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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

Department at the UFS receives special visitors
2008-02-26

 

From the left are: Prof. Hans Ausloos, Prof. Bénédicte Lemmelijn, and Prof. Fanie Snyman (Head of the Department of Old Testament at the UFS). Both Prof. Ausloos and Prof. Lemmelijn are professors in the Old Testament within the Bible Science Investigation Unit of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.
Photo: Lacea Loader
 

Department at the UFS receives special visitors

The Department of Old Testament in the Faculty of Theology at the University of the Free State (UFS) has for the first time received a visit from two guest professors from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU) in Belgium who are presenting undergraduate lectures.

What makes the visit even further unique is that the guest professors are a married couple who specialise in the Old Testament.

“Proff. Hans Ausloos and Bénédicte Lemmelijn are visiting the faculty for about a month to present undergraduate programmes. They are part of a co-operative agreement between the UFS and the KU Leuven. This is also a good way of giving our students exposure to European experts,” says Prof. Snyman, Head of the Department of Old Testament at the UFS.

The couple and their three children, Matthias (10), Elke (8) and Ruben (6), are staying in Prof. Daan Pienaar’s house for the duration of their stay. Prof. Pienaar is a retired professor in Biblical Science at the UFS. The children are at school in Universitas Primary School for the duration of the family’s stay in Bloemfontein. “The headmaster was very kind and provided them with school uniforms out of the school’s second hand clothing shop, of which they will not part easily as they do not wear school uniform in Belgium,” says Prof. Lemmelijn.

Proff. Lemmelijn and Ausloos cannot stop talking about the charm of the university’s Main Campus. “In Leuven the university is part of the city and the university buildings are situated amongst the city buildings. We do our shopping while the students move from one class to the other! Here, the university is a town on its own and the students are given the opportunity to socialise in a protected environment,” says Prof. Lemmelijn.

The couple is also just as impressed with Bloemfontein. “The safety issue in South Africa is accentuated in such a way in Europe that we are astounded by the peaceful and friendly atmosphere of the city. We are also surprised with the shopping centres that are under one roof. In Belgium the shops are situated far apart,” says Prof. Lemmelijn.

The couple finds the living costs – especially food – to be quite expensive. “Some basic food is even more expensive than it is in Belgium,” says Prof. Ausloos.

Over and above their commitment to lecture, the couple is also busy with research on the Greek translation of the 12 Small Prophets in co-operation with Prof. Snyman.

“This is the first time that lecturers from the KU Leuven visit the Department of Old Testament for such a long time and are part of the normal curriculum. It is interesting to note that the teaching modules between the two departments resemble each other in such a way that lectures which are presented in Leuven are also repeated here,” says Prof. Snyman.

Both Proff. Ausloos and Lemmelijn are professors in the Old Testament within the Bible Science Investigation Unit of the KU Leuven. They publish articles internationally on the editorial and text criticism of the Old Testament and are involved with international investigative programmes such as the Hexapla Project and Septuaginta-Deutsch. Prof. Ausloos is director of the Leuvense Centre for Septuagint Studies and Textual Criticism and Prof. Lemmelijn is an associate in the centre. Together they have published several financed investigative projects on the characterising of the translation technique of the Greek Bible translation.

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  
25 February 2008
 

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