28 September 2023

The biennial gathering united academics and students in the field, presenting cutting-edge research on politics in South Africa, Africa, and the wider world. The conference delved into a diverse array of topics within the discipline of politics and international relations.

The 16th Biennial Conference of SAAPS took a magnifying glass to pivotal local and global issues, including Community Participation, Service Delivery, and Leadership in Mpumalanga Municipalities, the Russia-Ukraine War and Africa, The African Continental Free Trade Area, The Resurgence of Military Coups, Africa and Migration, Big Data, Technology, and Pan Africanism, Foreign Policies of African Nations, and Climate Change and Environmental Politics.

Inaugurating the conference, UMP Vice-Chancellor, Professor Thoko Mayekiso, emphasised the auspicious timing of hosting this event in the midst of the University's 10th-anniversary celebrations. "To those joining us from beyond South Africa's borders, welcome to South Africa. To those journeying from beyond the Province of Mpumalanga, welcome to the land of the rising sun. The sun's rays symbolize vitality, warmth, and vigour for our University.

The staging of this Conference aligns seamlessly with UMP's institutional agenda commemorating our first decade. It is a distinct honour for UMP, as a fledgling university, to be entrusted with this conference.

UMPUMP Vice-Chancellor Professor Mayekiso opened the conference.

We cherish such experiences as part of our Pioneering Journey, Luhambo Lwemhlahlandlela. We have been an integral part of this exhilarating pioneering venture since our establishment in 2013. This stands as a significant milestone for our University and the entire UMP community. We will be celebrating a decade of excellence and opportunity on the 3rd of November 2023," she declared.

Professor Mayekiso further noted that at the national level, the conference follows hot on the heels of South Africa’s successful hosting of the 15th BRICS Summit, which saw attendance from all member nations alongside representatives from 61 other countries. The economic importance of BRICS was underscored by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the University's former Chancellor, during the BRICS-Africa Outreach and BRICS plus Dialogue.

"As the African continent, we are steadfast in our resolve that the continent's substantial resources be harnessed for the benefit and advancement of Africa's populace. The conference themes encompass 'Russia-Ukraine War and Africa' and 'The African Continental.' There is a palpable synergy between the conference theme and our institution’s strategic trajectory," she added.

Socio-economic stratification and ethnicity

SAAPS President, Professor Kgothatso Shai, extended gratitude to UMP for hosting the conference. "For us, being here is not merely an assembly of academics in discourse. Rather, we come to be an integral part of the enduring legacy of the University of Mpumalanga, especially the evolution of the discipline of political science on this campus, and within the National Council."

UMPSAAPS Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Economics, Development & Business Sciences at UMP, Professor Vusi Gumede.

He further clarified that the conference was convened to engender robust intellectual discourse on the theme of Africa in contemporary global politics. "You will observe that our presenters span from our very own students hailing from various universities locally and from different corners of the globe.

We are indeed optimistic that the intellectual contributions that emerge from this conference will significantly influence the substance and direction of Political Science performance at the University of Mpumalanga, as well as in other realms where the teaching and research of political science and international relations have yet to take deep root."

Delivering his keynote address, Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah introduced the concept of ethno-nationality, addressing the close interplay of nationality and ethnicity to the point where ethnic solidarities impact people across the societal spectrum, from the most privileged to the most marginalized.

"Regardless of whether one is the wealthiest or the most impoverished individual on Earth, in terms of socio-economic stratification, ethnicity serves as a binding force. Components such as language, religion, traditions, and all cultural tenets unite individuals, transcending social stratification levels," he expounded.

"Class divisions tend to blur one's sense of direction. Dialectically, they represent opposing meanings. Yet, ethnicity is not cast in stone; under certain conditions, you will find an ethnic group within a particular class structure exerting preponderant influence," he observed.

UMPUMP Students and Academics presenting their research studies.

Professor Prah went on to say, "Should we fail to harbour aspirations of being part of a multipolar world, suppose we remain divided as younger and older scientists, then we must earnestly work towards the unification of Africa. Failure to do so leaves us vulnerable to manipulation.

There is not a single country that forges ahead solely on the basis of a universally spoken language. Whenever you see a minority language dominating a majority in any society, you are confronted with either a colonial situation, a neo-colonial situation, or some form of Imperial domination."

Multi-disciplinary topics

SAAPS Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Economics, Development & Business Sciences at the University of Mpumalanga, Professor Vusi Gumede, presided over the session entitled: "Climate Change and Environmental Politics." This session addressed topics such as the Interplay in the Conundrums of a Just Energy Transition in South Africa, Climate Change and Environmental Politics: Unpacking Water Governance in South Africa through the Use of the OECD Water Governance Toolkit, and Politics and Power: The Contested State and the Just Energy Transition in South Africa.

Prof Siphamandla Zondi led the session discussing Pan-Africanism and other ideologies. Dr Koli Matebese-Notshulwana chaired the session dedicated to the theme: "The African Continental Free Trade Area." Among the topics explored were:

  • An Overview of Africa’s Economic Prosperity through the potential benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area: An Afrocentric perspective.
  • Reimagining trade relations and economic growth in Africa: Geopolitical fragmentation and foreign direct investment (FDI) fragmentation are projected risks for Africa.
  • How pivotal is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in driving frontier technology development in Africa?
The three-day conference culminated in an Annual General Meeting and an election. Professor Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, from the University of Bayreuth, delivered the keynote address.

Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Pictures ChrisplPhoto.