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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

Fundraising campaign launched to help feed hungry students
2012-03-28

 

From the left is Dr. Carin Buys (Patron of NSH), Ms. Nicky Abdinor (guest speaker), Mrs. Grace Jansen (patron of NSH) and Redi Tlhabi (master of ceremonies).
Photo: Johan Roux
28 March 2012

Video clip (YouTube)

The University of the Free State (UFS) received over R200 000 for its No Student Hungry (NSH) Programme at the NSH launch dinner on Friday 23 March 2012 in Bloemfontein.

Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS as well as founder of the NSH Programme donated R100 000 from the proceeds of his book We Need to Talk to this programme. Standard Bank also donated R30 000.

An additional amount of about R90 000 was raised by means of pledges made by guests and the auctioning of several items. These items were donated by local companies and university staff.

The No Student Hungry Programme (NSH) aims to raise funds to provide modest food bursaries for needy students and give them daily access to a balanced meal.
Prof. Jansen started the NSH programme in 2011 with the proceeds of his book, We Need to Talk.

The NSH funds more than 100 students in the hope of helping them to excel in their academic endeavours and, ultimately, to obtain their degrees.

In 2011, Prof. Jansen discovered that a significant number of students were studying without eating on a regular basis. These were often students with strong academic records but without adequate funding to sustain themselves with regular meals.

The project was established in January 2011 when the NSH Team started to develop the structure and processes of the programme. The first 100 students who were awarded the food bursaries started using their student cards for daily meals on campus on 1 April 2011.

“The No Student Hungry Campaign is not only about creating a university campus that cares. It is about creating a country where being human matters. Our students on the NSH project are amazing young people. They struggle to get by, but they have great potential and achieve good marks," Prof. Jansen said on Friday.

Prof. Jansen’s wife, Grace, and Dr Carin Buys, wife of Mr Rudi Buys, Dean of Student Affairs, volunteered to drive the programme and raise funds to address the problem. They are supported by various divisions within the university.

Students apply for the bursaries and are selected on the basis of their financial needs, good academic results, active participation in student life programmes and commitment to give something back to the community.

The raising of funds is a continuous process involving awareness campaigns, seeking of partnerships with companies and institutions and support from the general public, staff and individuals.

An agreement has been made with several food outlets/restaurants on campus who offer healthy, balanced meals to NSH students when they swipe their student cards that are funded by the programme.

At the end of the year the process is reviewed and students who still qualify are reinstated on the programme, whilst those whose circumstances have changed or are no longer in need of the bursaries, make way for new applications.

The NSH Team meets with students on a regular basis with the purpose of offering training, motivation and opportunities for personal growth and career development. Students are also expected to become involved in projects as a way of ploughing back into the community.

The goal is to expand the project annually as support for it grows.
Ms Nicky Abdinor, a clinical psychologist from Cape Town, who was born without arms and with shortened legs, provided an entertaining motivational speech at the launch. Ms Abdinor, founder of the Nicky's Drive organisation, also visited the UFS’ Unit for Students with disabilities where she delivered a talk on independence for people living with disabilities.

To become involved with the NSH Programme, please contact Mrs René Pelser on +27(0)51 4019087 or e-mail pelserr@ufs.ac.za.


Media Release
28 March 2012
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication
Tel: +27(0)51 401 2584
Cell: +27(0)83 645 2454
E-mail: news@ufs.ac.za

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