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Associate Professor Sophie Oldfield
Department of Environmental and Geographical Science

Sophie Oldfield’s approach to scholarship and pedagogy has been built through a decade-long collaboration with Gertrude Square and the Valhalla Park United Front Civic Organisation, a Cape Town community organization formed in the 1980s to challenge apartheid-era evictions.  Post-1994 it has opposed evictions and mobilized for state-built housing. Together, they have built a research-teaching partnership through which university-based research methodologies and activist research imperatives have been brought together to build a body of neighbourhood knowledge. In this process, they have taught hundreds of UCT students, sharing the imperatives of community mobilization as well as the realities of township poverty. Four elements have been critical in shaping the partnership. First, this approach has opened up notions of activism, from the spectacular and brave acts of protest and resistance, to the intimate everyday work and relationships that sustain the Civic. Secondly, the project process underlying our collaboration is critical to working together and building trust. Thirdly, the teaching has provided a place in which our collaboration has flourished. Sharing community-based knowledge and experience in this way has shifted notions of expert, teacher, and learner, reshaping how we know and the knowledge itself. Fourthly, we have committed to producing varied types of writing to document and celebrate each research project, tangible physical artefacts of our work and materials that ‘live on’ in the neighbourhood, in households, in the Civic, as well as in the university. This work does not reduce activism; its demand persists, as do challenging neighbourhood realities. Instead, this collaborative practice opens up rich and challenging contexts embraced through our partnership, its encounters, engagements, interventions, and surprises. In sum, this partnership creatively crosses boundaries between research, teaching, and notions of expertise across multiple sites in the neighbourhood and university, practises essential to its form of social responsiveness.

Mr Stuart Hendry

In 2011 it was decided that the Faculty would identify a social responsiveness initiative of sufficient scale to potentially involve an indefinite number of staff and postgraduate contributors, sufficient scope to draw in expertise from the full range of Commerce disciplines, and sufficient importance to constitute a major social contribution. This initiative would be given the status of one of the Faculty’s top three strategic priorities.

The initiative we selected is the SASDI Starting Chance Campaign. SASDI is the Southern Africa Sustainable Development Initiative. Their Starting Chance Campaign aims to upgrade 30 shack-based crèches into formal centres of excellence for Early Childhood Development (ECD), with each centre acting as a “hub” in a network of support that can provide resources and expertise to other shack-based crèches and constitute a model for promoting pro-education values in poor communities. The Starting Chance campaign was launched in recognition of the fact that a major perpetuating aspect of the cycle of poverty and inequality in the Western Cape are low-stimulus environments for young children, where learning and cognitive development are not emphasized and reinforced.  

As Director of the Commerce Faculty’s Development Unit for New Enterprise (DUNE) and Co-Founder and Trustee of SASDI, Stuart is perfectly placed to lead this unique collaboration. In 2010 he led a collaboration between SASDI, the City of Cape Town and student and staff volunteers from the University of Cape Town to build the pilot Starting Chance facility - The Mfuleni Centre for Early Childhood Development, which now serves 220 children.

The second Starting Chance “hub” is now running in Phillippi and the third will be built in New Crossroads, where, at Stuart’s initiative, the Commerce Faculty took over maintenance responsibility for a property UCT had acquired in the 1990s but was not using. Stuart is currently personally leading the essential effort to build understanding of our aims in the New Crossroads community, so that the community adopts the initiative as its own.  

Stuart is also coordinating the Faculty’s support for Starting Chance. The activities constituting engaged scholarship around the initiative include performing quantitative and qualitative impact assessments, using innovative scientific research practice to deliver policy-driving research studies; and helping centre Principals develop the business plans and acumen they need as newly formalized entities.

Stuart’s leadership and commitment to sustainable community upliftment is not limited to Starting Chance. He serves on the boards of various other NGOs, and in 2013 was elected to Chair the Board of the Homestead Projects for Street Children. In addition, Stuart has over the past five years led his Postgraduate students in raising more than R300,000 for various class charity projects, including Mothers Unite in Lavender Hill, the South African Education Project (SAEP) in Philippi and the Emasithandane Children’s Home in Langa.

In summary, the Faculty is rightly very proud of the fact that Stuart’s effective leadership and commitment to social justice has been recognised by the University.