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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

Dean of Law appointed for second term as acting judge in the Free State High Court
2017-02-17

Description: Prof Nicholson  Tags: Prof Nicholson

Prof Caroline Nicholson, Dean of the Faculty of Law

The Dean of the Faculty of Law, Prof Caroline Nicholson, has been re-appointed by the Judge President of the Free State High Court, Judge Mahube Molemela, to serve a full term in 2017 as an acting judge. This will be her second term, as she served in the same position in early 2016, and it is such, a testament to her outstanding work. Her re-appointment is a source of pride not only to the University of the Free State, but the city of Bloemfontein, and the region as a whole.

Since taking up the position of Dean in 2015, Prof Nicholson has demonstrated exceptional leadership, and continues to take great strides in developing the Faculty’s internal and external programmes. “I am delighted that the University has facilitated my taking advantage of this opportunity. During this term, I will be exposed to a diversity of legal matters both civil and criminal, some of which I was not exposed to during my previous acting period. The exposure to the practical aspects of the law from the perspective of the Bench will inform my decisions regarding curriculum review and development, at a time when the faculty is actively engaged in ensuring that curriculum content is both relevant and context-appropriate,” said Prof Nicholson.

She adds that her appointment as acting judge will strengthen the Faculty’s positive relationship with the legal profession and, especially with the Bench. It will also benefit the Faculty, its staff and students.  In 2015, the Faculty partnered with the International Association of Women Judges (Free State Chapter), to host a dinner, which will be hosted again this month. The association brought to the fore new ventures into the involvement of women judges in an advisory capacity and sharing of expertise. In 2016, members of the association began to enact this role.

Judge Molemela and Judge Azhar Cachalia of the Supreme Court of Appeal accepted appointments to the Advisory Board of the Free State Centre for Human Rights. Judge Khalipi “Jake” Moloi of the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein, gave trial advocacy tips to teachers, coaching the Schools Moot Court Competition. Prof Nicholson said: “It is hoped that more opportunities will arise to increase interaction between students and the judiciary, both are eager for this to happen. I am also learning a great deal and am once again enjoying the collegial and supportive environment that my colleagues create at the High Court.”

Prof Nicholson holds an LLD from University of South Africa, and has published several research articles in accredited journals, with a special interest in Family Law and children’s rights.

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