The South African Humanities Deans Association (SAHUDA) with the theme, Humanity’s Imminent Crisis: An Urgent Call for the Restoration of Peace, Stability, and Well-Being, in partnership with the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) as a sponsor, convened the 2023 2nd Biennial National conference from 25–27 October 2023 at Protea Hotel Ranch Resort in Polokwane. A three-day most successful and well-attended conference was co-hosted by the Universities of Venda (UNIVEN) and Limpopo (UL). In attendance were 13 Executive Deans from different institutions who graced the occasion. SAHUDA saw it befitting to convene this conference to address the following critical question: What role can Africa play in maintaining global peace, stability, and well-being, especially considering the recent COVID-19 scare and the escalating tensions between some countries? The Conference was officially opened by the Executive Deans of Faculties of Humanities, Professor Satsope Maoto (UL) and Professor Bongani Bantwini (UNIVEN). Prof Maoto indicated that globally, from any standpoint, the prevailing conditions are indicative of the imminent crisis confronting humanity. She further Some of the speakers, Executive Deans and members of the organising committee L-R: Prof Satsope Maoto and Prof Bongani Bantwini showed that the crisis is unfolding despite the promising advancements in medical health care, Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), and sophisticated modes of transportation. She said “Recently, humanity suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, and its consequences are still felt today.
Economies have since stagnated, humanity’s quality of health and well-being has deteriorated, and political relations are increasingly getting strained. The continued Euro-American hegemony, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the Palestine-Israel conflict are, among others, indicators of the state of crisis in which humanity finds itself.” Africa has over the centuries been in a state of disease due to human atrocities such as slavery, colonialism, apartheid in South Africa, and the covert yet malignant neoliberal agenda. Prof Maoto further said “We join progressive forces calling for the restoration of global peace, stability, and well-being. These crises are undesirable and likely to regress humanity’s peace, wellbeing, and prosperity.” Moreover, she alleged, “We are optimistic that at the end of the conference, all invited scholars, students, professionals, and interested stakeholders will have proposed restorative, tangible, and sustainable strategies and interventions that can contribute towards peace and stability.” Delegates were encouraged to strive towards finding contextually relevant solutions that will pull humanity away from the dangerous cliff.
In addition, Prof Bantwini expressed that attending a conference is not a luxury but has become a requirement from most of our university’s strategic plans. He said “Our strategic objectives emphasise, and demand increased research and research outputs. Our institutions are under severe pressure to deliver impactful research that makes a difference, and research that helps solve most of our social ills and complexities. He pointed out that conferences provide a platform and a great opportunity for scholars to build networks with other academics, interact with experts in the same or similar field of studies all around the country and the world, and share thoughts on recent advances and technological breakthroughs.
Prof Bantwini alluded that academic conferences present researchers with an opportunity to keep up with the latest developments in our fields, learn about career-changing prospects, and forge strong working relationships.
He encouraged students, who are emerging scholars, to learn from great scholars and mentors. He finally implored researchers, and experts in various areas to use the opportunity to exchange ideas and trade knowledge, most importantly to mentor the up and-coming and rising generation of scholars.
The opening of the conference was followed by an address by the President of SAHUDA, Prof Pamela Maseko who reflected on the background and the importance of partnership with NIHSS. As she unpacked the background of SAHUDA and its relationship with NIHSS, she highlighted that SAHUDA was established in 2010 at a time when the disinvestment in humanities, the arts and the social sciences in university education globally, in favour of the STEM subjects, was strangling these disciplines and led to questioning their value in society. She further indicated that it was also at a time when there were heightened calls to the academy, to redress the academic practices that marginalised African indigenous knowledge systems. Prof Maseko told the delegates that in partnership with the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences which was established in 2013, SAHUDA challenged the academy to rethink and reimagine the value of humanities in its academic practices. She reflected briefly on the profound significance of the relationship between the South African Humanities Deans Association (SAHUDA) and the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), especially the collaborative efforts to promote the revitalisation of the humanities in South African universities, with a specific focus on the pursuit of an Africa-purposed renewal. She mentioned “When the global academic landscape is continually evolving, it is crucial to recognise that the revitalization of the humanities is not a one-size-fits all endeavor.
Through SAHUDA’s partnership with the NIHSS, she said they have witnessed a remarkable shift in perspectives. The revitalisation of the humanities seeks to ensure that these disciplines are more relevant, inclusive, and impactful in contemporary society, fostering a deeper understanding of human culture and values. Prof Maseko stated that the theme of the conference requires us to dig deep from the foundations of our disciplines – understanding the value of humanities in developing critical reasoning skills, and skills for evaluation and appreciation of ideas and differences, skills that are critical in a healthy democratic state. The University of Limpopo’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning, Prof Richard Madadzhe gave a message of support on behalf of the Vice- Chancellor’s Office. In his message, he thanked the Vice-Chancellors of UNIVEN and UL for allowing the two universities to co-host this conference and for supporting academic projects. Prof Madadzhe shared that SAHUDA has to date produced 600 PhDs. His message was central to uBuntu, which means a person is a person through another person; therefore, we need each other in many ways.
