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SU’s Extended Degree Programme provides comprehensive student supporthttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6911SU’s Extended Degree Programme provides comprehensive student supportAsiphe Nombewu /Corporate Communication<p>​​​​​​​​​Thanks to the Extended Degree Programme (EDP), the future is full of possibilities for students such as Axola Dlepu, a BA Social Dynamics student who gained access to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU) through the programme.</p><p>This innovative programme was instituted at SU in 2008 to deal with systemic obstacles to equity and student success and to assist students with additional academic support.</p><p>Coordinator of the programme, Dr Anita Jonker, says the EDP's role is to redress past inequalities and transform higher education by responding to new realities and opportunities.</p><p>According to Jonker, the programme is open to students who are interested in studying towards a Bachelor's degree with an average of 60–64,9% in their National Senior Certificate (NSC). She added that the National Benchmark Test (NBT) results, students' socio-economic status, as well as availability of places, are taken into consideration in EDP admissions.</p><p>EDP and mainstream students obtain the same degrees after completion of their undergraduate studies. The only difference is that EDP students do their first year over two years. Over and above their mainstream subjects, EDP students take modules that prepare them better for their graduate studies, such as Texts in the Humanities, Information Skills and Introduction to the Humanities.</p><p>In the first-year Texts in the Humanities, the focus is on academic reading and writing, plagiarism and referencing, , rhetorical structure, , text-linguistic characteristics, critical thinking and argumentation. The lectures are presented in separate Afrikaans and English classes to provide optimal academic support in students' preferred medium of instruction.</p><p>In Introduction to the Humanities EDP students are introduced to four different subject-fields, with a specific focus on multilingual technical concepts that provide a foundation for other subject fields in the Humanities and Social Sciences. All the terminology and lecture notes are available in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa and interpreters give students the opportunity to participate in lectures in their mother-tongues.</p><p>Students who speak Afrikaans, Kaaps and other related language varieties have a tutor, Jocelyn Solomons, who facilitates the tutorial discussions in these language varieties, and those who speak English and, inter alia, isiXhosa, have a tutor, Busiswa Sobahle, who facilitates the tut discussions in English and isiXhosa.</p><p>Extensive extra-curricular support is integrated into the academic offering to enhance student success. This includes the EDP mentor programme, which has received co-curriculum recognition and which is coordinated by Ms Shona Lombard. Here senior EDP students mentor first-year students with similar BA programmes and help them to adjust to the new challenges of university life.</p><p>Expressing his gratitude for being chosen to be part of the programme, Dlepu said, “The EDP programme has helped me a lot with academic support alongside being mentored. It made my life a lot easier than that of a mainstream first-year student."</p><p>The 20-year-old from Saldanah Bay encouraged other students in the EDP to use the programme to shine.</p><p>He said the EDP modules gave students a broader worldview and taught them how to engage with multilingual students from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.</p><p>Bavani Naicker, a 20-year-old BA Social Dynamics student from KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) described the EDP as a comprehensive support system. She said they were given foundational knowledge to assist them in their studies.</p><p>“My highlight of the course was when we visited Parliament and interacted with representatives of the different political parties," she said.</p><p>Chloe Krieger, a BA International Studies student from Cape Town, said if it were not for EDP, she would have dropped out in her first year. “The EDP taught us crucial literacy and life skills that the basic education system failed to teach the majority of students."</p><p>Krieger said that the EDP helped her to develop an awareness about critical issues that she would not otherwise have been aware of. “I was also inspired to be an activist and to be an agent for change. I am currently serving on the 2019/2020 SRC and I am learning so much about issues that marginalised groups on campus face that many people overlook," she said.</p><p>Students who have provisionally been admitted to the EDP and their parents/guardians are invited to the first meeting with EDP lecturers and mentors on Friday, 24 January 2020 from 09:30 to 12:00 in Room 3001 of the Wilcocks Building at 52 Ryneveld Street.</p><p>Prospective students who want to read more about the EDP, can consult the EDP website at <a href="/english/faculty/arts/edp/home">http://www.sun.ac.za/english/faculty/arts/edp/home</a><br><br></p>
Sign language-related courses help teachers of Deaf students with new curriculumhttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4100Sign language-related courses help teachers of Deaf students with new curriculumLynne Rippenaar-Moses<p style="text-align:justify;">Last year, the first South African Sign Language (SASL) curriculum was rolled out nationally in South Africa after it had first been piloted as a project at the De la Bat School for the Deaf in Worcester from 2011 to 2013. Now, thanks to three short courses of the Department of General Linguistics that focus on language teachers, including sign language teachers, those who have to implement this curriculum will also have the necessary skills to do so effectively. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">According to Dr Frenette Southwood of the Department of General Linguistics of Stellenbosch University (SU), the department has been offering shorts courses in the Foundations of Linguistics, Sign Language Linguistics and Literature of SASL to teachers of Deaf learners since the beginning of 2015. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"South African Sign Language is now acknowledged as a first language by the Department of Education, just like Afrikaans and English, and is also taught in schools," says Southwood. SU is one of three academic institutions in South Africa that offers these types of courses.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">"The courses are intended for language teachers who do not have a sufficient background in linguistics or literature and helps these teachers to interact optimally with the curriculum they have to teach."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The three courses were created after the department presented the first intensive five-day Foundations of Linguistics course to 31 teachers of Deaf learners and staff of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) in June 2015. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">According to Ms Minna Steyn of the WCED, who also was the project manager of the pilot project at De la Bat, teachers in the Western Cape were provided with basic training by the WCED to implement the new curriculum. A year later, training was done at the national level. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"During the training at national level we realised that there was not enough training that focused on literature and poetry, although these form part of the new curriculum. The idea therefore was to show teachers and teacher assistants how to teach poetry and literature in sign language. I thus was keen to offer our teachers who teach Deaf learners more in-depth training and then discussed the possibilities with the Department of General Linguistics. The ETDP-SETA was then approached to find funding for 30 students to undertake training at Stellenbosch University," says Steyn. