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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 community proud of Wayde’s hat trick of awards
2015-11-24

 

The Kovsie athlete Wayde van Niekerk received a hat trick of awards at the SA Sports Awards on Sunday 22 November 2015. He was named Sports Star of the Year, Sportsman of the Year, and was crowned as winner in the People’s Choice category.
Photo: Charl Devenish

Wayde changed the game – Naidoo

For a long time, AB de Villiers and Chad le Clos have dominated fan support in South Africa, but Wayde van Niekerk changed the game.

This was what Kass Naidoo, well-known sports journalist and cricket commentator, tweeted after the Kovsie athlete, Wayde van Niekerk, made a clean sweep at the tenth SA Sports Awards in his home town, Bloemfontein, on Sunday 22 November 2015.

According to Naidoo, the golden boy from the University of the Free State (UFS) is now the hottest property in South Africa, and should be watched during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Hat trick for Kovsie athlete
Naidoo was one of several celebrities to congratulate Van Niekerk on Twitter after Wayde received a hat trick of awards in the Sand du Plessis Theatre. The 400 m athlete was named Sports Star of the Year, Sportsman of the Year, and was crowned as winner in the People’s Choice category.

Apart from this, a humble Van Niekerk received total prize money of R1,1 million and two luxury Mercedes Benz vehicles - one for Sports Star of the Year and one as People’s Choice winner.

Big names outperformed
What makes his awards even more remarkable is the fact that he has outperformed several big names.
In addition to De Villiers and Le Clos, the tennis player, Kevin Anderson, the swimmer, Cameron van der Burgh, and the athlete, Caroline Wöstmann, were all nominated for Sports Star of the Year.

For the People’s Choice Award, Van Niekerk beat De Villiers, the cyclist, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, (who was crowned Sportswoman of the Year), Le Clos, and the wheelchair tennis player, Lucas Sithole. The public voted for this award.

Le Clos was nominated with the mountain biker, Greg Minnaar, for Sportsman of the Year.

Best is yet to come
“I don't think we have seen the best of Wayde. Hopefully that will come in Rio next year, along with a gold medal,” Naidoo tweeted.

The Springbok winger, JP Pietersen, also congratulated Van Niekerk on the social network, saying that he deserved his award as Sportsman of the Year.

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