Development Studies Graduation Day: Hooray!

Posted on May 20, 2024

Studying for a degree involves a lot of work and dedication, as does teaching. This makes it all the more important that we celebrate the achievements. From the end of April to mid-May 2024 has been a time of celebration as there were daily graduations conducted at the University of Pretoria. It is amazing to see how many graduates the University produces. For weeks, the large Rembrandt Hall has been full every day with students waiting for their moment on the stage with family and friends there to cheer for them.

The 14th of May 2024 was the day for the Development Studies graduates, along with some of the other disciplines in the Faculty of Humanities. I was proud to see our honours, masters, and doctorate students climb the stage to receive their degrees and the recognition they deserve. Congratulations to all of them for making it this far.

It was particularly gratifying to see eight doctoral candidates receive their Development Studies degrees at this one graduation ceremony. This is a remarkable achievement for the students and for the programme.

Zenzele (Zakes) Hlatshwayo is one of our inspiring doctoral graduates. Zakes is a lifelong activist who, from his childhood, was involved in the struggle against apartheid. This, of course, led to the disruption of his studies. As a young man, he was arrested and became a political prisoner on Robben Island. With the changes in South Africa in the early 1990s, leading up to the 1994 first democratic elections, Zakes was released and took up the land struggle. He became the Director of the Association for Northern Cape Rural Advancement that worked on land claims and other land rights issues. Later, he went on to lead the influential National Land Committee and, among other positions, he became the Chairperson of the South African NGO Coalition. Alongside these and other activities, Zakes continued to embrace the importance of education and currently holds his Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Development Studies.

Zakes’s thesis, “Emerging black farmers’ practices and state support to them: a study of three government Agriparks in South Africa,” critically examines Agriparks as a key state intervention intended to assist black farmers and transform the agricultural sector. It argues that Agriparks are a manifestation of the agro-cluster model embedded in a corporate and industrialised agricultural paradigm. The thesis finds that the model simply does not work for the majority of black farmers. In the context of high levels of inequality and pre-existing institutional racism, Agriparks leave most black farmers to work either in marginal production subsidised by the poorly managed programme or incorporate them on poor terms into corporate value chains within which they have no power. Neither option transforms the unequal agrarian relations. Zakes suggests a Critical Race Theory of Agrarian Reform as a more transformational approach within which the Agriparks could become sites of farmer mobilisation for change.

Now it is back to the hard work of teaching and studying as we advance learning and look forward to future graduations.


- Author Marc Wegerif, Development Studies Programme Coordinator

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