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Steyn has been involved with the education of Deaf people for the past three decades and was head of the Thiboloha School for the Deaf and Blind in Qwaqwa in the Free State before being seconded to De la Bat for the launch of the SASL curriculum. She also completed her MA in the SU Department of General Linguistics in December 2015, focusing specifically on language and literacy acquisition by Deaf Foundation Phase learners in her thesis. In a report of the WCED in 2015, she said the following about the implementation of SASL as a first language: "Deaf children who are born into hearing families do not have the privilege of learning language in a natural manner from birth. It is only when they go to school that a Deaf child is exposed to Deaf adults and friends and that they learn sign language. South African Sign Language is the first language of Deaf people in South Africa and is equivalent to any spoken language. It has been proven scientifically that a child's mother tongue must be established firmly and be in place before an additional first language can be mastered."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">During her time at De la Bat she noticed how Deaf learners in the pre-school classes started participating more in lessons because they now had sufficient Sign Language vocabulary to participate more easily thanks to the pilot project. Previously, sign-supported Afrikaans or sign-supported English (these are spoken languages that are converted into signs word for word, some of which were artificial, non-SASL signs) were used as language of teaching and learning in schools for the Deaf. This deprived learners of exposure to SASL in the classroom. With the rolling out of the SASL curriculum, SASL is also implemented as language of learning and teaching in schools for the Deaf – as early as in the preschool classes. Deaf learners' SASL skills therefore are being improved from early on and they have the opportunity to receive their school training in a natural language.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The courses of the Department of General Linguistics accommodate 30 people at a time, who complete the Foundation and Sign Language Linguistics courses over six weeks, with one week of lectures on campus and the rest being done by way of directed self-study and distance teaching. The course on the Literature of South African Sign Language runs over two days and comprises lectures that are presented on the SU campus. According to Southwood, the purpose of the training is to sharpen teachers' knowledge of language and sign language as a language so that they can be better language teachers. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"This is not a sector that received much attention in the past and the quality of teaching therefore is not up to standard. There also are some teachers who cannot use sign language fluently but who have to teach in sign language. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"So besides for teachers' sign language skills needing to be improved, they also need to have knowledge of this first language of their learners so that a teacher can be better able, for example, to teach their sign language-using learners English or Afrikaans as language of literacy. Through these courses we help our teachers to do the latter by helping them to understand what language is, how it works and how it is learnt. Our courses cover concepts such as the nature, function and structure of human language, how human languages are used and understood, how they are processed and produced, and how these aspects are applicable to sign language."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Steyn believes that the courses will not only lead to better equipped SASL teachers, but also will raise the profile and visibility of sign language. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"South African Sign Language is a stigmatised language, with rules and principles such as any other language. It therefore helps the image of the language if academic institutions such as Stellenbosch University offer courses on it." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Steyn has herself completed three courses to gain a better idea of the type of training that teachers received by way of the courses. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"There is no other way to describe it other than to say that it is really wonderful for me to know that teachers are now empowered to implement this curriculum with the knowledge that they have received from SU."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Thus far, a total of 61 teachers completed the three courses in June to October 2015, with a further 36 who started training in April 2016. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Steyn is now encouraging other provinces to build up similar co-operation with local universities in their environment and to ensure that teachers are empowered in this manner. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">For Southwood and her colleagues, this co-operation with the WCED also offers many other exciting opportunities for the training of students at US. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"Our department is very grateful to be part of this. Sign Language Linguistics is now a section of our second-year module in General Linguistics and we will also offer it as a third-year module from next year. We are also planning to offer Sign Language Acquisition to students as a subject in 2017. We therefore are not only busy strengthening the expertise of current teachers, but also preparing a new generation of students to qualify themselves as teachers of Deaf learners." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">For Steyn, the broader impact of the project, which they started in 2011, is the most important result of a longstanding aim of ensuring that SASL is recognised as a fully-fledged language. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"The Deaf child now receives the type of education that prepares him/her academically. My dream is to have SASL as a subject in our mainstream schools and that hearing people are also given an opportunity to learn sign language."</p><p><em>Photo: Nine Deaf students (of whom seven are teachers of Deaf students) completed the courses in Foundations of Linguistics, Sign Language Linguistics and Literature of SASL in March and received a certificate from Stellenbosch University. Mr Christopher Dontsa (fourth from left) completed all three courses. In front, from left, are Prof Johan Oosthuizen, Ms Annette Humphrey-Heyns, Nodumo Same, Christopher Dontsa, Phumla Mosia, Ncumisa Loliwe, Andiswa Fayindlala, Lazya le Roux, and Dr Frenette Southwood. At the back are Christoffer Galada and Simon Ndaba.</em></p>
Global experts in Cape Town to probe changing HIV/AIDS epidemic https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=5268Global experts in Cape Town to probe changing HIV/AIDS epidemic Xanthe Hunt, Adziliwi Nematandani and Lynne Rippenaar-Moses<p>HIV/AIDS experts from five continents across the world will be in Cape Town, South Africa, from 13-15 November 2017 to probe the dynamics of a changing HIV/AIDS epidemic and to address issues related to prevention, treatment and care. The experts will be participating in the 13<sup>th</sup> AIDS Impact Conference, which is hosted by Stellenbosch University (SU) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). </p><p>The behavioural and psychosocial science gathering — which was first convened in 1991 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands — is an international dialogue that looks at the human face of the epidemic. <br></p><p>“Despite the vast importance of medical inquiry and advancements in the fight against HIV, attending to the humanitarian and social 'face' of the epidemic are invaluable," explained Dr Sarah Skeen of Stellenbosch University, co-chair of the conference. <br></p><p>The HSRC's Professor Heidi van Rooyen, who is a co-chair of the conference added that, “If we are to stem the epidemic in Africa, then addressing poverty, gender inequality and gender-based violence, which fuel the spread of HIV among vulnerable populations, requires our urgent attention." <br></p><p>Continuing from where the 2015 meeting ended, the 2017 Cape Town conference, titled '<strong><em>What will it take to end the epidemic</em></strong>?' aims to promote pioneering work on understanding the dynamics of a changing epidemic, with a key focus on the latest avenues for prevention, treatment and care.</p><p>The meeting will bring together delegates from 54 countries who are new to the field, as well as seasoned researchers, prevention workers, community members, policy makers, and other key stakeholders from universities, institutes, and organisations around the globe.