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2012

Associate Professor Mohamed Adhikari: Against the Current: A Biography of Harold Cressy, 1889-1916

The most striking feature of this social responsiveness initiative is the commitment of this academic to using his scholarship to sustain a grassroots project that benefited a school community in a wide variety of ways. For a period of over two decades Mohamed Adhikari, an alumnus of Harold Cressy High School, put his considerable talents as a historian at the service of his alma mater in the execution of heritage projects relating to that institution. Most recently, drawing on decades of research, he produced an edifying and attractively illustrated popular biography of Harold Cressy, the inspirational early twentieth century educationist after whom the school is named.

Mohamed Adhikari is a historian who has published extensively on coloured identity, including a book on the Teachers' League of South Africa, of which Harold Cressy was the principal founder. Because Cressy is central to these scholarly concerns, he features prominently in Adhikari’s academic writing. Adhikari has also for many years taught on the subject of coloured identity and politics.

Members of the school fraternity were involved in the design and writing processes of the biography from the beginning, and several provided source material for the book. This example of shared planning and inclusive decision making resulted in a product owned by the school community rather than by the author. An indication of this is that the biography is being integrated into the school curriculum, and Adhikari has offered to conduct workshops on the subject with both teachers and pupils.

Adhikari has shown considerable imagination and initiative in carrying his scholarship beyond academia to serve a broader social purpose. This biography not only explains, commemorates and celebrates the contribution of a progressive Cape educator, but has become a vehicle for achieving wider communal goals. More practically, it has served as an instrument for raising bursary funds for indigent but deserving Harold Cressy students. Adhikari persuaded Juta and Company to finance the publication of 1,000 copies of the volume as part of its corporate social responsibility programme. The immediate impact of this initiative is that the Harold Cressy Bursary Fund will earn close onto R100,000 from the sale of these books.

Although Cressy’s lifestory is meticulously researched, and the study meets the highest academic standards, it is written in a lucid, accessible style that will appeal to lay readers and make sense to high school students. This book not only provides an opportunity for learners to reflect on their own history but is also an eloquent reminder to the Harold Cressy teachers, pupils, parents, and alumni of the school’s rich historical legacy. Importantly, this innovative project has relevance beyond this constituency by serving as a model for ways in which other schools too can celebrate their past, find inspiration in the present, and raise funding for future ventures.

Adhikari's work represents an exemplary case of social responsiveness in that it is of mutual benefit to the academic enterprise as well as an external community, is a product of shared planning and decision-making, demonstrates excellence in knowledge production and dissemination, and harnesses professional practice in a way that helps meet the needs of our society.

Environmental Evaluation Unit

EEU’s research activities are strongly rooted in the arena of natural resource management and its interface with communities. Its activities are focused on enhancing understanding of the governance of complex human-ecological systems through collaborative interdisciplinary research across natural resource sectors mostly in poor and marginalised communities.

It works with a range of civil society and NGO partners including Masifundise, Coastal Links, the Legal Resources Centre, International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), Biowatch, the South African San Council and the Working Group for Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa as well as various government departments.

Evidence of shared planning and decision- making is evident in its workshops with communities to gather information for resource management planning processes  (eg at the Olifants estuary, Kogelberg and Dwesa-Cwebe); and through active facilitation of co-management processes in communities such as Hangberg, Ebenhaeser and Kleinmond, as well as development of guidelines and academic publications on lessons learned from co-management processes.  The Unit work in poor rural communities in South Africa (Sokhulu, Mbonambi, Mankosi) and Mozambique (Gala, Barra, Tofo)focuses on investigating benefit-sharing interventions that secure social justice outcomes. Involvement of the community in all aspects of the research process is considered critical including framing of the research, employing research assistants from local communities, sharing resources and building capacity of key informants and stakeholders.

The EEU’s work has enriched the core processes of the university. The EEU has published on new approaches to resource governance involving disadvantaged communities and also on the mutual benefits of these models to local communities. The EEU was strongly involved in research to support the rights of the San over the Hoodia plant and continues to work with biodiversity custodians and traditional knowledge holders to ensure they receive fair benefits from use of this knowledge. It has produced a wide range of scholarly outputs to disseminate knowledge. The outputs range from peer reviewed academic publications, research and technical reports, books and book chapters, affidavits, policy briefs, material in academic curricula, guidelines, conference papers and proceedings, short course training manuals, and community newsletters. In terms of teaching the initiative involves postgraduate students in action research with socially responsive outcomes, providing context for theoretical approaches, and valuable experience for students and community researchers. It also integrates research findings emerging from its work into evidence-based teaching and learning programmes convened by EEU staff including an ENGEO post graduate module titled ‘Managing Complex Human-Ecological Systems’2 week input to an ENGEO third year course on Sustainability and the Environment;  and input to a postgraduate module for the Masters in Conservation Biology.  In conducting its research, the EEU applies innovative models of including local communities in all aspects of research, builds capacity and shares resources with these communities. This participatory method has allowed the voices of marginalised communities to emerge and influence policy and management practices. .

UCT has benefited enormously from the work of the EEU.The growing number of MPhil, MSc and PhD enrolments in the field points to the strength of the various programmes and contributes to a world-class teaching and research node within UCT. Its engagement with various communities external to the University renders this work absolutely at the centre of what we mean by social responsiveness. Indeed, the EEU provides this institution with a fine role model of the concept.