College of Humanities

Humanities Academics Contribute to Virtual Heritage Festival

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Three College of Humanities academics were part of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) virtual Heritage Festival that celebrated the shared heritage of India and South Africa.

The academics at the event – hosted by the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre at the Consulate General of India in Durban – were Dr Patricia Opondo, Professor Sihawukele Ngubane and Ms Gugu Mkhize.

Director of the Centre Dr Chaitanya Prakash Yogi said: ‘The aim of the festival was to join with partners from South Africa and India to explore and share the unique synergy of togetherness and similarities, differences and common concerns. Both countries represent a vast spectrum of intense heritage, history, culture and diversity.’

Opondo, who co-curated the festival and was one of the speakers, spoke on the significance and relevance of the heritage festival in modern contexts. ‘Culture is expressed in the way we live, the kinds of food we eat, the way we dress, the ways we interact with each other.  South African youth today, like youth in most parts of the world, are a multifaceted, eclectic mix, across races and cultures with varied lifestyles,’ she said.

Opondo noted that community arts centres and institutions, including schools and universities, now provided these much-needed platforms to celebrate and promote cultural expressions.  She used an example of her involvement in UKZN’s African Music Project (Cultural Calabash), a programme that helped curate the three-day heritage festival.

She discussed the postgraduate curriculum, the Applied Ethnomusicology programme that equips students with skills to document heritage and curate cultural events and the African Music and Dance programme (AMD).

Opondo also spoke about a semi-professional touring ensemble IKUSASA LETHU which serves as an incubator programme for students to create new repertoires, drawing inspiration from cultural heritage materials both within South Africa and in other African communities on the continent. ‘In modern society, the positives of documentation and digitisation arm the youth with skills to preserve and distribute heritage materials to a wider audience, broadening global awareness of African idioms,’ said Opondo.

Ngubane’s presentation was on the heritage of knowledge in the quest for creating awareness in the promotion of knowledge systems and practices. ‘The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted our living styles and forced us to rethink new ways of life. It also provided us with an opportunity to reaffirm our heritage as African people and people of the world.’

He encouraged the public to nurture their heritage through knowledge sharing. ‘We can no longer depend on other cultures to dominate our way of living. Our heritage is the centre part of our identity and the preservation and application of our indigenous knowledge formations are an essential part of developing a sense of who we are as Africans. The knowledge we have acquired from our parents must be shared with our children as a point of reference. The time has come to tap into the wisdom of indigenous knowledge,’ he said.

In her presentation, Mkhize concentrated on confidentiality and secrecy that hinder the transmission of heritage knowledge which is transmitted through folklore ie folktales, music, proverbs etc. In the traditional setting, learning takes place by observing and actively participating in the natural phenomenon that is evolving in the given environment,’ said Mkhize. ‘All this is transmitted in a form of a word.  A Zulu ‘word’ is multidimensional depending on the form and function, and is translucent yet opaque because of deep metaphors that are applied hence certain Zulu words do not immediately give a concise meaning.’

Mkhize said: ‘Zulu culture by its nature is confidential and there are gatekeepers who control access to information and who also identify individuals who should inherit those practices. It then becomes the language of the chosen few and the heritage knowledge is not transmitted to the next generation. Hence, I say confidentiality and secrecy hinder the transmission of heritage knowledge in today’s environment. In the modern setting traditional practices, protocols and procedures are obscure because meaning of words is embedded in metaphors. We need to document all traditional practices and unpack these metaphors.

Honorary lecturer in the School of Arts Dr Gcina Mhlophe discussed Heritage of Health and Happiness. Other notable UKZN alumni who took part in proceedings were Executive Director of the Heritage Development Trust Professor Musa Xulu and Professor Pitika Ntuli, who spoke on the heritage of creativity and the healing art exhibition he is currently curating.

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