<br></p><p>Among the speakers will be Professor Fred Ssewamala, Director of the International Center for Child Health and Asset Development at Columbia University. His plenary will address Cost-effectiveness of Savings-led Economic Empowerment Interventions for AIDS-Impacted Children, and their impact on adolescent's health, material wellbeing and adherence to ART medication (for those who are HIV positive). Professor Linda Richter, a Distinguished Professor and Director of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, will be discussing the relevance of the values underlying the Sustainable Development Goals.<br></p><p>Delegates will share  multidisciplinary understanding, state of the art research, international good practice – and a deep understanding of the importance of the human experience in all aspects of HIV prevention, treatment and care.  “If we forget the human face behind the epidemic the virus will triumph – if we grasp the needs of humanity we can pinpoint a turning point in the journey to eradicate AIDS," says Professor Lorraine Sherr of the International Scientific Board.<br></p><p>The AIDS Impact Conference is held bienially and is one of the leading platforms for understanding, updating and debating the behavioural, psychosocial and community facets of HIV in light of changing social conditions and medical advances. This year, the conference organisational team, led by Prof Mark Tomlinson and Dr Sarah Skeen of SU and Prof Heidi van Rooyen and Ms Bridgette Prince from the HSRC, anticipate delegates from 54 countries. <br></p><p>The  plenary session will include speakers from leading institutions such as the International Center for Child Health and Asset Development at Columbia University; the Carolina Population Center; the University of the Witwatersrand; the School of Public Health & Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town; the Division of Prevention Science in the Department of Medicine at the University of California; the University of New York; the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen; the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC); and the MRC Clinical Trials Unit at University College London as well as activists and voices from those with HIV.<br></p><p>The Conference will be hosted at the newly developed Century City Conference Centre located near the Cape Town CBD.<br></p><p><strong class="ms-rteFontSize-1">About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)</strong></p><p>The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa's statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent. It does cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.</p><p>The HSRC's mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences. <br></p><p>The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organisations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa's national development priorities.<br></p><p><strong class="ms-rteFontSize-1">About Stellenbosch University (SU)</strong></p><p>Stellenbosch University (SU), celebrating its centenary in 2018, is one of the oldest universities in South Africa. With its 10 faculties (AgriSciences, Economic and Management Sciences, Medicine and Health Sciences, Engineering, Military Sciences, Arts and Social Sciences, Science, Education, Law and Theology), it boasts the highest weighted research output per full-time academic staff member of all South African universities and the second-highest number of scientists in South Africa who have been ranked by the National Research Foundation (NRF) – 429 in 2017. </p><p>With 24 research chairs under the NRF's South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChi) and seven Centres of Excellence, the University is regarded as a leader in the fields of biomedical tuberculosis research and management, wine biotechnology, water research, sustainable energy, animal sciences, and mathematical biosciences, amongst others.</p><p>As preferred research partner, SU also participates in various international academic networks. The institution has over 150 bilateral partners in 44 countries on 6 continents and more than 4 300 international students from more than 100 different nationalities.<br></p>
Researcher’s collaboration with Khoisan community recognised https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6987Researcher’s collaboration with Khoisan community recognised Lynne Rippenaar-Moses<p style="text-align:justify;">​A research collaboration between Dr Menán du Plessis, an Associate Professor in the General Linguistics Department at Stellenbosch University, and the Khoisan community, has not only led to the first extensive documentation of the lost Khoisan language, Kora, but has now also seen Du Plessis recognised for this groundbreaking work. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Du Plessis' work, which is contained in the book entitled <em>Kora: A Lost Khoisan Language of the Early Cape and the Gariep</em>, was further recognised recently with her being awarded the prestigious Hiddingh Currie Award by the Senate Publications Committee of UNISA Press. The book is the end result of a collaborative project that was done in close consultation with the Khoisan community in Bloemfontein.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Kora, spelled !Ora in the language itself, “was the Khoisan language spoken by the Khoi herders of the early Cape and the Gariep".  Those who spoke the language identified themselves as Korana and considered themselves to be a distinct community from other Khoekhoe speakers. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">“Kora, which is sometimes also called Korana, is an indigenous South African language which belongs to the Khoekhoe branch of the Khoe family. While it is related to other Khoekhoe varieties such as Nama, Dama and Giri (or Griqua), it differs from these dialects in many respects," explains Du Plessis. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The language was first documented in 1879 and later studied by a number of linguists who engaged with Kora speakers about the language in the 1920s and 1930s. With the last recorded versions of the language made in the 1930s, it was thought to have completely died out. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">However, in 2007, the late Mike Besten, a historian at the University of the Free State, made a remarkable discovery – he found three elderly persons in and around Bloemfontein who still spoke the language. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“Mike's discovery was groundbreaking in both a historical and linguistic context. Kora is the closest language, more so than Nama, to the language that was once spoken by the original Khoi inhabitants of the early Cape," adds Du Plessis. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“Prior to his discovery, there were only two audio recordings of the language made in the 1930s."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Other documented sources were either out of print or not easily accessible and a lot of the Kora material had been translated only into German and sat in basements in university libraries. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">When Besten reached out to linguists to assist in documenting the language, Du Plessis, who was working on a PhD on the southern African Khoisan languages at the University of Cape Town (UCT), connected with him immediately. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">“We were presented with an almost miraculous last chance to obtain recordings for posterity of the original language of the early Cape and the Gariep."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Shortly afterwards, Du Plessis joined Besten on a visit to one of the speakers, who lived in the rural outskirts of Bloemfontein. For the next year, she juggled her PhD research with the work she was doing for Besten, while the two searched and applied for funding for the project Besten was driving. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">With only a few elderly speakers left, they knew that if they wished to capture the last remnants of the language, they would have to do something quickly. Du Plessis decided to record the language by interviewing two of the last speakers, Oupa Dawid Cooper and Ouma Jacoba Maclear, in 2011. Sadly both pas<span style="text-align:justify;">sed away in 2013.