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23 September 2020 | Story Prof Theodore Petrus | Photo Supplied
Prof Theodore Petrus is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of the Free State.

As we as a South African nation prepare to celebrate Heritage Day on 24 September, and as we reflect on our heritage during Heritage Month, what stands out clearly is that this year’s heritage celebrations will be somewhat … different. It will not be like previous celebrations because as a country, we – along with our fellow continental and global citizens – have experienced what can be described as one of the greatest health, social, and economic challenges that we as a species have ever faced. The repercussions and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for some time to come. And it is this realisation that may cast a little damper on our celebrations during this #Heritage Month.

But what can our shared heritage as South Africans teach us about who we are as a people, and how can this knowledge help us to adapt to and overcome the long-term challenges wrought not only by the pandemic, but also by the many other challenges facing us? 

Heritage Day is a celebration of our cultural heritage and diversity as a nation. It presents us with an opportunity to reflect on our individual and collective heritage. It is also an opportunity for us to take stock of the cultural and other resources that enable and empower us to take ownership of what we want to be as a nation, as a country, as a people. 
So, in view of the questions raised earlier, here are some ideas on what I think our shared heritage can teach us:

1. The heritage of where we come from

Inasmuch as our past is a painful one – a past that still has lingering effects decades after the transition to a democratic dispensation – it still plays a fundamental role in shaping who we are now, and who we want to become.
Colonialism and apartheid sought to suppress our indigenous cultures and traditions, and had a negative impact on our psyche, self-confidence, and dignity as indigenous and African people. But one positive that came from this, is that if it was not for our shared heritage of colonialism and apartheid, we probably would not have become the nation we needed to become to bring it to an end.  

Instead of destroying symbols of that painful past, we need to shift our perspective to re-interpret those symbols in a new way. The power of cultural symbols lies in their meanings. Symbolic anthropologist Victor Turner spoke about the ‘multivocality of symbols’, meaning that we can ascribe whatever meanings to our cultural symbols we choose. Let us reflect on how we can change the current meanings we ascribe to our cultural symbols that reflect an awareness of how the heritage of where we come from does not keep us trapped in negative and painful meanings of these symbols, but instead inspire us to create new positive meanings.

2. The heritage of where we are now

After 1994, we began the process of creating a new contemporary heritage as a nation struggling to free itself of the burden of a painful past. And while it was difficult, we have made significant strides. Yes, we do still face challenges rooted in the past: institutional and structural violence; race and diversity-related issues; intercultural and intergroup conflicts; crime and violence against men, women, and children; corruption at various levels of governance; and others. We are also faced with ‘newer’ challenges as a country that is part of the globalised world. Poverty, inequality, unemployment, slow economic growth, and ailing infrastructure are all contemporary problems, some of them rooted in the past, others the product of the contemporary context. 

What can we learn from our shared heritage of where we are now that can help us to overcome these contemporary challenges? We need to remind ourselves of what we are capable of as a nation. We have ended an oppressive regime, not once but twice. And, with all of the challenges, problems, and obstacles, we are still here.

3. The heritage of where we are going

This might sound strange, because heritage usually refers to the past and present. Rarely do we speak of heritage in a future-oriented context. However, as a nation, given our past and given our present, where we come from and where we are now determines where we are going. 

As South Africans, we need to ask the question: where do we want to go? Are we heading in that direction? If not, how do we change course so that we do go in the right direction? I have no simple answer. But what I can suggest is that it should start with critical self-reflection, both individually and collectively. We also need to ask ourselves what legacy we want to leave for future generations. Do we want them to still be struggling with the same problems and challenges that we are dealing with right now? Or do we want to leave them a legacy of a nation that stood up to its challenges, took ownership of them, and found a way to overcome them?

A globally devastating pandemic. A painful past. A present wrought with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. As a South African, as a child of the soil, I know that as a nation we can overcome, and we can emerge better and stronger. That is our heritage. The heritage of hope.

 

Opinion article by Prof Theodore Petrus, Department of Anthropology, University of the Free State 

News Archive

UFS Safety Awareness March set to create a safe space for students
2017-07-27

 Description: Suspicious behavior Tags: safety, campaign, SRC, communication, awareness


The University of the Free State (UFS), in collaboration with various stakeholders, has dedicated the week of 24 to 28 July 2017 to creating awareness for the safety of students on and around its campuses.

UFS and CUT unite for safety
The highlight of the week will be on Thursday 27 July 2017 when a safety awareness march will take place from the Main Building on the Bloemfontein Campus to the Bram Fischer Building, where a memorandum will be handed over to Mr Sam Mashinini, MEC for Police, Roads, and Transport in the Free State. The march is a partnership between the UFS Student Representative Council (SRC) and the Central University of Technology (CUT).

 During a meeting on 24 July 2017, the Executive Committee of Senate granted formal approval for students and staff of the Bloemfontein Campus to take part in the safety march on 27 July 2017. For this reason, all lectures will be suspended from 11:00 to 13:00 on 27 July 2017 in order to give the campus community the opportunity to participate in the march. Academic staff, as well as staff in the administrative support services, are encouraged to join the march.

Programme for the safety march:


11:00: Marchers gather in front of the Main Building

11:15: Marchers depart from the Main Building to the Main Gate

11:30: Marchers exit the Main Gate and move towards the Central University of Technology (CUT). Students and staff who are unable to participate in the rest of the march, return to their work places or classes.

12:20: UFS and CUT marchers will gather at the Bram Fischer Building, situated on the corner of Nelson Mandela Avenue and Markgraaff Street. Here, the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, Prof Francis Petersen, and the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of CUT, Prof Henk de Jager, will address the marchers, after which the memorandum will be read by the respective SRC Presidents and handed to Mr Mashinini.

Activities underway to raise safety awareness
During the week, the Student Representative Council (SRC), together with other stakeholders, have been involved in several activities on and off the Bloemfontein Campus, including door-to-door visits to student homes and residences on and around campus, awareness campaigns at all the gates of the campus, and a Safety Dialogue that will be held on Wednesday 26 July 2017 at the Equitas Auditorium. The aim of the Safety Week is to focus on informing, educating, and encouraging students as well as the Mangaung community at large, in order to work together in creating a safe environment for students.

The week started with the roll-out of an awareness campaign titled Reach Out, which is set to bring students and the community of Mangaung together to help decrease the number of violent crimes faced by students off campus. The communication plan includes safety messages, using outdoor billboards, posters on lampposts around the residential student areas, local community radio stations, campus media, and the university’s social media platforms.

A similar student safety awareness campaign will take place on the university’s Qwaqwa Campus during the week of 31 July 2017.



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