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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

Getting out of the dark
2015-04-28

Photo: Leonie Bolleurs

Since 2008, the University of the Free State has been busy with the planning and implementation of projects to reduce the impact of load shedding. To date,  the cost of these projects has run to R6 million. They have been done primarily to ensure that the academic programme does not suffer damage as a result of the increasing interruptions in the power supply that are continuing this year.

The university’s greatest concern has been the provision of emergency power to the lecture halls and laboratories.

Thus far, 35 generators are servicing 55 buildings on the three campuses of the UFS. This includes 26 generators on the Bloemfontein Campus, eight on the Qwaqwa Campus in the Eastern Free State, and one generator on the South Campus in Bloemfontein. The generators are already in service, and are maintained in working order.

Since 2010, the university has also ensured that all newly-built academic buildings are equipped with emergency power supplies.

On the South Campus in Bloemfontein, the new lecture-hall building and the computer laboratory are equipped with emergency power, while the installation of emergency generators in other buildings is under way. The majority of the buildings on the Qwaqwa Campus in the Eastern Free State are equipped with emergency power supplies.

In the meantime, the UFS management has approved a further R11 million for the installation of additional generators on the three campuses. A further R1.5 million has also been approved for the purchase of two mobile generators.

To extend the work already done, the main task will be the installation of more generators on the Bloemfontein Campus to ensure that lecture halls with emergency power will be available for the centrally-arranged timetables, and to ensure that more of the critical laboratories will be provided with emergency power.

There are still  some important buildings and halls on the Bloemfontein Campus that must be supplied with emergency power. However, it is a costly process and must be brought into operation gradually. The further implementation of emergency power depends on the delivery of equipment. The university is also investigating alternative solutions for power provisioning, including solar power.

Generators with spare capacity are optimally deployed to satisfy the lower needs of the campus, including the Odeion, the ANNEX at Microbiology, the Stabilis ANNEX, the Agriculture Building, the UV-Sasol library, and the Francois Retief Building.

In addition, the UFS  is busy on all campuses, coupling area lighting, including

street lights and pedestrian walkways, to existing generators. Procedures for the operation of mechanical equipment, such as entrance gates, lifts, and so on, are currently being dealt with on all campuses. Continuous power sources for certain ICT equipment will be installed on all campuses to protect it against power surges.

Staff and students can also equip themselves with the necessary knowledge to manage load shedding in their specific areas of work and study. It is always helpful to know who to contact. The following list with guidelines and contact numbers has been compiled to assist you:

1. In an emergency, call Protection Services. This line will continue to operate, regardless of whether the power is on or off.
2. Avoid using lifts just before planned load shedding. Some lifts have emergency power packs which will bring the lift to the nearest floor and open the doors. If you still get stuck in a lift during a power outage, use your cellphone to call Protection Services. While you're waiting, stay calm and be patient.
3. If the access control systems in your building stop working after load shedding, contact Protection Services.
4. The students and staff members who are most at risk during load shedding are those in wheelchairs or with other mobility limitations. As far as possible, plan ahead to avoid being stuck on a floor or in a room that is difficult to access when load shedding is imminent. Please contact Protection Services if you need assistance.
5. During a fire, alarms WILL go off. Alarms are not power driven, but battery driven. For assistance, contact Protection Services.
6. The main UFS Switchboard (Bloemfontein Campus +27(0)51 401 9111 and Qwaqwa Campus +27(0)58 718 5000) will continue to operate during load shedding.

Contact details of Protection Services:

  • Bloemfontein Campus: +27(0)51 401 2634/2911
  • Qwaqwa Campus: +27(0)58 508 5460/5175
  • South Campus: +27(0)51 5051217

Communication and Brand Management will make information available on the UFS web, Facebook page, Twitter, Blackboard and the intranet. Get the load shedding schedule from Eskom’s webpage (http://loadshedding.eskom.co.za/). The Bloemfontein Campus falls in group 4 and the South Campus falls in group 2 in Centlec’s load shedding schedule.

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