</span>These  “rare audio recordings", referred to as a rescue documentation, are accessible as individual audio files – 800 in total – in the final online version of the book, which is also available in print format. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">For Du Plessis, the recognition she has received by being awarded the Hiddingh Currie Award is not hers to claim. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“There was from the outset a degree of social accountability, since the very idea for the project had its origins in the context of the current social movement known as the Khoisan revival, and in the course of meetings with various people from the Griqua and Korana communities of the Free State. This personal connection with individuals keenly driven to reclaim their cultural heritage made it important to me that the book should be written in a relatively accessible manner, and that it should include far more than a straightforward grammatical description. The intention was to deliver as far as possible a complete resource in one volume," she says. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">The end result is a book that includes a collection of more than 40 texts in the original language as well as parallel translations and a consolidated two-way dictionary. It is filled with collective and personal histories as well as social and economic histories, accounts of crafts and manufactures in earlier times and folktales.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“The dictionary is there to assist readers wishing to work through the texts in the original heritage language, but also includes vocabulary of cultural interest, such as names for stars, or musical instruments, traditional garments, and the names of the months in the old lunar calendar."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">A free, downloadable version of the book is available on South African History Online, who co-published the electronic copy, while the printed edition is published by Unisa Press under an Open Access agreement. Du Plessis has declined to receive any royalties.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">When one listens to the passion with which Du Plessis speaks of an academic project that evolved into an act of cultural restitution that was equally driven and shaped by the Korana community as well as herself, it beggars belief that she had never planned to study Khoisan languages. Her road into academia itself was a rather roundabout one.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“My academic career is quite complicated," she says and laughs.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“My first novel,  <em>A State of Fear</em>, was published while I was still an undergraduate student in the English Department at the University of Cape Town.  At the same time, I continued on a path of political activism that I had begun while I was still at high school – where I was one of the co-founders of a movement called National Youth Action.  On top of everything else, I struggled with major episodes of depressive illness, and was often hospitalised during those early years."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“In spite of all this, by 1983 I was able to tutor in the brand new Linguistics Department, then just established at the University of Cape Town. I was also enrolled for a PhD, with a focus on semantic theory. But this was the very time the United Democratic Front emerged – and while I was living in an ivory tower, many South Africans were suffering under the brunt of apartheid and many more were involved in the struggle. We couldn't bury our heads in the sand and not get involved."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Between 1983 and 1985, Du Plessis, who had by then joined the local branch of the UDF in Observatory, was involved in various activities, helping to write and distribute pamphlets, making home visits to groups of concerned citizens who were not involved but wanted to understand more about the struggle, attending rallies and sadly, more and more often also funerals.  Around her friends were being arrested and incarcerated, while others were harassed. She lived in constant fear of being arrested or jailed for what were considered illegal activities under the apartheid government. Her second novel, <em>Longlive!</em><em> </em>was published in 1986, but by this time the strain of trying to juggle a creative life as well as an academic life —on top of being an activist— was taking a heavy toll on her, and she withdrew from academia.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">In 1990 she married Renfrew Christie, an anti-apartheid activist and scholar whom she had previously known during her early years in the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), and had met up with again after his release from prison, where he had been held for seven years. Christie's intelligence gathering on behalf of the ANC had led to the bombing of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in South Africa. He was incarcerated numerous times, tortured and sometimes kept in solitary confinement. Du Plessis and Christie had their first daughter at the end of 1990, followed by a second in 1992.  With her health still damaged – and struggling with what was eventually diagnosed as ME –</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Du Plessis focused for the next decade simply on raising their beloved daughters, while her husband worked as a Research Administrator at the University of the Western Cape.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Once the girls were both in high school, it became possible for Du Plessis to start thinking about making a late return to her studies. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“I had always studied European languages like Italian and German. But then, as a I started reading and exploring the idea of returning to complete my PhD, my focused switched. I started looking more at African languages, and in the process I discovered that there was a gap in the knowledge we had of the Khoisan languages. This is how my focus shifted to those languages," explains Du Plessis.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">She returned to UCT, again enrolling for a PhD but this time focusing on the southern African Khoisan languages, taking a comparative approach. She received her PhD in 2009, and only after that was she able to focus more intensively on the Kora work. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“My interest at first was purely in the structures of the languages," she says as she reflects on how that journey led her to connect with Besten, the Korana community and later author a book on the Kora language.  <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“But somehow, it was impossible to stay detached and not get involved with real communities."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Mike Besten's sudden death in 2011 was a huge blow, but made her even more determined to continue with the project in his honour. Lack of funding was another major setback, says Du Plessis, but she was fortunate enough to finally receive a grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (the ELDP) at SOAS in London. This small bit of funding covered only the fieldwork, however. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Luckily, another bit of timely support came when Du Plessis and her husband both received invitations to teach for a semester at the University of Kentucky in the USA.  Once back in South Africa, freed from financial worry, it was a simple task for Du Plessis to sit down and finish the Kora book.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“For me, the over-riding purpose of this work, which is envisaged as an act of cultural restitution, is to retrieve the all but discarded linguistic heritage of the Korana and Griqua people of South Africa – not only for the descendants of these communities, but for the benefit of all South Africans."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><em>Photo: </em><em>Dr Menán du Plessis (left), an Associate Professor in the General Linguistics Department at Stellenbosch University, was recently recognised for her work that led to the first extensive documentation of the lost Khoisan language, Kora. She will receive the prestigious Hiddingh Currie Award from the Senate Publications Committee of UNISA Press early in 2020. With her in the picture is Captain Johannes Kraalshoek, an elder</em><em> </em><em>of the Korana community in Bloemfontein, at the Literature Festival held as part of the Vrystaat Kunstefees in July this year.</em></p>
