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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

HEMIS training ‘shares insights across institutions’, says Prof Petersen
2017-08-22

 Description: HEMIS training ‘shares insights across institutions’ Tags: HEMIS training ‘shares insights across institutions’

UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Francis Petersen
presents the welcoming address at the 2017 HEMIS Institute
in Bloemfontein.
Photo: Eugene Seegers

Higher education institutions such as universities need information and accurate data to make critically important management decisions. Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS), expressed these sentiments during his introduction at the 2017 HEMIS Institute recently held in Bloemfontein.

Reporting a critical part of HE practice
The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) uses its Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) to manage and verify performance data from Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) regarding four crucial datasets, namely students, staff, space, and postdoctoral information and research fellows. HEMIS data is collected for quality control, funding, and planning purposes, in particular for steering the system and for monitoring the sector. This data must then be audited, since it is used for subsidy allocations to HEIs.

“Institutional reporting on aspects of what we do as public universities is a critical part of practice in Higher Education,” said Prof Petersen. He added, “Whether about insourcing statistics, … student accommodation, or transformation and indicators within that domain, it’s really all about accurate data with which informed, evidence-based decisions can be made. This HEMIS Institute 2017 ultimately enables us to share insights across institutions, which can grow and strengthen the sector as a whole.”

‘It’s about accurate data with
which informed decisions can
be made’—Prof Francis Petersen

Public and private HEIs attend training alongside government reps
The Institutional Information Systems Unit of the Directorate for Institutional Research and Academic Planning (DIRAP) hosted and presented the Southern African Association for Institutional Research (SAAIR) HEMIS Foundations workshop and the annual HEMIS Institute in Bloemfontein. These training opportunities were attended by university data managers and representatives from 26 public and private HEIs, as well as representatives from the Council on Higher Education (CHE), DHET, and the Namibian National Council for Higher Education (NCHE). The Foundations workshop was designed to assist those new to the platform to be better acquainted with this data management tool, while the two-day Institute was structured to answer complex questions and address issues around the use of the relevant reporting structures and software.

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