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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 on energy-saving mode
2009-09-15

The University of the Free State (UFS) has undertaken several measures to reduce energy consumption on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein.

“Part of Eskom’s strategy is that all the main universities must reduce their electricity consumption. Because the university is the second biggest user of electricity in Bloemfontein we have to cut our consumption according to the new energy policy,” said Prof. Niel Viljoen, Chief Director of Operations at the UFS.

“Electricity is also expensive and if we look at global warming and everybody’s responsibility, I think we all have a moral obligation to save energy,” said Prof. Viljoen.

“The energy crisis of January 2008 and beyond, with its load-shedding limitations, was a major driver for the government to introduce the Power Conservation Scheme,” said Mr Anton Calitz, the UFS’s electrical engineer.

The measures put in place by the UFS include amongst others:

The introduction of a solar water-heating system in the residences, which is a first of its kind in Bloemfontein.
An investigation is also being launched into alternatives and the effective heating of rooms in the residences.

Feasibility studies are currently being conducted to determine whether energy saving can be achieved with radiation panels.

Energy-saving lights have been installed in the following buildings: the Architecture Building, Genmin Lectorium, Geology lecture halls, Winkie Direko Building, George du Toit Building, Sasol Library, Francois Retief Building, as well as in the residences. This measure has resulted in massive energy saving.

Energy meters for the Library, Computer Laboratory Building, François Retief Building and Steyn Substation are being planned as the first phase.

Real-time metering will result in every UFS computer user being aware of power consumption on the campus.

New lift motors and control systems that reduce energy consumption have been installed at the Agriculture and the George du Toit Buildings.

In the Computer Laboratory Building the temperature adjusting point for the venues is set at 22 °C and, in the case of new projects, green guidelines are applied.

It is expected that the government and local authorities will bring more pressure to bear on the UFS to save energy. Applications for increased capacity will possibly be linked to energy-saving targets.

This trend will continue until 2014 when additional power stations will be put into operation.

“Our aim is to save 10% on energy consumption,” said Prof. Viljoen.

“Heavy financial penalties will be imposed if a 10% saving is not achieved,” added Mr Calitz.

On average, our energy consumption per day this year is 128,964 kWh as compared to last year’s 119,752 kWh.

Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt.stg@ufs.ac.za  
14 September 2009

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