George Claassen first recipient of SU’s Media Lifetime Achievement Awardhttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6985George Claassen first recipient of SU’s Media Lifetime Achievement AwardCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie<p>​<br></p><p>Prof George Claassen, former Head of the Department of Journalism at Stellenbosch University (SU) and deputy editor of <em>Die Burger, </em>is the first recipient of SU's Media Lifetime Achievement Award. </p><ul><li>Read the full "commendatio" <a href="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/George%20Claassen%20commendatio%20-%20skoon.docx">here</a> <br></li></ul><p>Claassen (70) received the award at an event at the Wallenberg Research Centre at STIAS in Stellenbosch on Thursday (5 December 2019). The event saw Excellence Awards made to teaching, research and to those who have excelled at communicating their research and expertise through the media</p><p>Reading a “commendatio" at the event, Mr Martin Viljoen, Manager Media, said that Claassen can rightly be called the father of science communication in Africa. “He had a profound impact on both journalism as a profession and as a field of study."  </p><p>Viljoen added that Claassen excelled in science journalism and the ombud system as important spheres of contemporary journalism. He was the first journalism academic in South Africa to develop a course in science and technology journalism with peers at American universities specialising in science and technology journalism considering his work to be the best in this field.</p><p>“It is safe to say that Claassen shaped the thinking of a whole generation of journalists operating in South Africa and beyond, imparting his knowledge on science communication and implanting in journalists a keen sense of detecting fake news and pseudo-science. He has an ability to see into the media future and has been preparing journalists accordingly, including for the explosion of social media, fake news and propaganda appearing on our screens. In many regards, Claassen led the charge in countering the impact of this onslaught on, in and from the media and it came as no surprise that he was the organiser of the first international conference on quackery and pseudoscience." </p><p>Claassen also dovetailed science journalism with establishing the first comprehensive course in cultural and scientific literacy in SU's journalism programmes, while paying close attention to advancing environmental journalism and reporting on climate change. </p><p>Claassen is synonymous with the media ombud system on the continent, Viljoen said. He established the media ombud system in Media24 and is currently, after his retirement from the company, still ombud for the company's community newspapers and public editor of News24. </p><p>He has served as a board member of the International Organisation of News Ombudsmen and Readers' Editors, he is a columnist on the subject and organiser and speaker of various conferences and symposia on an international scale.</p><p>At age 70, Claassen seems to show no signs of slowing down. Apart from his work as ombud, he is a science correspondent for the SABC and still teaches at SU's Department of Journalism. <br></p><ul><li>​Apart from the Media Lifetime Achievement Award, SU staff were also honoured in the categories Media Thought Leader, Newsmaker and Co-worker<br></li></ul><div>​<br></div>
Secure software and legal systems needed for cyber safetyhttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6858Secure software and legal systems needed for cyber safetyCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>With an overall increase in the number of cyber-attacks on individuals and organisations alike, we need more than just creating awareness; we also need to urgently work on creating and providing better and more secure (software) systems, as well as update our legal systems – all of which are not easy challenges.<br></p><p>This is the view of cybersecurity expert, Prof Bruce Watson from the Department of Information Science at Stellenbosch University. With October being Cyber Security Month, Watson says more and more people and organisations are being confronted with messages encouraging them to take steps in protecting themselves against actions of cyber criminals within cyber space. <br></p><p>“This is crucial given for instance the current increases in phishing attacks which are fraudulent practices of sending emails purporting to be from reputable departments/companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers, or scam them out of their money.<br></p><p>“If an organisation's systems are not adequately protected, they are vulnerable to attacks, whereby law-abiding citizens and business data may be exposed and exploited by cyber criminals posing as banks or even government departments, resulting in unsuspecting citizens and business owners being defrauded out of their money through no fault of their own."<br></p><p>Watson says it is largely the private sector that seems to be championing cybersecurity awareness initiatives, with the South African government lagging behind still. <br></p><p>“As such, a cyber-security savvy citizen will only help to expose the gaps within the government when it comes to dealing with issues of cybersecurity. And as technology advances, more and more citizens will demand services that require the government to protect them from cyber-attacks."  <br></p><p>Watson does acknowledge that cybersecurity can be tough, adding that there are various reasons for this. </p><p>“First of all, cyber space doesn't obey to the normal rules of the world. As such, it is not enough to 'live in a good neighbourhood' in order to be safe from a cyber-attack. More and more, everything is interconnected and we can get cyber-attacked by accident, and at long distance. The internet is also easily anonymous, making attribution a problem as well." <br></p><p>Ideally, these are criminal activities that have to be reported to the authorities and prosecuted according to a particular law. At the least, we need to be able to identify the applicable laws that are transgressed and then be aware of the processes that we have to follow to bring the criminals to book."<br></p><p>Watson says that at the moment, however, South Africa does not have much. He points out that the only legal document that deals with cybersecurity and cybercrime matters is the National Cybersecurity Policy Framework (NCPF), which was adopted by Cabinet in 2012. <br></p><p>“We also have the Cybercrimes Bill, which until late 2018 was called the Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill, but until the Bill has been signed and becomes an Act, nothing much can be done to address the issues raised. Furthermore, the signing of the Bill will not automatically make us safer, as it requires a transition that will take time, whereby the case system of the police will have to be adapted, the evidence chain will have to be aligned and adapted, prosecutors will have to be trained, as well as the judges, etc." <br></p><p>Watson says it is therefore very important that we up our cybersecurity defences, not just where normal citizens or users are concerned, but also for builders of systems (software), as well as the security of our nation as a whole. <br></p><p>“In the end, we all depend on lots of technology: from electricity, to banking to airports and airplanes, to entertainment. If those things fail, the impact can range from merely causing an annoyance to inflicting major economic damage."<br></p><p>Watson says people can protect themselves from becoming victims of cyber-attacks by not clicking on links that are suspicious (especially in emails), not just opening attachments and making sure their devices and anti-virus software are updated. <br></p><p>“Do not use public or free Wi-Fi for personal or banking transactions, it is dangerous. Make use of a virtual private network (VPN) instead. And remember: If it is free, you are the product," adds Watson. <br></p><p><strong>FOR MEDIA ENQUIRIES ONLY</strong></p><p>Prof Bruce Watson</p><p>Department of Information Science</p><p>Stellenbosch University</p><p>Tel: 021 808 2027</p><p>Email: <a href="mailto:bwwatson@sun.ac.za"><strong>bwwatson@sun.ac.za</strong></a> </p><p><strong>ISSUED BY </strong></p><p>Martin Viljoen</p><p>Manager: Media</p><p>Corporate Communication</p><p>Stellenbosch University</p><p>Tel: 021 808 4921</p><p>Email: <a href="mailto:viljoenm@sun.ac.za"><strong>viljoenm@sun.ac.za</strong></a> </p><p> </p><p><br></p>