The first keynote speaker on day one of the conference, Prof Mogobe Ramose spoke under the topic Reshaping the “One dimensional man” through the primacy of science and technology over philosophy. Prof Ramose, one of the gurus of uBuntu philosophy, gave a powerful presentation stating that there was philosophy in the beginning. He showed that the branches that grew from philosophy established themselves as independent academic and scientific disciplines but without roots of their own. He said “Today, they are conspiring to kill philosophy in pursuit of their aim to create an economic human being with injured reason and without a soul. Ubuntu ethics contests this creation.” The Honourable and internationally renowned scholar, Professor Ramose said “as Afrocentred scholars, we have to pursue the truth by aligning with Afrocentric research based in African philosophy. In that way, the restoration of peace, stability and well-being will be pursued in a more hopeful manner through scientific inquiry.” “as Afrocentred scholars, we have to pursue the truth by aligning with Afrocentric research based in African philosophy.”
Philosophy journey continues as the University of Venda’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Postgraduate Studies, Professor Nosisi Feza, shared her interpretation of what she titled “Agility of Higher Education in Addressing and Capitalizing on Mental, Psychological Abnormalities and Deviations of Today’s Society for Sustainable Development.” She
spoke during the second day of the conference. Passionately so, she emphasised the importance of bringing out the diamond in everyone. “We need to see rather than hear,” she said. Prof Feza demonstrated that depression is highly common among Higher Education graduates because of the scarcity of jobs and finding themselves irrelevant to the market. She talked of inflation rates that are not doing any justice but making matters worse hence the call for entrepreneurship skills. Prof Feza mentioned that Low-income countries are at the receiving end of this state with the rapid demands of digital literacies, artificial intelligence, and new ways of work. On the other hand, she indicated that energy supply hinders digital progress, specifically in South Africa. She pointed out that Higher education programmes in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Education have a huge role to play in changing and sustaining lives. The fundamental issue she raised is that the relevancy of higher Education depends heavily on Humanities, Social Sciences, and Education. “The ethical use of digital technologies will sustain lives only if artificial intelligence is understood how it could be utilised for the benefit of societies,” she added. On the second day of the conference, the Executive Deans of the Faculties of Humanities convened a special roundtable discussion to debate the conference question (What role can Africa play in maintaining global peace, stability, and well-being, especially considering the recent COVID-19 scare and the escalating tensions between some countries?) This special session made this conference unique and prestigious. The session was chaired by the Deputy President of SAHUDA, Prof Alpheus Masoga. The panel was comprised of Prof Enocent Msindo (Rhodes University), Prof Dumi Moyo (NWU), Prof Mucha Musenwa (WITS), Prof Alpheus Masoga (UFS), Prof Thabisani Ndlovu (WSU), Prof Zethu Nkosi (UNISA) and Prof Allucia Shokane (UNIZUL).
When setting the scene on day three of the conference, the Research Professor, Faculty of Humanities at the University of Limpopo, Prof Lesibana Rafapa cited the murders of black American men Justo Jaén, Michael Brown, and George Floyd by white American police, citing their deaths as a result of Eurocentric philosophy. He reminded the delegates about George Floyd’s last words who kept repeating “I can’t breathe” until he died, symbolically with a white policeman’s boot on his neck, as evidence of the police’s actions being justified.
The third Keynote address was delivered by Prof Lesiba Baloyi. The focus of his topic was on Releasing The “Psychology” Curriculum from The Prison of Western Epistemology:
An Argument for Cultural Parity and Representativity. It was found that the abolition of apartheid led to the continuation of the Western colonial epistemological paradigm, which claimed psychology originated from philosophy and claimed independence from it. This led to the exclusion of African ways of being, knowing, and doing from the educational curriculum. Critical resistance, such as the #feesmustfall protest marches in 2015, emphasised the need for cultural parity and representativity in education. An indigenous African concept, Tsa semoya/swa moya, can be used as a corrective to the Western understanding of “psychology.”
The 2nd SAHUDA-NIHSS 2023 Biennial National Conference has seen 117 papers being presented by students, emerging scholars, and academics under titles that affect society on a daily basis. The conference was structured around six themes namely: Philosophy, Religion and Education Studies; Psychology, Disharmony, and Mental Well-being; History, Memory, and Politics; Arts, Communication, and Media Studies; Cultural Identities, Cultural Diversity, and Intercultural Relations and Law, Crime, and Developmental Studies. During the Gala Dinner, SAHUDA presented some of the UNIVEN-UL PhDs graduates funded by NIHSS. Towards the end of the programme, there were presentations from the National Research Foundation (NRF) represented by Ms Edith Shikumo and Research Chairs who talked about the opportunities for Postgraduate Students and Early Career Researchers (ECRs) represented by Prof Tholene Sodi (SAMRC/DSI- NRF/UL Research Chair in Mental Health and Society) and Prof Mahlapahlapana Themane: DSI-NRF/UL Research Chair in Schools as Enabling Environments. The conference ended on a high note by giving three awards in the following categories: Best Student Poster, Best Academic Paper and Best Student Paper.A token of appreciation award which was sponsored by SAHUDA, NIHSS, UNIVEN and UL went tothe Chairperson of the Conference, Prof Mampwanyana Mahahlela who dedicated the award to the conference’s local organising committee.In closing of the conference was the Deputy President of SAHUDA, Prof Alpheus Masoga who applauded the
two hosting universities and proved to the delegates that the Northern Corridor is capable of hosting such a magnitude conference.