Programme helps black academic staff focus on research

08 April 2019 | Story Nadia Krige. Photo Libby Young. Read time 9 min.
The Black Academics Advancement Programme has enabled Dr Mandisa Malinga to extend her research.
The Black Academics Advancement Programme has enabled Dr Mandisa Malinga to extend her research.

The potential reach of Dr Mandisa Malinga’s work with the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Department of Psychology was recognised in 2017 when she joined the first cohort of full-time academic staff in South Africa to receive a fellowship from the Black Academics Advancement Programme.

Since then, the programme has allowed her to unravel the intricate links between fatherhood, masculinity and the desperate pursuit of a sustainable income. 

The challenges for day-labourers

Malinga’s interest in this important niche topic was first sparked when she witnessed a common interaction among a group of day labourers and a possible employer while walking to work one morning.

“A bakkie pulled up and three men who had been waiting along the side of the road got up to talk to the driver,” she recalls. “It turned out, however, that he only had work for two of them. I just stood and watched how… they argued for so long that the man in the bakkie eventually just drove off without a single one of them on board.”

Malinga explains that she had assumed that these men work within some form of social organisation: if there aren’t enough jobs going around, the ones who get work today will give those who missed out a chance tomorrow. 

However, this interaction sketched a disturbing picture of just how desperate the job situation is in South Africa and sparked Malinga's decision to explore it through an in-depth PhD study.

After enrolling at the University of South Africa (UNISA), she spent months sitting on the side of the road in areas of Cape Town interviewing and observing the behaviour of transient groups of men looking for work. Later, as part of the BAAP study, Malinga extended her research to Pretoria and Durban.

Since most of these men’s daily job searches are driven by the need to maintain their identities as men and fathers by providing for their families – families they sometimes haven’t seen in years – Malinga’s PhD focused on constructions of fatherhood and masculinity. 

 

The Black Academics Advancement Programme was established in 2017. The first call opened in April 2017 and the first set of fellows started their fellowships in January 2018.

Throughout her research she discovered another even more poignant topic that kept emerging.

“I found that, yes, they are interested here and there in talking about fatherhood and masculinity, but the most pressing questions and issues that the men on the street wanted to talk about was their working conditions – the challenges that they experienced,” she explains. 

BAAP fellowship: an opportunity to delve deeper

After completing her PhD, Malinga joined UCT’s psychology department as a full-time lecturer in 2016. 

Her reputation for excellent research had preceded her, and it wasn’t long before then that the deputy vice-chancellor for research and internationalisation at the time nominated her for a new fellowship opportunity that was being sponsored by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and FirstRand Foundation (FRF). Known initially as the NRF-FRF Sabbatical Grant, the Black Academic Advancement Programme (BAAP) was established to promote the development of black South African academic staff by accelerating their training at doctoral and postdoctoral level.

By providing funding each year for daily research running costs (up to R100 000), international travel (up to R100 000) and – perhaps most importantly – teaching replacement (up to R200 000), the fellowship offers full-time academic staff a welcome respite from teaching responsibilities to focus fully on their research.

“When I applied for BAAP, I applied to do more research on the experiences of work-seeking rather than the constructions of fatherhood and masculinity,” says Malinga, realising that this could be a perfect opportunity to further develop her research as part of a postdoctoral study.

 

“Sometimes we underestimate how much writing takes out of us. We teach four days a week in undergrad – Tuesday through to Friday – and then you have marking and consultations, and those kinds of responsibilities. So, you need to block out space to write, to think and to read as part of the writing process.”

Since eight BAAP applications may be submitted from each of South Africa’s public universities, the process is particularly competitive. Fortunately, UCT’s Research Office was on hand to support Malinga through each step of the application process, helping her become one of the first recipients of the fellowship. 

“BAAP was established in 2017. The first call opened in April 2017 and the first set of fellows started their fellowships in January 2018,” explains Dr Gaelle Ramon from the Research Office. “Malinga was among six UCT staff members who started in 2018 and we have another seven who started in 2019.”

The benefits of BAAP

Having completed one year of her fellowship and well into her second, Malinga says that she is endlessly grateful for the time it has given her to think and write. “It’s made a huge difference to my writing,” she says.

“Sometimes we underestimate how much writing takes out of us. We teach four days a week in undergrad – Tuesday through to Friday – and then you have marking and consultations, and those kinds of responsibilities. So, you need to block out space to write, to think and to read as part of the writing process.”

 

“And I think that’s part of the point, right? To think, to reflect and do your best to ensure that your work has some impact on the communities that are affected by the issues you study.”

With one of the conditions of the award being that applicants must spend at least 80% of their time on research-related activities and no more than 20% on teaching, BAAP helps ensure that candidates do indeed block off ample time.

Furthermore, Malinga says that her fellowship allowed her to spend a month and a half at the Centre for Women’s Studies at the University of York last year. During this time, she delivered a seminar at the university that was well-received and generated a lot of engagement. 

Importantly, the time away from her faculty responsibilities allowed her to complete a book proposal on her research.

“And I think that’s part of the point, right?” she muses. “To think, to reflect and do your best to ensure that your work has some impact on the communities that are affected by the issues you study. But also, to publish, getting your work out there, getting your work recognised.”


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