Reimagining Reproduction

Principal Investigators: Professor Nolwazi Mkhwanazi and Professor Deevia Bhana


Reimagining Reproduction: Making babies, making kin and citizens in Africa is a  project funded by the Wellcome Trust. The principal investigator on this project is Professor Nolwazi Mkhwanazi (UP), and the co-investigator is Professor Deevia Bhana (UKZN). More information on the project can be found on

In developing the research agenda on reproduction (biological and social) and its associated meanings, practices and technologies, we are interested in the following empirical question: How is the making of babies and their socialization – through care and kinning as well as their preparation to become future citizens – (re)imagined in relation to rapidly changing social, economic and planetary conditions?

By using the idea of re-imagining reproduction on the African continent, we aim to assess discourses and perceptions of reproduction that frame it primarily in terms of a natural given, of abundance, pathology, mortality, and irresponsibility.

Instead of starting from abundance, we start from scarcity, the idea that one does not have or have enough. Scarcity in children can be due to various forms of biological conditions (i.e infertility) but it can also be due to social and environmental conditions, as well as moral decisions. Instead of conceiving reproduction and the absence of it as a primarily biological process, we use the idea of “longing”. We ask how longing for pregnancies and children or for avoiding reproduction is related to what our sensitising notion of “re-imagining” indexes – new beginnings and, in some cases, emancipation (from for instance heteronormative orderings, understandings of authority and individual independence). We are interested in the intersectional characteristics of reproduction and what it may mean for people of different ages, races, abilities, men, women and for LGBTQI persons.

We are initially working in five countries across the continent – Eswatini, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa and Kenya. One of the values that unite us as a team is our interest in challenging and/or troubling disciplinary boundaries. One of our strengths is our diverse locations, socially and intellectually, and the differences in our career stages, experiences and trajectories. Disciplinary diversity is an additional advantage for this team given that we are vested in pursuing a research agenda that is collaborative and comparative, as well as building a diverse network.

In addition to the core team, we have an advisory board, with five members based in the five countries named above and an additional member from the USA. While we specifically want to avoid the inequalities that plague collaborations between the North and the South, as a team based in specific African countries, we are cognisant that we are not working in a vacuum. We welcome and encourage discussions and conversations with others on the continent, in other parts of the global South and beyond.

Research Team

Nolwazi Mkhwanazi is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of the Pretoria. She is based at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS). She is one of the founders of the Medical and Health Humanities Africa (MHHA) network. In her research, Nolwazi has been working with young people regarding issues of sexuality, sex education and sexual health intervention. In this work, her fieldwork sites span across Southern Africa including Botswana and Eswatini. She has collaborated with people in a range of disciplines including fine art, biomedical sciences, public health, demography and other social science disciplines. These collaborative projects include partners based in the global South, mainly in Ghana, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya, Chile and India.


Deevia Bhana is the DSI/NRF South African Research Chair in Gender and Childhood Sexuality at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her research focuses on building an interdisciplinary understanding of sexuality and gender across the young life course drawing from feminist, queer, critical masculinity studies and new feminist materialism. Her work on young sexualities, especially, but not only girls, places emphasis on the mechanisms through which gender inequalities are experienced and challenged in a variety of educational settings and within peer and relationship dynamics. She brings these insights to a wide range of questions that address the early experience of sexualities, sexual innocence, the intersection of young sexualities with age, race, class and social media, sexual health and education with special emphasis given to sexual violations and schooling.

In addressing an area of high significance, Deevia Bhana’s research brings a broad theoretical social science lens to the study of gender and childhood sexuality and contributes to this global field through her empirical material, theoretical reflection and development, and her positionality in South Africa.

Deevia Bhana is actively involved in supervising a large cohort of students and has a significant impact on building the research profile of the next generation of scholars in the field of gender and childhood sexualities. Deevia Bhana is an NRF B1-rated researcher.


Postdoctoral Fellows 

Dr Thandeka Dlamini Dr Marion Chirwa Kajombo Dr Nelson Muparamoto Dr Stephen Ombere Dr Lilian Owoko Dr Josiah Taru



EXPERT OPINION: Pregnant learners in South Africa need creches and compassion to keep them in school

Professor Nolwazi Mkhwanazi presents workshop and lecture at Maastricht University

Professor Deevia Bhana named a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)

Professor Deevia Bhana hounoured at HSRC-USAf Medal for the Social Sciences and Humanities event



- Author Charlotte Visagie

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