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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 has a contingency plan for load shedding
2008-02-13


The University of the Free State (UFS) has put in place a contingency plan to ensure that there is minimal disruption to the normal academic operations of its Main Campus in Bloemfontein whenever load shedding occurs.

The plan includes alternative arrangements for certain lectures that fall within the load-shedding schedule provided by Centlec, the emergency power generation for certain lecture halls and buildings, as well as the functioning of the UFS Sasol Library. This is in addition to emergency power equipment that has already been ordered for the larger lecture-hall complexes.

Fortunately, the Qwaqwa Campus has adequate emergency power generation capacity. The situation on the Vista Campus in Bloemfontein is being monitored, but the same guidelines will apply as on the Main Campus.

On the Main Campus in Bloemfontein the following alternative arrangements regarding the timetable for evening classes will come into effect when load shedding occurs:

  • An alternative module and venue timetable has been compiled so that classes that cannot take place on weekdays as a result of load shedding can be accommodated on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Classes that are presented in the timeslot 18:10 to 21:00 on Thursdays are alternatively accommodated in the same venues at the same times on a Friday.
  • Classes that take place in the timeslot 20:10 to 22:00 on Wednesdays are alternatively accommodated in the timeslot 08:10 to 12:00 on Saturdays, in a few cases in different venues from those scheduled initially.
  • After consultation with students, lecturers will decide whether the alternative timetable will apply when load shedding does indeed occur or whether the alternative timetable will be a permanent arrangement.

Some other steps that have been taken regarding the functioning of lecture halls include:

  • The design and installation of emergency power equipment in all the large lecture-hall complexes within the next few months. This includes the Examination Centre, Flippie Groenewoud Building, the Stabilis and Genmin lecture halls.
  • The ordering of a larger generator for the Agriculture Building to simultaneously provide essential research equipment such as refrigerators, ovens and glasshouses with emergency power.
  • An investigation into the optimal utilisation of present emergency power installations.
    The purchasing of loose standing equipment such as battery lights, uninterruptible power supplies, loose-standing generators, etc.

The UFS Sasol Library will continue as normal as far as possible though there may be some minor changes as a result of load shedding. The library has an emergency generator that will be used in the event of load shedding to allow students and other users to exit the library. If load shedding occurs during daylight hours, the library will remain open with limited services. If the load shedding occurs after 6 pm (18:00), all users will be allowed to exit and the library will remain closed until the next day.

A comprehensive investigation into the university’s preparedness for and management of long term power interruptions is also receiving attention.

More information on the contingency plan for load shedding can be obtained from the UFS website at www.ufs.ac.za/loadshedding.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za
13 February 2008


 

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