SU honours top postdoctoral researchershttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6925SU honours top postdoctoral researchersCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>Stellenbosch University (SU) boasts more than 300 registered postdoctoral fellows who are making a meaningful contribution towards realising the institution's vision of becoming Africa's leading research-intensive university. <br></p><p>The top 20 fellows out of this group were honoured at SU's annual Postdoctoral Research Day recently. They each received R10 000 and a certificate of recognition for their outstanding research output as well as their contribution in academia through student training, presentations at conferences as well as other non-academic endeavours.<br></p><p>Initiated in 2017 by the Vice-Rector for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, Prof Eugene Cloete, and sponsored by the SU's Postdoctoral Society and the Division for Research Development, the Postdoctoral Research Day provides a platform for postdoctoral fellows to showcase their research activities.<br></p><p>Commenting on the awards, Cloete said, “The contribution of postdoctoral fellows to academic performance at the University is significant, and postdocs support students and are the muscle behind major research. The fellows honoured here had published upwards of 10 manuscripts, formed parts of collaborative research teams, landed large grants and also are active members in university and other academic societies."<br></p><p>He added that SU valued its postdoctoral researchers and wanted to grow the current cohort to 500 within the next two years, in line with the University's strategy and vision to have a global impact.<br></p><p>The following postdoctoral fellows (in alphabetical order) were honoured at the Research Day:<br></p><p>Shameemah Abrahams (Biomedical Sciences); Hayley Clements (Centre for Complex Systems in Transition); Rosemary Cripwell (Microbiology); Anna Hartfort (Philosophy); Martin Heine (Health and Rehabilitation Sciences); Heidi Hirsch (Botany and Zoology); Marion Javal (Conservation Ecology); Tanya Kerr (Biology and Human Genetics); Lizabé Lambrechts (Africa Open Institute); Gina Leisching (Biomedical Science); Mohsen Mandegari (Process Engineering); Jan-Lukas Menzel (Earth Science); Corneile Minaar (Botany and Zoology); Charissa Naidoo (Biomedical Science); Mario Mairal Pisa (Botany and Zoology); Julia Riley (Botany and Zoology); Letitia Schoeman (Horticultural Sciences); Wendy Stone (SU Water Institute); Alemayehu  Tsige (Horticultural Sciences)and Caitlin Uren (Biomedical Sciences)</p><ul><li><strong>​Photo</strong>: Some of the top postdoctoral fellows at the Research Day. <strong>Photographer</strong>: Riana Coetsee</li></ul><p> </p><p><br></p>
Historical wounding and its haunting legacies to be deliberated at international conference https://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6102Historical wounding and its haunting legacies to be deliberated at international conference Martin Viljoen<p>​​​What is the appropriate response to the echoes of historical wounding that extend far beyond the generation that experienced the trauma directly? What strategies might quell the haunting repercussions of genocide, slavery, colonial oppression, and mass violence that play out in the lives of affected individuals and groups from both sides of these acts? <br></p><p>These are some of the questions that delegates to an international <a href="http://recognitionreparationandreconciliation2018.co.za/">conference</a> themed Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation: The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma will deliberate on. Inspiration for the conference is the 20th anniversary of the report of the TRC.</p><p><strong>RENOWNED KEYNOTE SPEAKERS: </strong></p><ul><li><strong>Prof Homi Bhabha</strong>, Harvard University, world's premier postcolonial literary theorist (Thu 6 December, 09:00):<em> A Memory of Neighbours: On History and the Afterlife.</em></li><li><strong>Prof Cathy Caruth</strong>, Cornell University, prominent scholar of Trauma Theory and author of foundational texts in the field (Fri 7 December 08:30): <em>Death and Life at the Site of Address</em></li><li><strong>Prof Sarah Nuttal, </strong>Director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, the preeminent interdisciplinary research institute in the humanities and social sciences in South Africa. (Fri 7 December, 12:00): <em>Dark Light: Coming Out of Trauma</em>​.<br></li><li><strong>Judge Albie Sachs,</strong> former judge of the South African Constitutional Court and  chief architect of the post-apartheid constitution: (Friday 7 December, 16:45, with Homi Bhabha): <em>Living with the Past: A Conversation</em><br></li><li><strong>Prof Michael Rothberg</strong>, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), well-known scholar on trauma, memory and postcolonial theory (Sat 8 December, 08:45): <em>T</em><em>he Implicated Subject: Rethinking Political Responsibility</em></li><li><strong>Prof Achille Mbembe</strong>, Wits University, public intellectual and major figure in the fields of African history, politics, and social science Sat 8 Dec: 17:00 (lecture open to the public)<br></li><li><strong>Tamar Garb</strong>, Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies at University College London, her work addresses art and culture in South Africa, feminism, race and global politics: (Sunday 9 December, 09:00): <em>Making Art in the Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma</em><br></li><li><strong>Jacqueline Rose</strong> (University of London) and <strong>Jessica Benjamin</strong> (New York psychoanalyst) are both internationally known for their work on the relationship between psychoanalysis and feminism and their engagement with the politics of Israel-Palestine (Sun 9 December 15:45): <em>What Light Might Psychoanalytic Attention to the Inner Life Throw on the Repetitions of History?</em></li></ul><div><i>​</i>​​The Organiser-in-Chief for the conference is <a href="/">Stellenbosch University</a> (SU) Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Research Chair for <a href="/english/faculty/arts/historical-trauma-transformation/overview">Historical Trauma and Transformation. </a> It is organised in collaboration with the <a href="https://www.humanrights.unsw.edu.au/">Australian Human Rights Institute</a> at the <a href="https://www.unsw.edu.au/">University of New South Wales</a>, Sydney Australia and the   <a href="http://www.ijr.org.za/">Institute for Justice and Reconciliation </a>. </div><br>The conference brings together a group of scholars and practitioners from more than 20 countries and from different disciplinary backgrounds to reflect on the vexed questions of historical wounding and its haunting legacies. An important theme of the conference is the role of the arts in addressing human rights crimes and as a strategy in helping countries to come to terms with their violent histories. <br><br>Papers presented at the conference will deal with, among others, the following themes: how George Washington University in Washington DC is addressing its history of owning slaves in the 19<sup>th</sup> century and selling them to help bolster the university's finances; Canada and Australia's efforts to foster reconciliation between Aboriginal people and whites in these countries; and a discussion on dialogue through the arts between children of perpetrators and children of victims of genocide. <br><br><strong>Children and grandchildren of victims—stories from Soviet Russia to South Africa</strong><br><br>A unique feature of the conference is an opportunity for conference delegates to listen to stories of experiences of gross human rights violations from victims' families or survivors. At this year's conference the focus will be on encounters between perpetrators and young descendants of victims. Denis Karagodin from Siberia, Russia, will speak about his search for his great grandfather's executioner and meeting the killer's granddaughter. <br><br>Young South Africans who were children when their parents were murdered during apartheid will speak about their encounters with perpetrators:<br><ul><li>Lindiwe Hani will speak about meeting Janusz Walus, the man who assassinated her father, Chris Hani.