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Reasons to be Proud - #R2bP: Two Nelson Mandela University postgraduate students were among a host of women recognised as the best in the country in science, technology and innovation at the annual South African Women in Science Awards in Port Elizabeth recently. 

Sociology and Psychology masters students Nobubele Phuza and Thembeka Sdinane, respectively, were awarded the DST-Albertina Sisulu Fellowship in the masters category – making history as the first Nelson Mandela University students to be recognised in the Humanities and Social Sciences categories of the distinguished awards.

The coveted awards, hosted by the minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande at the Boardwalk ICC on Thursday night, honour women scientists in a number of research areas, including the natural (life and physical) and engineering sciences, the humanities and social sciences, and research and innovation.

The Albertina Sisulu Fellowship is part of SAWiSA’s efforts to serve as a platform to inspire the next generation of researchers, and is awarded to deserving young women currently registered for masters and doctoral studies.

Phuza, who also serves as a research assistant to the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education (CriSHET), said being recognised in front of women such as Vice-Chancellor Prof Sibongile Muthwa, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education Dr Muki Moeng and Director of Research Management Dr Kwezi Mzilikazi was a personal highlight.

“Just the entire space of having a ‘women in science awards’ is permission for me as a woman to be visible. Very often as women we are told we shouldn’t be seen, we should be quiet and dim our lights. In that space, we were celebrated, and intentionally asked to be vocal and celebrate our own achievements and excellence,” she said.

“It means everything to me to have received this award in the presence of the Prof Muthwa, Dr Moeng and Dr Mzilikazi. These are people who have been so inspirational at our University as women shining their light and giving me, as a young woman, the permission to be visible, and to be loud and proud about my excellence. It was truly phenomenal.

“It made me so happy because we have a female Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Chair of Council, and now here we are also breaking that ceiling as women in science and coming through to bag this fellowship.”

Phuza holds a BSc Chemistry and Geology degree from Rhodes University and a BA Honours Sociology from Mandela University. Shas been immersed in women and gender-focused research and action. In her Masters research, she complicates the conversation around gender socialisation by problematizing the taken-for-granted cultural practices that are shrouded with a gendered habitus.

“One of the reasons for doing my masters is to deepen the discussion around women and re-centre women in discussions on sport, gender and research in general. I feel that not many people focus on women when they research, and I’m hoping that as I continue with my postgraduate studies, I re-centre women in that way,” she said.

“The Fellowship award for me, in understanding the history and power of Mam’ uAlbertina Sisulu, is so profound and it is so wonderful to get that particular award because she meant so much to women and struggled for advancing women’s issues. So for me, as someone who counts herself as an advocate for gender equality, equity and transformation, I’m so proud to have received this award.”

An incredulous Sdinane, who is also a research assistant in the University’s Research Capacity Development office, said she was honoured by the award and felt validated by it.

“This award means so much to me. Firstly, it is opening doors that were previously not accessible to the likes of us and by that I mean black women in Social Sciences,” she said.

“It is also recognising the ability that we have. Getting a national recognition is a great achievement, because I am now one of the people who is recognised as a future great researcher. It also means that I get to inspire other women in the field of Social Science and Humanities to see their potential and to know that there is a role for us in the space of Research and Innovation.”

Sdinane said she was “more excited” at the support the award brings to publishing her, which see her research reaching a wider audience.

She pursued studies in psychology because she wanted to understand, and help, her uncle who lived with an undiagnosed mental illness until his passing this year.

“I always felt uncomfortable when other people treated him differently because he was not well mentally. I wanted to understand his way of living. I wanted to understand him as a person who is mentally ill and I thought ‘well, I can just do Psychology and perhaps see how his brain works’. Little did I know that I would be exposed to more than just understanding his way of living,” she said.

Sdinane holds a BA Psychology and a BA Honours Psychology from Mandela University. Her current research focuses on the cultural competence in psychotherapy.

“This is a very interesting field because it forces you to engage in discussions about issues that relate to our people, in their own context. With my masters I really just want to speak to the needs of our African people and try to highlight how the western epistemologies are not always contextually relevant to our people,” she said.

“With this research, I want every African child to read the thesis and feel included. To relate to what is being discussed and to have hope that one day we will get to a place where the African voice supersedes what we have been previously taught.”

The awards have, since inception in 2003, been encouraging and rewarding younger women who have started careers in research. The 2019 awards were held under the theme “Making the fourth industrial revolution work for women”.

Mandela University is proud of Phuza and Sdinane’s achievement, which bodes well with the institution’s work towards revitalising the Humanities, as articulated by Prof Muthwa in her inaugural address as a need to “redraw the frontiers between the ‘sciences’ and ‘humanities’”.

Celebrating excellence… (from left) Silakhe Budaza (Research Capacity Development office), Thembeka Sdinane (DST-Albertina Sisulu Fellowship recipient), Dr Denise Schael (Acting Director: RCD), Vice-Chancellor Prof Sibongile Muthwa, Nobubele Phuza (DST-Albertina Sisulu Fellowship recipient), Dr Kwezi Mzilikazi (Director: Research Management) and Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Internationalisation Prof Andrew Leitch.

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