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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 to implement a policy on HIV and Aids
2005-03-14

The Council of the University of the Free State (UFS) approved the implementation of a policy on HIV and AIDS.

“With this policy we recognise the seriousness of the HIV and AIDS epidemic and the potential impact this disease can have on both the UFS and the wider society.  We are committed to addressing HIV and AIDS in a positive, supportive and non-discriminatory approach by providing resources and leadership to implement HIV and AIDS university-based, as well as community outreach programmes,” said Dr Ezekiel Moraka, Vice-Rector:  Student Services at the UFS.

The objectives of the policy include:

  • The protection of individual rights of confidentiality and freedom from discrimination.

  • The promotion of a sustained educational programme that provides counseling and current accurate information to the University community and to the outside community.

  • The promotion of behaviors that reduce or minimise the risk of acquiring HIV infection and generally create a safe environment.

  • The provision of leadership in teaching, research and community service on HIV and AIDS and its impact.

  • The provision of leadership in promoting the human rights based approach to HIV and AIDS, and thereby also breaking down the stigma attached to the illness.

“The policy also makes provision for the establishment of a Centre for HIV and AIDS within Kovsie Health.  This centre will render HIV and AIDS related support services and initiatives to the whole campus,” said Dr Moraka.

According to Dr Petro Basson, head of the Centre for HIV and AIDS at the UFS, there is less than 1% incidence of HIV positive cases amongst undergraduate students on the main and Vista campuses.  All these students take part in a voluntary confidential counseling and testing programme (VCCT).  In the case of postgraduate students, there is about 1% incidence on both campuses.

“The Centre for HIV and AIDS has led in the development of information campaigns and workshops for students and staff to make them aware of the risks of HIV and AIDS and the necessary measures to ensure their safety.  We have found that, because students have access to the right information, they are more cautious when it comes to HIV and AIDS.  Awareness campaigns are also conducted throughout the year – especially during rag and intervarsity,” said Dr Basson.

“Some departments have also taken the lead in introducing aspects of HIV and AIDS into academic programmes while important research on the HIV and AIDS topic has already been completed and receives continuous attention,” said Dr Basson.

To achieve a coordinated approach, a Life Skills Forum will be established consisting of representatives of among others the Student Representative Council (SRC), academic departments, trade unions, Kovsie Counseling and Development, etc.

“With this policy the UFS pledges its commitment to participate actively in the fight against the disease,” said Dr Moraka.

Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel:   (051) 401-2584
Cell:  083 645 2454
E-mail:  loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
14 March 2005

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