Exploring Identities at our 2017 Scholars' Conference

On the weekend of June 2nd-4th more than 75 Canon Collins activist scholars came together in Cape Town for our 2017 Scholars’ Conference. Despite hailing from ten different southern African countries and pursuing a wide range of degrees in the fields of Justice, Education and Humanities, scholars were united by a shared commitment to use their degrees for the promotion of social justice in the region. This common goal allowed scholars from diverse academic backgrounds to engage on a deep and purposeful level, as they shared their research and pooled their vast collective knowledge and expertise to discuss an agenda for positive social change in southern Africa.

The theme of this year’s conference, chosen in consultation with the scholars, was “Thinking Out Loud: Exploring our Identities as Scholars in Southern Africa”. We used the weekend to explore issues of political identity, reflecting on how race, gender, nationality and sexuality intersect to shape the experiences of scholars in the personal, professional and academic spheres.

Discussions were stimulating, challenging and at times highly emotive as we explored issues of social exclusion, gender-based violence and conflicting interpretations of “personhood” in past and present southern African societies. Scholars were inspired by the content of this year’s conference, coming away with deeper knowledge, greater empathy and renewed vigour and determination to effect positive change.

One scholar said: “The value I have derived from these past days alone has been monumental; the conference has given me a greater sense of purpose and direction in my work, studies and beyond.”

Highlights of the programme included:

  • A powerful keynote address from award-winning author, journalist and political commentator Panashe Chigumadzi on the topic of “Ubuntu as a solution to the crisis of the Western imagination”, followed by a lively Q&A session.
  • Scholar-led presentations, debates and mini-workshops on themes of “Education: Access and Inclusion, “The law and protection of marginalised people”, “Media: Identity and Representation”, “Gender, Feminism & Intersectionality” and “Nationality, Migration & Identity”.
  • Interactive workshops on ‘Transforming Research to Action’ (led by Canon Collins Trustee Pfungwa Nyamukachi and Canon Collins Scholars’ Scholar Justice Mavedzenge) ‘Public Speaking and Presentation Skills’ (led by Gavin James of ‘The Confident Communicator‘) and a workshop on ‘Personal Power and Wellbeing’ (led by educational psychologist, Laetitia Permall, from University of the Western Cape)
  • A stimulating panel discussion on Non-conforming narratives: a conversation about identity and inclusion” featuring prominent activists and academics Jabulani Pereira (Iranti-org) Sylva Ntumba Batshi (PASSOP) Arriane Nevin (Sonke Gender Justice) and Professor Puleng (UNISA), and chaired by Canon Collins alumna Orefile Malope.
  • A brilliant motivational speech from Canon Collins scholar Thuso Mapotsane.
  • Presentations from the five finalists for the 2017 Impact Award and selection of the winner, Hlengiwe Ndlovu for her “Reading for Tomorrow” project.
  • The Annual Alumni Dinner, hosted by alumnus Onke Mazibuko and featuring an inspiring keynote speech from alumna Mary Kachale (Malawi’s Director of Public Prosecutions), jaw-dropping dramatic performances from scholar Kline Smith and alumna Tumy Motsoatsoe, a moving speech from 2017 Scholars’ Scholar Phila Msimang and the presentation of the 2017 Alumni Change Makers Award to Brighton Chunga and Chikosa Ngwira for their “Back to School Community Project”.

In addition to the academic stimulation derived from the conference, scholars benefit greatly from the opportunity to network and connect with fellow scholars, alumni, and the other exceptional individuals who make up the Canon Collins community of change-makers. Connections made at the conference are hugely important, with many scholars forging valuable professional connections as well as life-long friendships.

In the words of one scholar: “Being part of this community, or rather family, that shares the same vision as me – to make the world a better place and make a valuable contribution to society- is the most inspiring thing.”

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

Image: Scholar Thuso Mopotsane delivers a motivational closing speech at our 2017 Scholars’ Conference