Summer School: a growing public showcase for UCT research

21 February 2023 | Story Helen Swingler. Photos Lerato Maduna. Read time 7 min.
A fitting end to a busy, three-week Summer School was a Jazz on the Lawn picnic concert at the Irma Stern Museum.
A fitting end to a busy, three-week Summer School was a Jazz on the Lawn picnic concert at the Irma Stern Museum.

Summer School in January 2023 marked the first back-to-campus iteration of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) well-loved festival of learning since COVID-19 lockdown forced a virtual ‘retreat’. It was back to a fully interactive, live – and lively – programme of lectures, tours, field trips, practical classes and concerts, an important public showcase of top UCT researchers and their work.

“Summer School is the best face that UCT shows to the citizens of Cape Town,” said UCT water ecology doyenne Jenny Day, whose Summer School guided field trip to the city’s wetlands was well oversubscribed.

 

“The citizens of Cape Town ought to be given an opportunity to taste the intellectual life at UCT.”

“The citizens of Cape Town ought to be given an opportunity to taste the intellectual life at UCT, and UCT academics (and others) should be given the chance to display their ‘wares’ to the public.”

New community engagement programmes in lesser resourced areas such as the Philippi Hub, the Students’ Health and Welfares Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) centre at Kensington and the Denis Goldberg House of Hope in Hout Bay, are slowly building new audiences, said director of the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies’, Dr Medeé Rall. Select lectures were livestreamed free to these venues.

Summer School 2023 offered a rich programme over three weeks in January and extended to satellite centres like the Denis Goldberg House of Hope in Hout Bay, the SHAWCO centre in Kensington and the Philippi Hub.

“It was absolutely lovely seeing all Summer Schoolers during the three weeks, enjoying the lectures, the film programmes, seeing friends and browsing in the bookshops,” said Dr Rall.

Award winners

Among the milestones Summer School highlighted was the 80th anniversary of SHAWCO, Africa’s largest student-run student volunteering organisation. The occasion was celebrated at a free public lecture.

Another highlight was the annual Summer School UCT Legacy Society President’s lecture, titled “The Forgotten Treason Trial”, which was delivered by law alumnus Justice Owen Rogers, who was appointed to the Constitutional Court in August 2022.

 

“This attests to the calibre of people we attracted this year.”

The programme also offered a list of award-winners and award-winning writers: Dr Emmanuel Taban, voted Most Influential Person on the African Continent and Sunday Times Person of the Year 2022; Dr Karen Jennings, longlisted for her book The Island; best-selling authors Jacques Pauw (Our Poisoned Land) and Joanne Joseph (Children of Sugarcane); and Caine Prize winner Bongani Kona, author of Our Ghosts Were Once People: Stories on death and dying.

This attests to the calibre of people we attracted this year,” said Rall, whose team works hard to collate a diverse programme of current affairs, history, culture, politics, and medicine – and technology and artificial intelligence in 2023 – and introducing new offerings each year.

On tour and in the field

The tours and fieldtrips were also exceptionally popular, said Rall.

Forty enthusiasts joined Day for the 4 February day field trip, “Cape Town’s Rivers and Wetlands”. Day, the director of the UCT Freshwater Research Unit and deputy dean of Science at UCT for many years, currently serves on the Mayoral Committee on water quality in Cape Town’s wetlands and rivers.

Participants visited several of Cape Town’s rivers and wetlands, starting at the historical site of Molteno Reservoir in the City Bowl and then followed a circular to the Diep River/Milnerton lagoon estuary/Rietvlei, to Zeekoevlei and Rondevlei, to Zandvlei.

Day discussed the history of these systems: what they were like, how humans have affected them, and the current challenges in managing them.

The highlight for her was “making more citizens aware of these wonderful systems and how the City attempts, in spite of sometimes overwhelming odds, to maintain them in as good a condition as possible”.

Summer Schoolers explore the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

But Day had a larger concern, which Capetonians should share. “[That is] climate change and the increasing conflict between water for humans and sufficient water to sustain the rivers and wetlands from which humans take water.”

Back on campus, registrar Emeritus Hugh Amoore continued his popular walking tours, free to the public, to explore the rich history of upper campus and the events and people that shaped it.

New generation of lifelong learners

Many scholars like Day have put their weight behind the Summer School’s broader purpose and possibilities as an incubator of lifelong learning. This is where the future of Summer School lies, said Rall.

This was evident on 21 January when a large group of 100UP learners from Khayelitsha, Philippi and other areas were transported to campus to attend repeats of UCT alumnus and physics lecturer Rob Louw’s course on quantum mechanics, titled “Inside Schrödinger’s Cat”. (Louw kindly paid for the learners’ transport and the R1 000 quiz prizemoney. The event was sponsored by Pen Bev.)

Jazz on the Lawn

“It was the first time that 100UPs had lectures during Summer School and hopefully [this is] the beginning of doing this in future on important topics that could aid the students in their learning and choice of study,” said Rall.

This year’s Summer School also attracted staff of the Hosken Consolidated Investments Limited Foundation. Among its aims, the foundation is working to support education at all levels as well as youth development and empowerment, and sustainable projects that protect the environment.

The foundation’s CEO, Jamala Safari, said the response from staff has been positive.

“Thank you for such a stimulating and engaging Summer School,” he wrote to Rall and her team.

A fitting end to the festival was the Summer School Jazz on the Lawn picnic concert at UCT’s Irma Stern Museum featuring the South African College of Music students.

Summer School will be augmented during the year by the Summer School Extension Lecture Series featuring additional top-flight speakers. Among these are anti-apartheid activist Lord Peter Hain, who played a key part in the downfall of British public relations firm Bell Pottinger for the unethical campaigns it ran for the Guptas, and radio talk show host Pippa Hudson on her adventures in the Antarctic.

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