University of Pretoria Hosts 2024 Postgraduate Conference on Power, Transformation, and Sustainability

Posted on June 12, 2024


The Departments of Jurisprudence and Public Law at the University of Pretoria (UP) held their 2024 Postgraduate Student Conference on May 23-24 at the Plant Sciences Complex Auditorium. The conference, themed Power, Transformation, and Sustainability, provided an opportunity for postgraduate students and academics to engage in critical conversations about current challenges and opportunities within the framework of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Professor Ntombizozuko Dyani-Mhango, Head of the Department of Public Law, began the conference proceedings by welcoming guests, presenters, and participants. "This gathering comes at an opportune time, following an eventful week in South Africa" she said. She mentioned South Africa's case before the International Court of Justice regarding the Israel and Palestine attacks, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court's final decision on this critical issue, and Chief Justice Maya's nomination as some of the issues that drew national attention that week. Professor Dyani-Mhango expressed enthusiasm at hearing varied viewpoints on these critical issues, which fall under the broad themes of power, transformation, and sustainability.

Professor Elsabe Schoeman, Dean of the Faculty of Law, gave opening remarks and praised the host departments of Jurisprudence and Public Law for organising the event. She wished for productive discussions at the two days of the postgraduate conference.

Dr Trevor Ngwane from the University of Johannesburg delivered the conference's keynote address. His speech underlined the significance of organising a transdisciplinary conference for postgraduate students. His discussion centred on the complex link between sustainability, biodiversity, and capitalism. Highlighting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a worldwide road plan for improving living on Earth. He emphasised that sustainability includes both ecological and natural life, which are necessary for everyone's survival. Dr. Ngwane underlined the world's current uncertainty, instability, and insecurity. He emphasised that true sustainability is meeting all needs without constant worry, citing the example of not having to worry about fuel. When discussing global warming and climate change, he linked the biodiversity catastrophe to the capitalist method of production, whereby he mentioned that it promotes ecological uniformity and simplicity, resulting in the loss of species diversity and extinction. Citing Kohei Saito's criticism of the SDGs as simple greenwashing, Dr Ngwane advocated for an examination of the historical and socioeconomic causes of the biodiversity crisis. He criticised misguided approaches such as biological determinism and denialism, arguing for systemic transformation rather than just climate change mitigation. He went on to say that fixing social and environmental flaws requires a reform of the current economic system.

A thought-provoking session on gender inequality, chaired by Ms Ilana le Roux, began, with talks focusing on gender disparity. Ms. Agnes Nzisa Rogo emphasised the nexus of climate change, gender inequality, and school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV), as well as the right to an education. Mr. Allan Gerald Sserwanga investigated the rights of gender and sexual minorities in Africa's SDGs 2030 projects, disputing the "Un-African" viewpoint, while Adv. Sienta Beukes-Bekker investigated the cultural significance of surnames in terms of power and sustainability.

Adv Noluthando Ncame chaired a session on environmental sustainability and human rights. Mr Kamagano Sethono spoke about the health and well-being experiences of members of African Initiated Churches, such as the Zion Christian Church and the Nazareth Baptist Church. Mr Jaco van der Merwe investigated the links between sustainable development and animal rights, while Mr Lazarus K Moeletsi examined the issues of South Africa's unrehabilitated derelict mines, relating sustainability to human rights.

Headed by Mx Nathan Milanzi, focused on economic issues. Ms. Sibabalwe Gabazana discussed how neocolonialism impedes African development, Ms. Dunga Matholo Mashilo assessed South Africa's energy crisis as a barrier to achieving SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), and Ms Elisa Rinaldi criticised law harmonisation from a development and modernity standpoint.

The second day of the conference had four sessions, with the first focusing on health, innovation, and justice. In the session on excellent health and well-being, chaired by Ms Lizelle le Roux, Ms Thabisile Zama Mtshali offered indigenous perspectives on hunger in South Africa. Mrs. Kedibone Gloria Kgosana examined rising medico-legal claims in South Africa and potential changes, Mr Mutsi Phethedi Mleya spoke about Zimbabwean governance and health care delivery, and Ms Blossom Matizirofa gave an African-centric critical analysis of development. 

The session on sustainable innovation, chaired by Ms Barbara Sambo, featured Ms Emihle Majikija advocating for regulatory shifts for intelligent and informed motor vehicles, Mr Obakeng Ncube criticising access to education and digital education in Africa, and Mrs Emilie Danielle Mbock investigating the health-promoting properties of sorghum through malting and fermentation. Ms Jolanda Pretorius hosted a session on reduced inequalities, which featured Mr Muleka Phumudzo Nengwani examining impediments to decolonizing identities in higher education and Ms Mpho Olivia Ramothwala reviewing the efficiency of South African child assistance grants.  A representative of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network South Africa (SDSN SA) led an information session about joint research opportunities. Mr. Foster Maluleke discussed the role of international non-profits in ensuring fair working conditions, Mr. Jacob Mahlangu discussed power dynamics in modern governance, and Mr. Tinotenda M Muringani presented a case study on community empowerment through the Amanzi Kumntu Wonke Project.

The conference finished with closing statements from the conference organisers, represented by Professor Joel Modiri, Head of Department of Jurisprudence, and the official closing of the conference by Professor Charles Maimela, Deputy Dean of the Faculty. The conference emphasised the importance of ongoing inter- and transdisciplinary research and collaboration in addressing global sustainability challenges, as well as the University of Pretoria's law faculty's commitment to fostering academic discourse that contributes meaningfully to societal transformation and sustainability.

- Author Palesa Mbonde

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