Heritage Day on 24 September is an opportunity to celebrate the unique and diverse histories and cultures which have come to form the basis of South Africans’ post-apartheid national identity.
The day honours the myriad of facets which make us all who we are, and exemplifies our national motto of ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke (unity in diversity). Our country has been a site of convergence – of different people, cultures, and traditions – for millennia.
This year we celebrate Heritage Day in the midst of the most disruptive year in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a disease crisis, it is a crisis of society, of the economy, of sustainability and well-being, and of governance on the continent and globally. As we enter our seventh month of lockdown, we are reminded of our collective culture of ubuntu, and how this has manifested itself over the course of the pandemic. We all wear masks and sanitise, not so much for ourselves, but to display our care for our broader society and the greater good. September also awakens reflections on UP’s own Spring Day, where we traditionally gather to celebrate the University, its life and culture, and how this is reflected in our daily practise of living THE UP WAY. While it may not be possible for us to get together this year, we have continued to live THE UP WAY under lockdown, by constantly striving to improve the service we offer to all our stakeholders, primarily our student body, who have struggled with us through this most difficult of years. It is the constant drive to be better and to excel which makes today matter at UP, every day.
On this day we celebrate the diversity of our students and staff, who hail from all over South Africa and across the continent and abroad. Our interactions with each other, and learning about different cultures, are what help us grow as people. In fact, this month, on our Research Matters platform, we look at the research of Dr Siona O’Connell, whose work in our Faculty of Humanities reminds us that our shared history as Africans takes us through many stages of dispossession, loss, war, collective grief and trauma. However, as her documentaries show us, it is important for us to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to make our future brighter. South Africa has vibrant and rich sources of cultural, living and natural heritage which we are happy to have seen highlighted and celebrated throughout September.
As we reflect on and celebrate Heritage Day and its significance, it is important to look at how institutions of higher learning can contribute to preserving our cultures and heritage, which combine to shape a society or nation’s identity. Therefore, every society makes efforts to preserve its particular cultural heritage by transmitting it from one generation to the next. In 2018, UP launched a Master’s degree in Tangible Heritage Conservation to support South Africa and Africa’s heritage conservation efforts. The degree seeks to address a lack or shortage of skills in the sector.
This is why the Javett Art Centre at UP (Javett-UP) is a vital heritage facility, one that celebrates the art of Africa. We keep some of the continent’s best historical and heritage treasures safe for future generations. The museum and gallery complex that bridges UP’s Hatfield and South Campuses houses some of the University’s carefully preserved art, and museum collections that highlight elements of SA and Africa’s diverse heritage and cultural history.
Today we also celebrate one year since the Javett-UP opened its doors to the public. One year later, Javett-UP will reopen its doors after months of lockdown. The Javett-UP takes our art to the world and brings the world’s art to the capital city. It is a place where the past and the future of art and heritage collections merge to allow people to be educated by and engage with a diversity of cultural beauty. The centre is home to our prized Mapungubwe Collection. The collection, including the iconic golden rhino, will help the public develop a new understanding of the sophisticated technology and artistry employed in precolonial Southern Africa.
UP is home to tangible examples of South African heritage and culture, and uses innovation to promote access to and education about its art. If you haven’t already visited the Javett-UP, you can visit it for free as it reopens under appropriate health regulations on Heritage Day. You can also access, discover and explore the Javett-UP on our Virtual Campus.
This Heritage Day, let us all remember that we all are who we are because of others. Despite our different backgrounds, we share a common culture at UP and are all enriched by the diversity of our students and staff from around the country, the continent, and the world. Let us continue to stay safe, help others, and abide by the advice of our health care professionals for the greater good of us all.
Professor Tawana Kupe
Vice-Chancellor and Principal