2016: A time for Academic Activism

From May 27-29, sixty scholars from universities across South Africa came together in Cape Town for the annual Canon Collins Scholars’ Conference. Scholars hail from nine different southern African nations and are pursuing degrees in a wide variety of academic disciplines, however, their common commitment to social justice enabled them to transcend silos, and to engage in stimulating and productive conversations around critical issues facing the region.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘2016: A time for Academic Activism’ and discussions largely centred on examining issues of contemporary student activism and the drive for transformation in higher education, as scholars reflect upon where they are positioned in relation to bringing about change, in the academic landscape and beyond.

Scholars found the weekend both academically and socially stimulating. They described the content of the discussions as “enlightening”, “engaging”, and “relevant to the times”; many reported being challenged to reassess their views on transformation, activism, and mechanisms of social change. Others cited the valuable personal connections made, and “potential to collaborate beyond normal spheres of access” as the most rewarding aspect of the weekend.

Highlights of the action-packed programme included:

  • An inspiring and uplifting keynnote address from Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (Unisa) on the topic of Transformation in Higher Education.
  • Scholar research presentations, and group discussions, on themes of activism, education, gender and land & environment.
  • Interactive workshops on ‘Leading for Change and Impact’ (led by Melissa Howell of the African American Institute’), ‘Writing with Agency’ (led by Sandra Hill of ‘Write Now’), and ‘How to write for ordinary people: sharing your research with the world’ (led by Natasha Joseph and Candice Bailey of The Conversation Africa)
  • A presentation from one of last year’s Impact Award winners, Nyasha Mangenjenja, detailing the successes and challenges of her ‘Township to Varsity’ project.
  • An engaging dialogue on protest and self-expression within higher education featuring Leigh-Ann Naidoo (University of the Witwatersrand), Tshepo Motsepe (Equal Education), Kgotsi Chikane (InkuluFreeHeid) and Dr Vasha Jagarnath (Rhodes University), and chaired by Lawson Naidoo (CASAC, Canon Collins Trustee).
  • panel discussion on journalistic writing for social change with Anim Van Wyk (Africa Check) Dominic Brown (Alternative Information Development Centre) Karabo Rajuili (amaBhungane) and Hopolang Selebalo (Ndifuna Ukwazi), chaired by Prof Maano Rumutsindela (University of Cape Town, Canon Collins Trustee)
  • A provocative and insightful plenary speech from Professor Xolela Mangcu (University of Cape Town) on the development of an archive for new academic activism, and a new generation of public intellectuals.
  • Presentations from the four finalists for this year’s scholar Impact Award and selection of the winner, Louzanne Coetzee.
  • The Annual Alumni Dinner, hosted by Boitumelo ‘Tumi’ Motsoatsoe (alumna) and featuring presentations from Dr. Ncecku Nyathi (alumnus, University of Cape Town) and Derrick Grootboom (alumnus, Public Prosecutor) who presented this year’s Alumni Change Makers Award to Patrick Tom’s Kauzhumba Primary School Building Project.

According to one scholar: “It was by far the most uplifting and engaging conference I’ve been to. The openness and level of engagement and consideration amongst such a vastly diverse group of scholars is a real testament to the values that the Canon Collins Trust holds dear and I feel extremely privileged and humbled to be part of such a group.”

A big thank you to all the scholars, alumni, speakers and facilitators who contributed to such a dynamic and rewarding weekend of discussion, collaboration and activity. A particular thanks to Webber Wentzel for hosting us, and to our supporters, whose contributions made the event possible.

Don’t miss Canon Collins scholar, Delta Ndou on SAfm, highlighting some of the diverse opinions expressed at the conference regarding the validity, direction, and future of the ‪#‎FeesMustFall movement, and sharing some of the thought-provoking and insightful points raised by our brilliant keynote speaker, Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng.