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UWC Research Chairs

In order to continue to develop the pipeline for NRF SARChI Chairs, the DVC for Research and Innovation initiated the UWC Research Chairs.

The aim of the UWC Research Chairs is to provide leading researchers with the opportunity to contribute to developing their respective niche areas; enabling capacity building by having them identify a minimum of one PhD and two Master's students and a junior staff member or postdoctoral fellow to support with their funding.

The UWC Research Chairs are also required to attend a national or international conference to share and engage with other institutions and build networks. Let’s introduce you to our inaugural UWC Research Chairs:

Chair: Prof. Russell H Kaschula
Position: Senior Professor - Department of African Language Studies (Faculty of Arts and Humanities)
Qualifications: BA LLB, BA (Hons), HDE, PhD (Rhodes)


Russell H Kaschula is a Professor in the Department of African Language Studies at the University of the Western Cape and holds the newly established Institutional Chair in Forensic Linguistics and Multilingualism. For the first time in 2022 he taught an Honours course in Forensic Linguistics at the UWC and from 2023 this discipline will also be offered as part of the new Diploma in Language Practice, as well as at the MA level of study.

He has published widely in the field of Applied Language Studies, including Forensic Linguistics, Intercultural Studies and Multilingualism more generally. He has a particular interest in African Languages (isiNguni languages and isiXhosa). His more recent interests include language and crime, literary geography, as well as sociolinguistics more generally.

In 2020 he co-edited The Transformative Power of Language. From Postcolonial to Knowledge Societies in Africa, together with Prof. Ekkehard Wolff from Leipzig University (Cambridge University Press). In 2021 he published a book with Routledge in London and New York titled Languages, Identities and Intercultural Communication in South Africa and Beyond. He also co-edited A Handbook on Legal Languages and the Quest for Linguistic Equality in South Africa and Beyond, published by African SUN Press (2021), as well as co-edited a book titled Language and the Law. Global Perspectives in Forensic Linguistics from Africa and Beyond, published in 2022 (African SUN Press). He has an interest in creative writing and he has published short stories and novels in both isiXhosa and in English, one story being selected as part of the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing, and another published as part of a book where the selection of stories was done by JM Coetzee.

Prof. Kaschula has international standing and has worked extensively with scholars in the international arena. He acts as an international advisor to the Journal of Semiotics and Law as well as a number of other journals both internationally and nationally. He is also, for example, a Board Member of Tydskrif vir Letterkunde. For many years he was the scientific editor of the Southern African Journal of African Languages and he was a board member of the African Languages of Southern Africa Association, acting as its secretary and scientific editor.

He has a B2 rating with the NRF.

The language and law research and work that Prof. Kaschula carries out links directly to the SDG 4 of creating quality education. If this is achievable through the use of appropriate language skills, then it would also lead to SDG 8, speaking to decent work and economic growth as well as no poverty. It would also contribute to peace and justice as well as strong institutions, particularly in the legal and educational workplace arenas.

Chair: Prof. Jennifer Chipps
Position: Professor - School of Nursing (Faculty of Community and Health Sciences)
Qualifications: BSc Nursing (Wits), BSc (Psychology) (Hons) (UNISA), MPH (UNSW Australia), PhD (UKZN)


Jennifer Chipps is a Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of the Western Cape where she has been a faculty member since 2014 and Director of the School from 2018 to 2021. She is a NRF C2 rated researcher and was appointed as the Faculty of Community Health Sciences Chair for Digital Health in 2022.

