Researchers whose work changes human lives honoured with CEOs’ prestigious Award
Social sciences and humanities research scholars whose work helps uplift the human condition were acknowledged and honoured at a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Universities South Africa (USAf) CEO’s Awards ceremony in Pretoria last Thursday (13 April 2023).
Opening the prestigious Social Justice themed event, host and HSRC Chairperson, Dr Cassius Lubisi (left), said: “We need to pause and remind ourselves why the fields of human and social sciences are so important and deserving of this kind of dedication.” He articulated a need for distinguishing social sciences and humanities awards from other existing awards.
Said Dr Lubisi: “There are other awards: The National Research Foundation (NRF) rewards an outstanding scholar each year, the eligibility for which is open to all fields. “The National Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Academy of Sciences of South Africa make annual book awards to deserving local scholars who produce outstanding monographs and scholarly work in the human and social sciences.“But this award is different from other awards in that it acknowledges a lifetime contribution that influences and shapes the humanities and social sciences.”
This, Dr Lubisi said, was the reason for celebrating the outstanding contributions “that provide and explain our social compasses this year, with a particular focus on social justice.”
Now in its 7th year, the CEOs’ Award also celebrates emerging and young scholars and teams. Since 2020, the HSRC has collaborated with USAf on this programme.
Speakers at the event, held at The Menlyn Maslow hotel in Pretoria, told how social sciences and humanities research influences and directs policymakers on how to improve socio-political and economic experiences.
The Social Justice theme helped identify innovative research projects focussed on social justice theory and practices, and which were aimed at achieving transformative impact in communities – socially, scientifically and otherwise.
The awards recognised scholars and researchers who approached social justice issues using sharpened analytical lenses, rigorous conceptualisation, and research methods characterised by meaningful engagement with their peers and the affected communities.
The researchers focused on questions related to policies or interventions aimed at addressing inequities, inequalities, unemployment and poverty. Their work also proposed solutions to these social challenges.
Dr Lubisi, who explained that he had been part of the adjudicating process for two years, said: “It has been a privilege to engage with the exceptional research outputs that our human and social scientists produce.
“It’s particularly encouraging, given our critical need for evidence-based policy and reforms, that this work is not purely academic or abstractly theoretical but solution-oriented with a view to solving problems that confront the human condition on a daily basis.”
Acknowledging how difficult competitions are, Dr Lubisi said that singling out an individual or one team was “never easy,” adding that each of the nominations received was “more than worthy and contributes in its unique way and focus to the corpus of human and social sciences research in South Africa.”
The HSRC-USAf partnership
Higher Leadership and Management (HELM) director, Dr Oliver Seale (right), standing in for the CEO of Universities South Africa (USAf), Dr Phethiwe Matutu, explained why the HSRC-USAf partnership, begun in 2020, was so important. “It celebrates one of the core missions of our universities: research and innovation. USAf’s established relationships with universities mean that there is a wider audience to reach through these awards. The partnership seems to have injected a new level of energy and interest into these awards.”
Dr Seale added that the Social Justice theme is “a critical and important area in our universities, society, and our country.”
In 2022 three categories were recognised:
- Established Researcher
- Emerging Researcher
- Team Award
A new category, introduced in 2023, is that of a Mid-career Researcher. Alongside it, the Established Researcher Medal is equivalent to a Lifetime Achiever recognition that was bestowed on Professor Ashwin Desai, of the University of Johannesburg.
Professor Heidi van Rooyen (left), Group Executive at the HSRC’s Impact Centre, echoed these sentiments.
The awards, she said, recognised Social Justice research excellence “in the context of enduring inequities and inequality in this country and around the globe. This is a timely reminder that research in social sciences and humanities can help us address and understand these social realities.”
Naming the universities that were honoured – Nelson Mandela University, Rhodes University, the University of Johannesburg, University of KwaZulu Natal, University of South Africa and the University of the Witswatersrand, Professor Van Rooyen said they were all doing innovative engaged research.
“Their work, enquiring deeply into social justice, ably demonstrates how these theories in social science and humanities, these frameworks, methodologies, interventions, programmes and policies can be progressive, transformative, powerful, and meaningful in our pursuit of social justice.
In her vote of thanks speech, the HSRC CEO, Professor Sarah Mosoetsa (right) – who has only been in her new position for 10 weeks – said it was good to be in a room “filled with beautiful souls who continue to build the humanities and social sciences in this country and in the global south.” She singled out Professor Pamela Maseko, the President of the South African Humanities Deans Association, for the enormous work she has done in the space of the humanities and social sciences.
Addressing the finalists and winners, she said: “We hope that this recognition propels you to new heights – for the social sciences, for the greater good, and for our country.”
Commenting on the importance of the theme Social Justice Dr Mosoetsa said: “For me Social Justice means many things, but particularly standing up against sexism, ageism and racism.”
Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.