At just 28, Christoffel Botha is making his mark as a lecturer, researcher and now PhD candidate in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies in the Faculty of Humanities. He details his role at the University of Pretoria (UP), why he has a passion for cultural preservation and shares his thoughts this Youth Month.
What attracted you to UP?
I have been employed at UP for about five years, and joined the academic fraternity shortly after completing my research master’s degree in Heritage and Cultural Tourism (cum laude). UP provides you with the professional platform to kick-start your career; the institution also provides you with the freedom to embrace your authentic self – to claim your stake in life and find your own voice in whatever field your heart, mind and soul desires.
What does your role at UP entail?
I serve in an array of teaching, research and community engagement positions in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies. My main responsibility is lecturing in Heritage and Cultural Tourism at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I also serve as a supervisor for honours research reports and master’s dissertations; as Programme Coordinator for the Bachelor of Social Sciences degree, specialising in Heritage and Cultural Tourism; and as a member of the Teaching and Learning Committee within the Faculty of Humanities.
In my research capacity, I am Project Coordinator and a senior researcher for the institutional partnership between UP and the National Department of Tourism. This collaboration is a decade strong and I am fortunate to have been involved in three pioneering projects as part of UP’s research team: ‘A policy review of the tourist guiding sector in South Africa’; ‘The indigenous story teller: The Northern Cape as a case study’; and ‘Remodelling the local domestic tourism market in South Africa within a COVID-19 environment’. In this position I have presented at various national and international conferences, most recently presenting at the Association for Tourism and Leisure Education and Research annual conference in Spain. I am also an institutional member to other professional and academic associations, including the Gauteng Tourism Authority (as a culture tourist guide) and the Historical Association of South Africa.
As a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Humanities, I will investigate the nexus between tourism, tourist guiding and the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) alliance. This proposed study aligns with my current research interests, which include the interdiscipline of tourism; policy and governance; tourist guiding; public history; and heritage and cultural tourism in a Global South context.
Why did you choose this career path?
I was born and raised in a small town called Kakamas in the Northern Cape, and never considered the big city life to be for me. However, I have UP and the individuals that became friends, colleagues and mentors along the way to thank for changing my mind about the “concrete jungle”.
I became involved in academia because I perceived teaching to be a true vocation and perhaps the backbone of society. I also discovered an immense passion for the heritage and cultural tourism domain, and the endless opportunities it holds in theory and in practice. Additionally, this domain provides a platform to explore the opportunities of multi-disciplinary research. And finally, the fact that I have the ability to contribute and assist directly with inspiring the next generation of travel practitioners led me down this career path.
What do you find most rewarding about your career?
I think everyone in this integral vocation can relate to the personal and professional satisfaction it brings when you witness a student having their “aha moment”. Seeing students finally make a breakthrough and understand something they have been struggling with allowed me as an onlooker to sense the direct impact of my work, research and actions on someone else’s daily discourse and future plans. I also found that celebrating small but significant milestones, building research networks, and working with an array of industry partners and platforms to be incredibly rewarding professionally as well as personally.
What is your advice to young people as we celebrate Youth Month?
Find your niche, keep it simple, challenge yourself, take constructive criticism in your stride, find your voice, be positive and, most importantly, embrace the “you” at every intersection of your journey, even in the toughest of times. A unique, confident and prideful you is priceless! I can also attest that hard work, commitment, drive, dedication and innovation always pay off, so go to that early Friday morning class in the middle of winter – it might alter your journey profoundly. And remember, you don’t need to know all the answers to life just yet. However, you must be willing, open and alert to go along for the ride and experience the journey, wherever the gravel road may take you…