.”

It’s also our beloved Arch Tutu who said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

It is difficult to argue with a man with so much wisdom.

Letshego Zulu also weighed in said, “Braaing is part of our heritage – it is not THE heritage – but it is part of it. It is something South Africans do, yes sure you get Americans who will have a barbeque but braaing is something we do. South Africans come together around a fire, hence you got shisa nyama, it is one of the predominant ways we as South Africans come together. Nothing beats that quality time with your friends at your home when you do a bring-and-braai. With Braai Day being celebrated on heritage day we’re reminding people a little bit of our culture, it’s not this culture or that culture, it is that one thing that actually unites us as South Africans.”

Across race, language, region and religion, we all share one common heritage. It is called many things: Chisa Nyama, Braai and Ukosa to name few. Although the ingredients may differ, the one thing that never changes is that when we have something to celebrate we light fires, and prepare great feasts.

The crux of the matter is that you can celebrate your heritage and you can still light a fire. It’s not either or.

What will you do this Heritage Day?

For more info on how Braai Day started or some recipes for the fire, visit

Want to join National Braai Tour 2018?

If you want to join Jan Braai on his National Braai Tour next year just keep the following in mind:

  • There are hundreds of entries and only 40 teams are selected. Start practicing your coolness to get a spot (teams consists of four people).
  • You will smell like a well done chop after gathering around fires for a week. If you have pets, is best to remove your braai clothing upon return before you enter your house. No one will be held liable if they lick the clothes off your back.
  • There is no medic on the tour so if you’re prone to accidents, pack a band-aid (you might want to add a headache tablet(s) as well).
  • It is best to get enough sleep pre and post Braai Tour.
  • Vegetarians are welcome but should just consider that probably 19 of the 21 meals will be meat-related hence no one can be held liable if you starve.
  • It is not a competition, if you burn your meal no one will judge you but your team mates who will starve (consider befriending the vegetarian, he/she might have a stash of tofu).
  • If you leave your wife behind make sure you call Liefie every now and then (she might be jealous that you’re making food for 7 nights and she is not benefitting from it).
  • If loud noises disturb your sleep, bring ear plugs because your buddies’ snores will pass through the tent flaps.
  • What happens on Braai Tour, stays on Braai Tour. 

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