Latest News Archive

Please select Category, Year, and then Month to display items
Previous Archive
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

The solution to student food insecurity is a holistic approach
2017-02-10

Description: Dietetics read more Tags: Dietetics read more

Dr Louise van den Berg from the Department of
Nutrition and Dietetics says the University of the Free State
is taking steps to teach students how to budget and make
them aware how important food nutrition is.
Photo: Pixabay 

Research at the University of the Free State (UFS) has indicated that nearly 60% of students are victims of food insecurity and suffer from hunger most of the time. The research by the UFS Faculty of Health Sciences shows that a further 25% are food insecure but are not hungry most of the time.

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dr Louise van den Berg, says food insecurity is common among student populations across the world. However, local research shows that it is almost double that of tertiary institutions in developed countries.

Food insecurity among students caught many people off-guard
Dr Van den Berg says in South Africa nobody had really looked at the problem until recently “It seems student food insecurity has caught many people off-guard.” She says people tend to think of tertiary students as a privileged group.

The research has now indicated how deep the problem really is on campus. The students that most likely go hungry are single, male, black or coloured, and are generally first-generation students.

They are also mostly undergraduates, those paying their studies from non-bank loans or bursary means, those not living with their parents or guardians or those that need to support somebody else financially.

The results further indicate that those that are likely to suffer from hunger seldom or never have enough money for food but have to borrow money for food, have to ask for food, sell items to get food or steal food.

“A healthy student is a
successful student.”

Bursary money send back home for parents to survive
Dr Van den Berg agrees that one of the main reasons for the situation is economic stress. Research has shown students rarely spend money on food when resources are scarce. Furthermore, parents of students studying with bursaries are not always able to fully support them on campus. Some students send bursary money back home for their parents to survive.

She says other factors that contribute to campus food insecurity are that all over the world universities have terminated catered food halls due to high costs. “To a large extent this has created a food desert for students and now they need to look after themselves.”

To throw money at the problem does not seem to be the answer. 

Students are food-uncertain beings
The research indicates that young people on campus do not know where to buy food, much less the correct, nutritional food they need. Dr Van den Berg says most universities are now aware of the problem and have been taking steps. This includes teaching students how to budget and making them aware how important nutrition is for their success and their responsibility for themselves.

Universities are also looking at private funding for food aid and food schemes. Dr Van den Berg says other solutions are the restructuring of bursary fees, student self-help initiatives and food gardens.

The Faculty of Health Sciences is taking the initiative to manage a food blog on the UFS website. It will also use other social media platforms to post food-preparation videos and recipes for students.

Dr Van den Berg says it is important to grow the 15.6% group of students who indicated they are food secure because a healthy student is a successful student.

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.

Accept