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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

Research on cactus pear grabs attention of food, cosmetic and medical industry
2015-02-18

Cactus pear
Photo: Charl Devenish

The dedicated research and development programme at the UFS on spineless cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) – also known as prickly pear – has grown steadily in both vision and dimension during the past 15 years. Formal cactus pear research at the UFS started with the formation of the Prickly Pear Working Group (PPWG) in June 2002. It has since gone from strength to strength with several MSc dissertations and a PhD thesis as well as popular and scientific publications flowing from this initiative.

According to Prof Wijnand Swart from the Department of Plant Sciences, the UFS is today recognised as a leading institution in the world conducting multi-disciplinary research on spineless cactus pear.

Cactus pear for animal feed

Increasing demands on already scarce water resources in South Africa require alternative sources of animal feed – specifically crops that are more efficient users of water. One alternative with the potential for widespread production is spineless cactus pear. It is 1.14 x more efficient in its use of water than Old man saltbush, 2.8 x more efficient than wheat, 3.75 x more efficient than lucerne and 7.5 x more efficient than rangeland vegetation.

“Studies on the use of sun-dried cactus pear cladodes suggest that it has the potential to provide some 25% of the basic feed resources required by South Africa’s commercial ruminant feed manufacturing sector,” says Prof HO de Waal of the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the UFS.

Until recently, research has focused extensively on the use of cactus pear as drought fodder. However, this is now beginning to shift, with growing interest in the intensive production of spineless cactus pear for other types of animal feed. One example is the spineless cactus pear fruit, produced seasonal, yielding large quantities of fruit in a relatively short period of a few months in summer. Unless kept in cold storage, the fruit cannot be stored for a long period. Therefore, a procedure was developed to combine large volumes of mashed cactus pear fruit with dry hay and straw and preserve it for longer periods as high moisture livestock feed, kuilmoes – a high water content livestock feed similar to silage.

Cactus pear and Pineapple juice
Photo: Charl Devenish

Cactus pear for human consumption

“In addition to its use as a livestock feed, cactus pear is increasingly being cultivated for human consumption. Although the plant can be consumed fresh as a juice or vegetable, significant value can be added through processing. This potential is considerable: the plant can be pickled; preserved as a jam or marmalade; or dried and milled to produce baking flour. It can also serve as a replacement of egg and fat in mayonnaise,” said Dr Maryna de Wit from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology.

The extraction of mucilage from fresh cladodes can form a gelling, emulsifier, and fat-replacing agent commonly found in food products such as mayonnaise and candy. During an information session to the media Dr De Wit and her team conducted a food demonstration to showcase the use of the cladodes in a juice, chicken stir-fry, biscuits and a salad.

The extrusion of cactus pear seed oil provides a further lucrative niche product to the array of uses. These include high-value organic oil for the cosmetic sector, such as soap, hair gel and sun screens.

The cladodes and the fruit also have medicinal uses. It has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, pain killing and anti-diabetic agents. It is also high in fibre and can lower cholesterol. The fruit also prevents proliferation of cells and suppresses tumour growth and can even help to reduce a hangover.

In South Africa the outdated perception of cactus pears as thorny, alien invaders, is rapidly disappearing. Instead, farmers now recognise that cactus pear can play a vital role as a high yielding, water-efficient, multi-use crop, said Prof de Waal and the members of the Cactus Pear Team.

Facebook photo gallery
Dagbreek interview with Dr Maryna de Wit  

Research on cactus pear (read the full story)

For more information or enquiries contact news@ufs.ac.za

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