In remembrance: Emeritus Professor Vanessa Watson

27 September 2021

Dear colleagues and students

It is with profound sadness that we inform you of the passing of Emeritus Professor Vanessa Watson (70) on Wednesday, 15 September 2021 after a brave and long battle with cancer.

Professor Watson joined the University of Cape Town (UCT) 42 years ago and was a professor of city planning at the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics (APG). She was the founder of the Cities in Africa project, which became the African Centre for Cities, and a founder of the Association of African Planning Schools.

She was no ordinary academic. Besides being a formidable researcher and admired teacher, she was also one of the founding members of built environment non-governmental organisation, the Development Action Group, and cut her research and advocacy teeth at the Urban Problems Research Unit, in the early days of her career.

Professor Watson was a mentor to so many staff and students. She was a Fellow of UCT and received numerous awards over the years. She delayed her retirement until last year and was appointed as senior research scholar at the beginning of 2021.

It is no exaggeration to say that Professor Watson shifted planning and urban studies debates in – and towards – the global South, destabilising established norms of what the ‘good city’ should look like, and be.

Janine Meyer, departmental manager at APG, said: “Having touched so many staff, students, colleagues internal and external to UCT, her reach and her impact was global. Vanessa will be remembered for her kindness, her quiet strength, her mentorship and guidance, her passion for planning, her friendship and so much more.”

“She was a wonderful colleague and deputy dean for some years. I hope that it is well known that the Cities in Africa project was really her brainchild,” said Emeritus Professor Cyril O’Connor, senior research scholar at the UCT’s Centre for Minerals Research.

Professor Watson is survived by her two sons, Daniel and Simon, and grandson, Matteo.

A virtual memorial service is scheduled for Thursday, 30 September 2021 from 15:00 to 16:30. The event will take place via Zoom.

We convey our heartfelt condolences to Professor Watson’s family, to whom we have reached out to offer our support in this period of grief. We also convey our condolences to her colleagues, friends and all who knew or worked with her at UCT.


The UCT Executive

Read previous communications:

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.