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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

Harvard couple to present lectures on Biostatistics and Mathematics at the UFS
2015-12-07


Professor Donald Rubin

Prof Donald Rubin (John L. Loeb Professor of Statistics at Harvard University) and Elizabeth Zell (MStat - mathematical statistician in the Division of Bacterial Diseases) will visit the University of the Free State (UFS) where they will present lectures on their respective work.

Over his prestigious academic career, Prof Don Rubin’s 400 publications and 13 books have earned him around 180 000 citations at an h-index of 113. He is one of the most cited statisticians/mathematicians/economists/psychologists in the world over the last 10 -15 years. He has supervised 35 PhD candidates as sole-supervisor, 17 more as co-supervisor, with a further eight in the pipeline.

Prof Rubin who will meet with UFS academics in the Department of Mathematics and Actuarial Sciences will also deliver a lecture: Rerandomisation to improve covariate balance in experiments.

Randomised experiments are the “gold standard” for estimating causal effects, yet in practice, chance imbalances often exist in covariate distributions between treatment groups. If covariate data are available before units are exposed to treatments, these chance imbalances can be mitigated by first checking covariate balance before the physical experiment takes place. Provided a precise definition of imbalance has been specified in advance, unbalanced randomisations can be discarded, followed by a rerandomisation. This process can continue until a randomisation yielding balance according to the definition is achieved. By improving covariate balance, rerandomisation provides more precise and trustworthy estimates of treatment effects.

Prof Rubin received an honorary professorship from the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the UFS.


Elizabeth Zell

The lecture will take place on:
Date: Tuesday 8 December 2015
Time: 16:00
Venue: Albert Wessels Auditorium, Bloemfontein Campus

Zell earned her Master’s degree in Statistics at North Carolina State University, and for more than two decades, was an active bio-statistical researcher in various offices of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Since 2013, she has been the Principal Statistician and President of Stat-Epi Associates, Inc. Her 150+ publications have earned her 14 500 citations at an h-index of over 50. She is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, and, in 2010, she received the Statistics Section Government Award for outstanding contributions to statistics and public health by the American Public Health Association. During her career at the CDC, she earned more than 20 CDC research awards and honours.

She will deliver two lectures at the UFS. The first is entitled A Potential Outcomes Approach to Documenting the Public Health Impact of the Introduction of PCV13 for the Prevention of Invasive Pneumococcal Disease. The topic of her second lecture is: Assessing the Effectiveness of Intrapartum Antibiotic Prophylaxis for Prevention of Early-Onset Group B Streptococcus Disease through Propensity Score Design

Elizabeth’s lectures will take place on:
Date: Wednesday 9 December 2015
Time: 10:45 and 13:00
Venue: West Block 111, Bloemfontein Campus

For more information, please contact Dr Michael von Maltitz at VMaltitzMJ@ufs.ac.za.

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