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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 cardiologists and surgeons give children a beating heart
2015-04-23

Photo: René-Jean van der Berg

A team from the University of the Free State School for Medicine work daily unremittingly to save the lives of young children who have been born with heart defects by carrying out highly specialised interventions and operations on them. These operations, which are nowadays performed more and more frequently by cardiologists from the UFS School of Medicine, place the UFS on a similar footing to world-class cardiology and cardio-thoracic units.

One of the children is seven-month-old Montsheng Ketso who recently underwent a major heart operation to keep the left ventricle of her heart going artificially.

Montsheng was born with a rare, serious defect of the coronary artery, preventing the left ventricle from receiving enough blood to pump to the rest of the body.

This means that the heart muscle can suffer damage because these children essentially experience a heart attack at a very young age.

In a healthy heart, the left ventricle receives oxygenated blood from the left atrium. Then the left ventricle pumps this oxygen-rich blood to the aorta whence it flows to the rest of the body. The heart muscle normally receives blood supply from the oxygenated aorta blood, which in this case cannot happen.

Photo: René-Jean van der Berg

“She was very ill. I thought my baby was going to die,” says Mrs Bonizele Ketso, Montsheng’s mother.

She says that Montsheng became sick early in February, and she thought initially it was a tight chest or a cold. After a doctor examined and treated her baby, Montsheng still remained constantly ill, so the doctor referred her to Prof Stephen Brown, paediatric cardiologist at the UFS and attached to Universitas Hospital.

Here, Prof Brown immediately got his skilled team together as quickly as possible to diagnose the condition in order to operate on Montsheng.

During the operation, the blood flow was restored, but since Montsheng’s heart muscle was seriously damaged, the heart was unable to contract at the end of the operation. Then she was coupled to a heart-lung machine to allow the heart to rest and give the heart muscle chance to recover. The entire team of technologists and the dedicated anaesthetist, Dr Edwin Turton, kept a vigil day and night for several days.

Prof Francis Smit, chief specialist at the UFS Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, explains that without this operation Montsheng would not have been able to celebrate her first birthday.

“After the surgery, these children can reach adulthood without further operations. Within two to three months after the operation, she will have a normal active life, although for about six months she will still use medication. Thereafter, she will be tiptop and shortly learn to crawl and walk.”

Mrs Ketso is looking forward enormously to seeing her daughter stand up and take her first steps. A dream which she thought would never come true.    

“Write there that I really love these doctors.”

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