UP student selected for Next Generation in Social Sciences in Africa fellowship

Posted on September 30, 2019

A passion for academia and a love for her home country, Zimbabwe, is what’s moulding Chenai Matshaka into a formidable researcher.

Matshaka is the only student from the University of Pretoria selected as one of the Next Generation in Social Sciences in Africa fellows for 2019-2020. Matshaka, a doctoral student  at UP’s Faculty of Humanities, aims to use the fellowship to continue her research into how civil society narratives have shaped the transitional justice agenda of Zimbabwe.

The Next Generation in Social Sciences in Africa is a programme run by the Social Sciences Research Council. The programme aims to support the completion of doctoral degrees and to promote next generation social science research in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. The fellowships support dissertation research on peace, security, and development topics.

Matshaka, whose roots are in Harare, Zimbabwe, said her passion for academia and her desire to know more about why the world works the way it does was inspired by her parents.

“My father is a retired teacher and avid reader in diverse disciplines and instilled a culture of reading in me and my siblings from an early age. My late mother was a nurse and studied for Bachelors and Master’s degrees while raising all of us and this has inspired me to continue with my journey in academia,” she said.

From burying her head in novels, Matshaka transitioned to burying her head in textbooks as she studied for a Bachelor of Science in Political Science at the University of Zimbabwe.  She took a detour and studied towards a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Justice and Transformation. It is here that her topic was fine-tuned.

“Through studying for a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Justice and Transformation degree at the University of Cape Town, I was exposed to how different countries around the world have attempted to deal with their violent past and move on to more peaceful societies. This led me to reflect and ask more questions about the processes in my home country in which civil society has been and continues to be a lead actor,” she said.

Her research, Matshaka explained, looks at how understandings of mass violence through narratives shared about it shape the responses to this violence in a country’s ‘moving on’ process.

“In other words, the research asks how transitional justice as a response to mass violence is shaped by interpretations of that violence including its root causes, its perpetrators and its victims, among other concerns.”

By the time she got to her Master’s degree at UP, and now her doctorate, she had a clear idea of what path she’d like to pursue. Matshaka said she hoped that her research would add onto the discussion about how to think critically about processes of transitional justice.

“I hope my work will add to the discussion on transitional justice in Zimbabwe and beyond, as well as to thinking more critically about coming up with processes that are not only inclusive, but also move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with past violence.”

Matshaka said being awarded the fellowship was the highlight of what has been an enriching journey.

“It has been an enriching experience that has allowed me to think more critically about my research through mentorship and interaction with scholars from across the African continent and beyond. The PhD journey is often lonely and such fellowships provide an opportunity to gain valuable networks and friends in different disciplines who often become part of one’s support through the journey.”

- Author Masego Panyane

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