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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

‘Sola Scriptura’ — Does Scripture still reign as authority?
2017-02-21

Description: Theology Open Day Tags: Theology Open Day

Thania Labuschagne, Nico Oosthuizen, and
Suthea van der Westhuizen.
Photo: Supplied


Reformation 500: Sola Scriptura [scriptural authority] and contemporary conflicts of interpretation was the theme for the Faculty of Theology and Religion’s official opening and annual Open Day on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS). The faculty was recently renamed to be more inclusive of other denominations, as well as to be sensitive to the impact religion has on society, both in the past and presently.

In his welcoming address to first-year students, Prof Fanie Snyman, Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, said, “I hope that you indulge in the theological dish served to you, and that it will create in you a deep hunger to know more.”

One first-year, Neo Kgaje, had this to say, “I first wanted to do Archaeology, but then I decided to follow my calling as a missionary and study Theology. I would like to serve in my own community in Botshabelo.”

Thania Labuschagne, former chairperson of the Sola Gratia student association, said, “The annual opening is always very special for me. We become part of a family here.” Her message for first-years was, “Maintain your passion for what you do. Make sure of your calling, and everything else will fall into place.”

Prizes awarded
Prizes were awarded to several students who excelled in the previous year. The best third-year student in 2016 was Suthea van der Westhuizen; best fourth-year BTh student, Thania Labuschagne; and Nico Oosthuizen was recognised as the best Master of Divinity in the fifth year.

The Director of Shepherd Centre for spiritual leaders, Dr Gerhard Botha, awarded certificates for the completion of a 9-module short learning programme presented by the centre.

"May you hunger to know more"—
Prof Fanie Snyman, Dean of the
Faculty of Theology and Religion

Current affairs addressed through scriptural analysis
While acknowledging that the debates around the authority of Scripture are complex and not easily resolved, Prof Hendrik Bosman from the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University (SU) argued that it is an indispensable precept of Christian theology. However, it can no longer be taken as a given, since the authority of Scripture is increasingly vulnerable. He said, “Sceptic academics and critical theologians are challenging the more traditional ways of accepting the authority of Scripture.”

Prof Bosman highlighted the negative impact that certain claims of scriptural authority have had on the marginalised and vulnerable groups in society — “the suffering endured by people of colour, Jews, the LGBTQI community, and women due to prejudice and hatred. … [When reading the Bible], one must also be held accountable by the marginalised and the vulnerable in society.”

Prof Juliana Claassens (Faculty of Theology, SU) presented Beyond Revenge: Responsible Bible Reading Practices in a Traumatised Land. “As a community of believers who hold dear the principle of Sola Scriptura, what do we do with texts that revel in the downfall of the enemy and propagate revenge as a viable solution to the hurt and pain people are experiencing?”

Prof Claassens continued, “This question is particularly relevant given the deep wounds that many in this beautiful country of ours carry. … There is thus a real danger that expressions of violence survive and grow ever stronger with each utterance, until the violent ideas they propagate are considered to be normal.” Her recommendation? “Foster communities of care, focused on breaking down walls, instead of erecting them.”

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