Celebrating Africa Month

07 May 2019 | From Kgethi

Dear colleagues and students

On Africa Day, which is commemorated on 25 May each year, we are encouraged to celebrate our diverse and exuberant continent. The day marks the founding of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963, which became the African Union (AU) in July 2002.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) prides itself on being an African university and thus it is important for us to pay tribute to this coming together of nations. While UCT is a melting pot of cultures with a diverse student body – out of the almost 29 000 students studying at our institution, over 3 000 are from African countries outside of South Africa – we want to see an institution that is more representative of the country that we live in, and for our staff and students to see their cultures, values, heritage and knowledge systems reflected here in everything they do.

To celebrate this Africa Month in particular, there are a number of events planned across the university, and I encourage you to participate in them to learn about our different cultures and experiences.

The university’s flagship event for this month is a public symposium on the role of young African leaders in pan-Africanism and regional integration. The theme of the symposium is aligned to the AU agenda 2063: “The Africa We Want”. As Africans we want this continent to thrive, and to achieve this we need to support one another and mould and support leaders who can make this vision a reality. We need to take advantage of the ingenuity and innovative thinking that is springing up across the continent. If we harness the power of each of us, we can achieve the Africa we all want, aligned with the pan-African vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”

The symposium, to be held on 10 May at the Baxter Theatre, is a collaboration between the African Union’s African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), the UCT Convocation and the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, and will feature a range of speakers and leaders from across the continent and UCT. These include Professor Eddy Maloka, chief executive officer of the APRM and UCT’s president of Convocation; Mr Rendani Mamphiswana, member of the presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution; and Ms Masana Ndinga-Kanga, crisis response fund lead at CIVICUS, the global alliance for citizen participation, which brings together more than 4 000 non-governmental organisations from around the world.

The evening before the public symposium, on 9 May, there will be a networking dinner at the River Club in Observatory, Cape Town, with a keynote address by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, a Nigerian scholar and diplomat. Professor Gambari was the first Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Special Adviser on Africa to the United Nations Secretary-General, and is currently the founder/chairman of the Savannah Centre, a think-tank for research, training and public policy debate on the nexus between diplomacy (conflict resolution), democracy and development in Africa.

We have already had our first event to commemorate Africa Month on 3 May, when Professor Shadreck Chirikure presented his inaugural lecture, titled “Why does ‘success’ continue to elude contemporary Africa? Some insights from deep history and archaeology”.

During the month of May, UCT Libraries Special Collections will host an exhibition and display featuring the San communities, including the Khomani San and the Bleek and Lloyd collections; a film screening on the Khomani San Collection; and a relaunch of the Atom digital inventory on the Khomani San Collection.

As I have said before, we don’t only want to be best in Africa, but best for Africa by doing excellent research with impact for the benefit of Africa and Africans. We are greatly enabled in this mission by our position at the southern gateway to Africa, next to the confluence of three major ocean systems, under southern skies and in the world’s most diverse floral kingdom. We are also part of a country with one of the most unequal human populations. This vantage point elevates the importance of our university in researching questions that are critical to the development of the continent in a wide array of fields such as marine sciences, astronomy, biodiversity, climate change, and poverty and inequality.

Our research mission in Africa is also strengthened by our membership of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), a network of research-led universities across Africa. During 2018, UCT launched two centres of excellence under the ARUA banner: the African Centre of Excellence for Inequalities Research (ACEIR), led by UCT’s Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII), and the ARUA Centre of Excellence in Climate & Development (ARUA-CD), led by UCT’s African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI). These two centres, together with ARUA partners in Ghana and Kenya, seek to do cutting-edge, transformative research that could play an important role in the achievement of several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Africa.

Among the many other projects at UCT with an African focus, the most well-known is the Centre for African Studies, which carries a mandate for promoting and supporting African studies across the various faculties at UCT.

There is also the African Centre for Cities, which seeks to promote interdisciplinary research on cities in Africa; and the Zamani Project, which uses 3D technology to accurately document historic sites around the continent. Zamani was initiated to increase international awareness of Africa’s heritage and to provide material for research, conservation and education.

The Centre for Information Technology and National Development in Africa is singularly focused on Africa and strives to be the leading African centre for research into information systems on the continent, producing world-class African scholars and internationally recognised research outputs and postgraduate students.

There is a strong focus on healthcare in Africa at UCT. We host the Vaccines for Africa Initiative, a partnership of concerned individuals and organisations that have come together with the goal of increasing awareness and promoting uptake of vaccines on the African continent. UCT is also home to the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa, which is an active and productive arena for the training of both clinician-scientists and biomedical scientists with a focus on conditions common in Africa. Our Drug Discovery and Development Research Unit is part of a drug discovery campaign that specialises in the use of innovative drug discovery tools for the development of drugs targeting the treatment of infectious and other endemic African diseases.

These are just a few of the incredible projects at UCT that are focused on African problems, and where we are leading the way.

As an African community, let us continue to communicate, share our ideas and exchange expertise, so that together we achieve greatness.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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