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Welcome to the Department of Political Studies, a dynamic team that strives for excellence in teaching and research. 

The department provides a balanced mixed of modules in our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes covering International Relations, Comparative Politics, South African politics, African politics, and Political Theory.

Vision Statement

Political Studies is an inclusive and engaged department, recognised internationally for our cutting-edge research, as well as innovative teaching and learning. Externally, we work collaboratively with a range of academic and civil society partners, and internally we strive for a collegial and stimulating working environment.

We are inclusive to students through offering value-for-money modules in a student friendly environment that demands the highest standards while providing innovative learning support for undergrads and enhanced supervision for postgraduates.

We are engaged through fore-grounding real world issues in our teaching, by preparing students for careers in civil society and government, and by working in research collaborations with other departments and NGOs, locally and internationally.

We are cutting-edge through leading internationally recognised research agendas, by being innovative in our teaching and learning approaches, and by fostering postgraduate communities of learning, including links with civil society and government.


The Department of Political Studies started in 1980, headed by Professor Willem van Vuuren. One of Willem’s interests was logic, and many of his publications analysed the use and abuse of nationalist discourse to legitimate authoritarianism, and to discredit rivals and opponents. 

Dr. Thabane Vincent Maphai was the first black African appointed to a tenured post at UWC. Under apartheid, the Commissioner of Coloured Affairs vetoed this appointment and Professor Van Vuuren re-appointed him when UWC won university autonomy during the 1980s. Professor Maphai's writings ranged from the political dynamics of the new democracy, to unpacking the arguments for and against affirmative action during the 1990s. He left us to join the HSRC, and then was headhunted by corporations. He is today an honorary professor at the University of Johannesburg.

Dr. Sipho Maseko rose from a first year student to Head of Department. He published on black student activism, including about himself,  before he tragically passed away from cancer in 2002.

We also acknowledge the important roles played by our former colleagues: Dr. Wilmot James, who later became a UCT Dean, and is now a DA MP; Dr. Greg Mills, who next headed the SA Institute of International Affairs, and today the Brenthurst Foundation; Dr. Cheryl Hendricks, who is currently Head of the Department of Political Studies at University of Johannesburg.

Keith Gottschalk came to UWC from UCT in 1984. With over twenty scholarly publications, his current research interests are on South African party politics, and the African Union. While Head of Department in 2006, he hosted the biggest and best SA Association of Political Studies conference at UWC. Keith studies Space Policy, and is a published poet. He completed his post-retirement Extraordinary Senior Lectureship in April 2014.

Dr. Bettina von Lieres, a former Wits SRC President, is now teaching at the Centre for Critical Development Studies (CCDS) at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. She was an Extraordinary Senior Researcher in the Department between 20014 and 2017.

Mr David Madlala, with a Masters from the University of New York, specialises in international relations and international political economy. He joined the Department in 2010, and now works as a researcher in parliament.