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Looking Back Over The Last Year at SWOP

2019 was an eventful year for SWOP, a year of change and growth for the institute.

Changes in the SWOP Community

Prishani Naidoo stepped into the position of Director in January, with former Director, Karl Von Holdt, moving into a Senior Researcher post in the institute. Prishani has been seconded to SWOP from the Department of Sociology at Wits for a period of five years. Towards the end of 2018, we had the pleasure of welcoming Dineo Skosana as a Researcher in our project focusing on coal mining. Dineo is a recent PhD graduate from the Political Studies Department at Wits. Since January 2020, Dineo has taken leadership of the coal project and our broader Nature and Society research cluster. We have also been fortunate to have Hannah Dawson, recent PhD graduate from Oxford University, join us as a post-doctoral fellow.

Sadly, the year began without Senior Researcher, Gavin Capps, who resigned at the end of 2018, returning to the United Kingdom where he is now lecturing at Kingston University in London. We look forward, however, to continuing our relationship with Gavin as he carves out a different role for himself from his new intellectual home. 2019 also saw the post-doctoral fellowships of Somjita Laha and Brittany Kesselman come to an end. We are fortunate, however, to have Brittany continue her relationship with us as a Research Associate, and we hope that both Brittany and Somjita will be able to return to continue their work with us in the near future.

Because of these changes, SWOP’s Senior Management Committee now consists of Prishani Naidoo, Karl Von Holdt, Jacklyn Cock, Dineo Skosana, Tasneem Essop and Lucinda Becorny.

Three new Research Associates became affiliated to SWOP in 2019 - Bridget Kenny, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Wits; Matteo Rizzo, Senior Lecturer in the Development Studies and Economics departments at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London; and Dasten Julian Vejar, Professor in the Department of Sociology at the Universidad Catolica de Temuco in Chile.


Several successful events were hosted, and new partnerships begun in 2019.

Our popular breakfast seminars continued, with participation growing and many interesting and important contributions from current and ongoing research sparking conversations and debates amongst diverse groups of participants.

Brittany Kesselman's breakfast seminar on food justice.

In February we came together with the Wits History Workshop to host guests, Sabatho Nyamsenda from the University of Dar es Salaam and the Tanzanian Social Forum and Hoda Elsadda from Cairo University in Egypt, in a seminar on ‘Decolonising the University: Thoughts from the Continent’ as part of the Mellon thirtieth anniversary seminar series, ‘Mapping African Futures’.

The year also saw the launch of two new seminar series on ‘Alternatives to Capitalism’ and ‘Comparative Research Methodologies’. Shortly after the South African national elections, we began our discussions on alternatives with a public seminar on the elections, in particular, and party politics and representative democracy more broadly. Later in the year, also as part of this series, we came together with the Centre for Mexican Studies at Wits, the Wits School of Arts (WSOA) and Department of Fine Art to host Helena Chavez, artist and scholar based at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). In a public seminar, Helena presented her experiences of working as an artist and scholar in and with different activist groups, with a particular focus on an exhibition she curated of various creative social and political practices and interventions in contemporary Mexico.

September saw our second new set of engagements begin with Gillian Hart, Professor of the Graduate School in Geography at the University of California, Berkley and Distinguished Professor in the Humanities Graduate Centre at Wits, facilitating three ‘Workshops on Method’.

Gillian Hart, Nomkhosi Xulu-Gama & Bridget Kenny discuss research methodologies.

We also had the privilege of hosting two book launches. Bridget Kenny’s ‘Retail Workers, Race and Consumption in South Africa: Shelved in the Service Economy’ was launched at the Roving Bantu Kitchen in Brixton in August.

Gillian Hart, Mbuso Nkosi, Bridget Kenny and Noor Nieftagodien in discussion.

SWOP post-doctoral fellow, Joseph Mujere’s ‘Land, Migration and Belonging: A History of the Basotho in Southern Rhodesia C. 1890-1960s’ was launched at the Wits Humanities Graduate Centre in October.

Joseph Mujere discusses his book with Joost Fontein.

In August, SWOP hosted an extremely productive international colloquium shaped by the theme, ‘States, Citizens, Subjects and Violence: An African/Latin American Engagement’. The colloquium saw scholars working on violence from different parts of Africa and Latin America engage in two days of intense discussion and debate aimed at developing new perspectives on violence and its relationship to politics, citizenship, and subjecthood, grounded in experiences from these continents.

Research & Publications

In 2019, SWOP’s ‘Hidden Voices’ project came to a productive end with the publication of two more books - The Story of One Tells the Struggle of All: Metalworkers Under Apartheid

and Bonds of Justice: The Struggle for Oukasie (launch to be announced soon).

Finally, 2019 was an extremely productive year for SWOP in terms of our own research and publications.

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