Writers take centre stage at UP Heritage Month panel discussion

Posted on November 11, 2019

Decolonisation, the preservation of South African languages and culture, and a condemnation of xenophobia were the dominant themes at an event held recently at the University of Pretoria (UP) to commemorate Heritage Month.

Entitled “Author’s Reflections Series: In the Footsteps of my Forefathers”, the event was hosted by UP’s Department of Library Services in partnership with the National Lotteries Commission, Multilingualism SA and Brand South Africa, among others. Panellists included authors Lindiwe Hani and Hlumelo Biko – the children of slain struggle heroes Chris Hani and Steve Biko respectively – author, sculptor and poet Professor Pitika Ntuli as well as UP’s Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Professor Vasu Reddy.

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe with panellists Professor Pitika Ntuli, Lindiwe Hani, Hlumelo Biko and Professor Vasu Reddy.

The discussion was held to promote the value of books, cultures of reading and writing, and position the library as a platform for interactive dialogue and real-time knowledge exchange. There was also an emphasis on the promotion of social cohesion and nation-building.

“The library, archives and heritage are important as they have to do with where we are as a university and country, and where we want to go,” said Prof Reddy. “The university mimics the world out there – the world is changing and a university is a space for social justice.”

Prof Reddy said UP’s Faculty of Humanities has been leading the way in terms of decolonisation and curriculum change, “not in a cosmetic way” but in a way that creatively and intelligibly advances diversity of perspective, method and approach.

“Learn to love yourself so that others love you,” said Hlumelo Biko, who wrote Africa Reimagined, a book in which he appeals for a rediscovery of Africa’s identity. Africans should learn to know themselves and where they come from, he said, stressing that the identity crisis that Africans face comes from the need to be Western. “We speak English and judge each other by European standards.”

Robert Moropa, Director of UP’s Library Services, delivered an address at the event.

On the topic of language, Biko said that South Africa has “cheaply given away our indigenous languages as a medium of communications… We should force South Africans to learn African languages as the dominant language of communications. Decolonisation can be an accelerator to force us to bring back indigenous languages”. He added that black business should be at the forefront of funding and championing African languages.

Biko was also critical of the recent attacks on foreigners across the country, pointing out that Nigeria, Zambia and Mozambique had helped the ANC during the struggle years. “South Africans lack the context for how we got to here,” he said.

Lindiwe Hani, author of Being Chris Hani’s Daughter, a journal about her life and how she overcame alcohol and drug abuse, said her father’s personality was the same at home as it was in public. He taught her not to “take things lying down” and had a sense of justice. Assessing modern-day South Africa, she said that the ANC needs to overhaul itself.

The entertaining Prof Ntuli broke into poetry several times during the event to the delight of audience members who were also enthralled by Libby, UP’s client service robotic library assistant. Libby represents UP’s embracing of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we can reach every area of knowledge and better the lives of people, the country and continent,” Prof Ntuli said. “Disruptive technology is being used to make us understand ourselves better.”

Various performers entertained the audience.

According to Puleng Kekana of the Department of Arts and Culture, it is important for the government to promote the tradition of oral culture. “Over the years we have seen how oral history has been undervalued.” The department is ensuring that oral history is being recorded and preserved through the writing of books. He said that more than 530 libraries have been upgraded, while several new ones had been built in a bid to support reading, nation-building and social cohesion.

- Author Prim Gower

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