</li><li>Candice Mama and Siya Mgoduka, whose fathers were killed in operations in which Eugene de Kock was involved, will reflect on their thoughts on de Kock. Mgoduka will also be in conversation with his mother, Doreen Mgoduka, about her forgiving de Kock.</li><li>The legacies of conscription into the South African Defence Force during the years of apartheid will also be addressed.</li></ul>​​Commenting on the significance of the collaboration with the Australian Human Rights Institute, Gobodo-Madikizela said: “The political turbulence and the intergenerational struggles that are playing out in post-apartheid South Africa and the raging debates in Australia about the failure of the Australian Constitution to recognise the rights of Aboriginal Australians, make these two countries important starting points as sites of reflection on the themes of this conference. <br><br>“The conference, however, has a transnational and multicultural focus, and will take discussions beyond South Africa and Australia. Discussions will showcase some of the latest research globally on the themes of the conference, and engage in critical reflection on the representation of historical trauma through the creative arts—including film, photography, theatre and visual arts," she adds.​<br><p>SU will honour Homi Bhabha with an honorary doctorate at its December 2018 Graduation Ceremony. </p><p>The conference ends on Sunday 9 December with an event to celebrate the 20<sup>th</sup> anniversary of the submission of the report of the TRC and to honour Archbishop Tutu for his work. A music theatre performance by the Rwandan group Mashirika, curated by multiple award winning artist Hope Azeda will perform a piece about healing and reconciliation titled “Africa's Hope." </p><ul><li>Access the conference website <a href="http://recognitionreparationandreconciliation2018.co.za/">here</a> and the programme <a href="http://recognitionreparationandreconciliation2018.co.za/programme/">here​</a>. <br></li></ul><div><br></div>
Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela receives third honorary doctoratehttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6370Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela receives third honorary doctorateCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>​Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Research Chair in Studies in Historical Trauma and Transformation at Stellenbosch University (SU), received an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University in Grahamstown on Friday (12 April 2019). This was her third honorary degree after having been honoured in similar fashion by Holy Cross College in Massachusetts, USA and Friedlich Shiller University Jena in Germany. <br></p><p>Gobodo-Madikizela, an alumna of Rhodes University, received the degree Doctor of Laws (LLD), honoris causa, for her trailblazing work to research topics such as guilt, remorse, forgiveness, the dialogue between perpetrators and victims as well as the way in which trauma is experienced by individuals and in political systems. <br></p><p>Rhodes University praised her for her contribution to trauma research and her efforts to relay the stories of victims, to humanise offenders and to bring a message of hope, empathy, dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation to a society characterised by violence and trauma. <br></p><p>In her <a href="/english/Documents/newsclips/A%20New%20Vision%20of%20the%20Postclolonial%20-%20Rhodes%20Award.pdf" style="text-decoration:underline;"><span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0" style="text-decoration:underline;"><strong>acceptance speech</strong></span>​</a>, Gobodo-Madikizela expressed her gratitude for the honour bestowed upon her. She said she was fully aware of the honour and challenge locked up in this award that came from a university that encouraged his alumni to lead and to be torchbearers. She encouraged the graduands to take up their places as leaders in society and to campaign for justice and equity. <br></p><p>This is the third time that Gobodo-Madikizela was honoured by Rhodes University. She received the institution's Social Change and Distinguished Old Rhodian Award in 2010 and 2017 respectively. </p><p>She was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Human Rights Violations Committee. She has received several international and national awards and the National Research Foundation has acknowledged her as a researcher of high international standing.<br></p><p>Since 2017, Gobodo-Madikizela has been serving as research advisor and global academic at the Queen's University in Belfast. This position is affiliated to the Senator George Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice where she holds a World Leading Researcher Professorship. <br></p><p>Gobodo-Madikizela also held research fellowships at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard Kennedy School's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and the Claude Ake Visiting Chair, a collaboration between the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at the Uppsala University in Sweden and the Nordic Africa Institute. <br></p><p>Profs George Ellis, Ian Scott, Glenda Gray and Ms Okunike Monica Okundaye-Davis also received honorary doctorates at the same graduation ceremony in Grahamstown. SU awarded an honorary degree to Gray in 2017. <br></p><p><strong>Photo</strong>: Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela receiving her honorary doctorate from Dr Adele Moodly, Registrar of Rhodes University.<br></p><ul><li>The University of Cape Town will award an honorary doctoral degree to Prof Jonathan Jansen, Distinguished Professor at SU's Faculty of Education, in December 2019. <br></li></ul><p><br></p>
World Social Work Day allows social workers to take a deeper look at their professionhttps://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=5552World Social Work Day allows social workers to take a deeper look at their professionLynne Rippenaar-Moses<p style="text-align:justify;">​​ World Social Work Day is celebrated across the globe on 20 March each year. This year, in celebration of the international day of recognition, the Social Work department in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences hosted a talk by Dr Abigail Ornellas entitled <em>'These clothes don't fit us anymore!' – Expanding Your Idea of Social Work</em>.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The talk forms part of a number of events being hosted by the department in celebration of the university's centenary year.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“The theme of World Social Work Day is promoting community and environment sustainability – these are big topics, and topics that social workers can at times shy away from, or limit themselves to certain areas with the belief that this is as far as their impact or reach can go," said Ornellas, who has just completed her doctoral degree in Social Work at Stellenbosch University (SU). (Read her full story <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=5542%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8B">here</a>.)<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“However, through my experience and research I have found that the social work profession is both capable of, and responsible for, a much grander vision than I believe we sometimes allow for ourselves."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">For this reason, Ornellas wants to challenge social workers to “go further and be bold in their right and responsibility to tackle politics, economics and macro-scale challenges" and to engage with policies and government structures to make a far bigger impact on society.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">She encouraged social workers to start thinking of their field as a professional one, where they are capable of bringing about change at a higher level and not only on the ground.  </p><p style="text-align:justify;">During her talk she highlighted how the revised global definition of social work of 2014 calls upon social workers to “go beyond the individualistic approach we have been too long comfortable with, and to consider the collective and the structural causes of individual challenges".</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“In particular, I often refer to a need to understand the impact of economic and political theory and landscape on our profession – to critically question the intervention activities we undertake and ask, “Why? Why this way? For what and toward what?," said Ornellas.