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PLAAS welcomes African visiting professor back from the diaspora

PLAAS is proud to announce that we are hosting Professor Thembela Kepe of the University of Toronto, who is also our former colleague, for six weeks on a prestigious African Diaspora Fellowship. 

The fellowship is an initiative of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), the continental association of scholars committed to building the next generation of African scholars. The fellowship is designed to bridge the gap between the African diaspora and the continent, bringing back senior African scholars residing outside the continent to contribute to research and teaching within African universities. 

SARChI Chair at PLAAS, Professor Ruth Hall, has a longstanding research collaboration with Prof Kepe, and is hosting the fellowship for the benefit of PLAAS and her cohort of MPhil, PhD and post-doc students.

“In early 2023, Professor Hall encouraged me to apply for the Fellowship. PLAAS indicated that post-graduate students could benefit from additional writing mentorship and training,” says Professor Kepe. The purpose of the fellowship is to mentor postgraduate students, make teaching contributions, and to foster research collaboration. 

Hailing from Makhanda, Eastern Cape, Professor Thembela Kepe’s academic journey took him from studying Agriculture at Fort Hare, to a PhD at UWC, where he rose to the position of senior researcher and then to deputy director of PLAAS.

“After spending a decade at PLAAS, I moved to the University of Toronto, Canada, in 2005, where I currently hold the position of geography professor. However, my research remains centred on South Africa,” says Professor Kepe

In early November, Professor Kepe and Professor Hall jointly conducted a residential writing retreat and workshop outside Cape Town, catering to Master’s, PhD, and Post-doc mentees. Beyond the co-facilitators providing guidance on thesis chapter structures, data presentation and writing styles, mentees critically analysed each other’s writing samples, practiced writing journal article abstracts, learnt self-editing skills, and provided constructive feedback on potential areas of improvement. Also discussed were finding one’s scholarly voice, writing in English as a non-native speaker, and integrating vernacular terms into social science scholarship.

The most tangible aspect of the writing workshop, Kepe explains, is the five to six hours of dedicated individual writing each day. “Participants indicated that the dedicated writing sessions, along with the feedback from the facilitators and other participants, were extremely helpful, as solid chapter or paper drafts emerged for most of them,” says the professor.

Prof. Kepe has published prolifically, both during his tenure at UWC, and since moving to Toronto. He has over 80 journal articles and book chapters, and several edited or co-edited books.  

“It’s such a pleasure to have one of our rock stars back to visit”, said Prof. Hall. “He is humble and accessible, and knows how to engage students with the struggles they are grappling with. This visit is just part of ongoing connections, including co-supervision of students and mentorship which can continue online via Zoom even beyond the fellowship – and hopefully form the basis of a more concrete partnership with the University of Toronto.”

The two professors have intermittently conducted field research together over the past decade, developing ground-breaking analysis of the outcomes of land redistribution in the Eastern Cape, and presenting findings to provincial and national government, and to Parliament.

PLAAS PhD candidate Shane Phiri, 3 officials from
the Dept of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, and
former PLAAS Deputy Director Thembela Kepe – our research feedback meeting to government in Gqeberha.

From left: Prof. Ruth Hall, Sienne Molepo, Tapiwa Chatikobo,
Shane Phiri, Ashley Fischhoff, Tetelo Maila, Charity Rusere,
Lumumba Odenda, Prof. Thembela Kepe, Dr Boaventura Monjane