In an address marking South Africa’s first National Heritage Day on September 24th 1996, former president Nelson Mandela stated: “When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage was a profound power to help build our new nation.” Envisaged to bind the country across creative expression, historical inheritance, language and food, every year a host of events are held to celebrate a diverse melting pot of cultures. 22 years on, the most common and binding element comes with a set of tongs, a succulent coil of boerewors and chit chat around a fire.
Jan Scannell, aka Jan Braai, tong master and the founder of National Braai Day which coincides every year with National Heritage Day, is up to the nation building challenge. With patron, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, as one of the initiative’s greatest supporters, every year Jan rallies millions of South Africans to come together around a fire to eat, share their heritage and wave the flag. “The fire is the traditional place of gathering in Africa. It’s a place of warmth, safety and food. It’s where elders of the tribe gather together to share stories and pass on traditions. South Africa has a rich and diverse heritage but the one common heritage all South Africans share is our love of gathering around fires and preparing feasts on those fires,” says the braai legend.
Taking his mission to unite people around a fire very seriously, Jan has braaied in South Africa’s most northerly, easterly, westerly and southerly corners. Not satisfied he had braaied everywhere, he took a helicopter to Mafadi Point, the Drakensberg’s highest peak, and braaied there. As the country has no low points, he built an underwater braai chamber, a cross between a submarine and an incubator, and braaied there. Jan says, “That is the strangest place I’ve ever braaied and I can confirm there is no future in underwater braaing.”
The braai is also known as a ‘shisanyama,’ meaning cooked meat in Zulu and translates to braai or barbeque.
Shisanyamas originated as an accompanying experience to a car wash, mechanic service or butchery. Michelle Lewis, organiser of the annual Shisanyama Festival in uMlazi, Durban says, “While you waited for your car to be fixed or washed, or when you bought your meat, you could also sit, eat, drink and socialise.”
Today the shisanyama is biggest on Sundays where people wear fashionable outfits, drink expensive alcohol and eat a lot of meat in premium lounges. The experience is slightly different if you go to a tavern or spaza shop where sometimes you can cook your own meat and bring along a cooler box with something to drink. Michelle says, “What distinguishes the shisanyamas from a restaurant, is mostly the open flame which cooks the meat and the on-site butchery or display of fresh meat which you choose from.”
The shisanyama sides are also pap and phuthu with chakalaka (vegetable relish) and ujeqe (steamed bread) as the differentiating elements. All shisanyama venues pride themselves on their signature dishes. “Some will say their chicken feet is what gets people visiting them or others will claim it’s in their T-bone basting. It just depends on the venue,” she remarks.
Sarah Collins is the CEO and founder of the widely successful Wonderbag, an innovative non-electric heat retention cooker which has especially been beneficial to rural families. An advocate for poor and disadvantaged women in Africa, about Heritage Day Sarah says, “It reminds us who we are, and what is worth fighting for. We need to change the climate and economic status and reminding us of our heritage is key to progressing.” Sarah confesses that she is no braaimaster but can cook all the delicious accompaniments in her Wonderbag.
Her favourite food from the coals: A lamb chop with mint sauce.
Project Manager, Lynn Green from Johannesburg, loves to braai and feels no weekend is complete without one. To boot, Lynn is a braaimaster having taught herself when her father and brother burnt the meat one too many times. About Heritage Day she says, “It’s a coming together of all our different cultures to celebrate each other and our roots. We need it to unite our nation and as a reminder to respect each other’s differences.” This September Lynn will be cooking steak, boerewors, lamb chops, a potato salad and a green salad all to be accompanied by some ice-cold drinks. The strangest place Lynn has braaied is in the snow in London. “We used umbrellas to keep the fire going but we were desperate!” she exclaims.
Durban-based photographer, Mbali Mpofu sees Heritage Day as a way to celebrate South Africans and their uniqueness. “It’s a reminder that even though we are all different, the common thread is that we are all essentially South Africans,” she enthuses. For Mbali the public holiday is an opportunity to spend time with her immediate and extended family dancing and enjoying traditional ceremonies. She says, “We need to celebrate our cultures and follow our customs more often.” Mbali is also a self-taught keeper of the coals and on the menu for her this Heritage Day will be ujeqe and chakalaka (the one you cook), usu for her mother, boerewors, chicken, marinated pork rashers and creamy isitambo or samp. About braaing she says, ”I love a braai because it keeps me warm and is a typical South African way to kick of your shoes and bond with your loved ones.”
As Archbishop Tutu put it in an article for the Times, “The Braai Day initiative is nurturing and embracing a common South African culture, which is shared across all races and genders. Not one South African person can tell you they have never witnessed a braai. Even in the rural areas they light a fire and put their meat onto it to cook.” And since it’s September and the weather is warming up, no doubt the coals will be burning, the wors cooking and the beers chilling in no time.
rn UK-based Kayo Chingonyi, whose poetry book Kumukanda won the Dylan Thomas Prize in May 2018.
Winning or even being shortlisted for such competitions has put Zambian writers on the literary map and has helped begin the careers of younger Zambian writers. For instance, after winning the Caine Prize, Serpell returned to Zambia in 2016 to facilitate a workshop which featured writers from the continent, including three from Zambia; Chilufya Chilangwa, Kafula Mwila and Bwanga Kapumpa. The participants stories were featured in a 2016 Caine Prize anthology.
Locally, there are other initiatives which have spurned on the literary scene. The Zambia PEN Center, an initiative of PEN International (a worldwide association of writers founded in 1921 to promote friendship and cooperation) host monthly Writers Circle meetings at Alliance Francaise in Lusaka. The meetings serve as a way for writers to gain feedback on their work and discuss the challenges they face.
The Zambia Women Writer’s Association aims to foster creative writing in Zambia. In 2016, they launched the Zambia Writer’s Award Short Story competition. Ukusefya Words launched the annual Kalemba Short Story competition in 2017, which was won by Mali Kambandu. On how she believes the competition is developing Zambia’s literary scene, she stated, “The Kalemba prize received a lot of entries, so it shows that people are interested in writing. Even those who didn’t win should be encouraged by being long-listed. I believe that as the years go by, the competition will receive a whole lot more support.”
Other literary awards include the Tell Your Own Story Literary Awards founded in 2015 and supported by the Concept Developers Initiative, Southern Writers Bureau, UNZA Radio and Zambia Association of Literacy. At the 2018 edition, ten categories were awarded, including Best Fiction and Best Book.
More publishing houses are being formed locally. One of those is Butali House. Formed in 2016 by Chilu Mulundu and Peter Nawa, the company makes it easier for anyone to publish, promote, and distribute professional-quality printed books and e-books. “Some Zambian authors are increasingly choosing to self-publish via platforms like Amazon or under their own companies. Examples include Dario Chongolo whose books are self-help and motivational and Carol Tiyesela Phiri who writes fantasy novels. Chongolo has also created audio books.
Book expos and writer’s festivals are also held on a more frequent basis in Zambia. Examples include the Zed Book Expo, which was held in May in Lusaka and organised by the Concept Developers Initiative and the Southern Writers Bureau. In August, Short Story Day Africa held flow workshops in Zambia. There is also the annual Tilembe Writers Festival. Tilembe is a celebration of Zambian authors and writers. It is three-day event that includes workshops and panel discussions. The 2018 edition will be held from the 5th to 8th September 2018.
It is clear that the Zambian literary scene is developing exponentially despite limited resources. Zambian writers are winning awards at home and in the diaspora and more literary events are being held. The future of Zambian writing is bright.