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">For the last few years, Ornellas has been focusing on expanding her research knowledge of social work and building up her expertise. Currently, she is a postdoctoral research fellow of the Social Work department at SU. Before completing her doctoral degree at the university, she spent some time travelling as a full-time research associate for the department across 11 countries. This expedition was funded thanks to two EU International Research Staff Exchange Schemes. Over the years her work has also been published in more than seven scientific international publications and she has lectured and presented at conferences in South Africa, Portugal, Italy, Spain, England, South Korea, Russia, Finland and India.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">While she did not work as a social worker following her studies, the degree programme in the department is set up in such a manner that students gain extensive practical work experience in both child and family welfare as well as clinical social work.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">It is these experiences during her Masters studies, she said, that led her to the concept of deinstitutionalisation.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“It was my work experience at a local state hospital in my final year that really propelled me into research as I became aware of the role of policy and socio-political dynamics in social work practice – which could limit or free the profession to fulfil the mandate of the global definition. My work was concentrated in the psychiatric ward, and at the time South Africa was undergoing a transition toward deinstitutionalisation of mental health care. This where institutional psychiatric facilities are shut down and mental health care is shifted to community-based initiatives," explained Ornella.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“This sounded like a noble idea," said Ornellas, “but when implemented in a neoliberal (a policy model favouring free-market capitalism) environment, it is very much a cost-saving exercise that frees the state from the expense of mental health care, turning this responsibility over to civil society without sufficient community development and support or facilities."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">It is one of the main reasons, she said, that the Life Esidimeni tragedy took place. In 2016, the decision to move patients from Life Esidimeni, a state-run facility, to a number of NGOs that were ill prepared to accommodate these patients led the deaths of 144 vulnerable patients.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“Some of the conversations I had with social workers attempting to navigate this shift and assist vulnerable groups affected by deinstitutionalisation still haunt me today. They felt they were hitting out against a solid brick wall. The frustration and desperation was concrete. It made me realise that social work research had a role to play in challenging the structural systems that hinder social workers on the ground," added Ornellas.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“What I have come to realise," she said quoting from research she conducted with Prof Lambert Engelbrecht of the Social Work department at SU and Dr Gary Spolander  from Coventry University in the UK, “is that unless social work is able to correctly identify the nature and causes of social distress, it will be unable to recommend and support appropriate interventions."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“That said, I am deeply aware of the limitations in my understanding, as an academic. I am not facing what they face. But my commitment in my academic endeavours is to social workers grappling with these challenges. It's why my doctoral thesis highlighted the need to move outside of the small academic periphery, into unpacking and showcasing the views of frontline social workers," she said.  </p><p style="text-align:justify;">What she does know, said Ornellas, is that “social work has a critical role [to play] in the current neoliberal and globalisation debate and should not just acquiesce to priorities such as budgetary constraints and premises that one cannot make a difference beyond helping those on the ground. It also plays a critical role in challenging policies of current regimes that do not work.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“Social work should use research, pedagogy and critical voice to support it in facilitating social change, development, cohesion and social stability, as well as the empowerment and liberation of people."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">She encouraged the up-and-coming social work students to feel “empowered in their role and profession and to “truly be committed to social justice in its entirety rather than being an instrument or bystander to someone else's agenda and also touched on the need to “decolonise social work training from its Western colonialist, capitalist and neoliberal underpinnings".</p><p style="text-align:justify;">While she may not have practised as a social worker, Ornellas has intimate knowledge of the child welfare system. As a young child Ornellas and her twin brother often found themselves in foster care as their mom, who tried in vain to deal with a mental illness, struggled to raise Abigail and her brother.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“My biological mother wanted to take care of us but it wasn't easy for her and we would often need to be moved into places of safety. I have always been grateful to her for finally making the decision to give us over to another family permanently. We were adopted when we were almost five years old by an amazing South African family of musicians – they have been an incredible support system and really are some of the best people I know. The experience was hard and certainly there have been things I have needed to work through as an adult, but I wouldn't really change things. It certainly has made me a better social worker. But it is only one part of my story and there is so much more that has shaped me and my love for this profession. I try not to make it the central focus."</p><p>It is one of the reasons that led her to social work in the end, she told the audience.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“My first experience of social work was when I was in foster care as a child and so I have always believed it to be important – in my world, it's always been quite large and meaningful and it played a significant role in bringing me to where I am today, so I have a deep respect for it. As I went further into my studies, the more I learnt, read and witnessed, the more I believed this profession was even bigger than I had initially imagined in terms of its impact potential and role in society. Though the practice of social work is something I deeply love and wish to engage in in the near future, it was the profession itself, the people, the concept, that really grabbed me. This was something I wanted to be a part of."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Today as the world focuses on World Social Work Day, Ornellas hopes that the day is not only celebrated as a day for social workers to reflect on the “collective mandate into which our day-to-day practice falls , but that the day also implores us to think bigger, reinvigorates our commitment on days we struggle to remember why we do what we do and if we make any difference. It also encourages us to remember our strength and value as a profession – we are a globally collective body that plays such a massively significant role in societal wellbeing."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“In a country like South Africa, we need to know what our society needs and whether we are meeting those needs and if not, what needs to happen in terms of structural barriers for us to meet those needs. There are a lot of professions doing therapy work but there are not a lot of professions like social work, that engages with the macro aspects of the social systems that lead to social ills."</p><p><em>Photo: Dr Abigail Ornellas was the guest speaker at the World Social Work Day event of the Social Work department at Stellenbosch University. (Lynne Rippenaar-Moses) </em></p>