Jennifer completed a PhD in Telemedicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and a Master’s in Public Health at the University of New South Wales, Australia. Jennifer has previously worked at the University of Sydney, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the NSW Department of Health in Australia and the NZ Health Research Council in New Zealand. Jennifer’s research interests are Digital Health, Mental Health, Ageing, eLearning and Systematic

The exponential increase in the use of digital technologies, such as smartphones and AI, the impact of COVID-19, and the global aim of access and equitable health care has brought digital health to the fore as an essential new niche area in health research. Digital health technologies are essential enablers of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and underpins the vision in South Africa of ‘Better Health for all South Africans enabled by person-centred Digital Health’ (National Digital Health Strategy for South Africa 2019-2024). Digital health has a prominent place in the UWC 2035 vision statement of a “substantial place in key areas in knowledge ecosystems which aims to improve decision-making and innovation through networks, collaboration and productive relationships, and effective partnerships with universities, Africa and beyond”. In addition, it is an essential part of the Community and Health Science vision and mission of engaged and connected research within a social justice framework, aligned to the WHO objective of promoting equitable, affordable, and universal access through the development of the infrastructure for information and communication technologies for health. (WHO Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2025 & National Digital Health Strategy for South Africa 2019-2024).

Digital health research is underpinned by user-centred design principles and are co-designed projects with stakeholders with expertise in clinical health, digital technology, psychology (behaviour change) and research. Digital health technologies are not discipline-specific, requiring interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration teams including clinicians, technology developers and bioinformatics specialists.

Digital health technologies are essential enablers of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and practically all SDGs have a digital component. Specifically related to SDG3: Good Health and Well-being, new developments in wireless technologies are creating opportunities to change the health sector, solving problems of geographic access, facilitating the provision of appropriate interventions at grassroots levels, reducing intervention costs, and raising public awareness about health problems and promoting healthy lifestyles through the use of digital media, and ultimately contributing to patient empowerment

Chair: Prof. Rajendra Chetty
Position: Professor - Department of Language Education (Faculty of Education)
Qualifications: BA (Hons), BEd (Hons), PhD(UNISA), MA (UKZN), MBA (UCT)


Rajendra Chetty is a postcolonial scholar with transdiscplinary research interests that draw from critical theory and social movement scholarship. He leans on critical educational studies and has written on the problems of literacy in high poverty communities and the intersectionality of race, class and inequality in schooling. He is the author of eleven school language textbooks and served on national and provincial parastatal bodies concerned with the field of English studies (National English Language Body, Shakespeare Society of Southern Africa, Western Cape Language Committee, and the English Academy of Southern Africa).

His international scholarship and visiting professorships include universities in the USA, India, Brazil, Sweden, the UK, Italy and Africa. In 2015/16 he was Fulbright professor at the City University of New York (Queens College and the Graduate Centre). He served as editor of The English Academy Review: A Journal of English Studies. His alliance with civil society groups such as Equal Education, Abahlali baseMjondolo, and READ, has seen him work with activists within a participatory paradigm, drawing consistently from critical race theories.

There are three focal areas in his research programme, namely literacy; race, class and marginalisation; and postcolonial writings. All three areas are connected by post- and decolonial theoretical constructs, the key being critical theory and radical intellectualisation based on the ideas of Freire, Fanon and Biko. The project on literacy practices in poor schools in the Cape Flats is cognisant not only of the neoliberal/neo-apartheid agenda of the state, but also the influence of out-of-school issues such as poverty, violence, gangsterism and drug abuse on classroom achievement. It is evident that disciplinary knowledge may be inadequate to address complex social problems and that there should be wider societal participation in knowledge production, using a transdisciplinary lens and foregrounding voices and narratives of civil society. Apart from discernible factors for scholastic underachievement such as a lack of resources, parental support, poor teacher knowledge and a regressive curriculum, the research projects note two new areas of concern: absence of cognitive activities and social complexity of poverty.

A new model of literacy that challenges inequality and provides strategic and sustained teacher support in disadvantaged schools is crucial in the post-apartheid society. The objective of the research on out-of-school issues is that classroom achievement cannot be separated from learners’ home and community environment. The issue of educational inequality emanating from socio-economic disadvantage is a complex research area and it links with increased levels of violence and high rates of youth unemployment. An allied component of the research programme is to extend the decoloniality discourse to local struggles and subaltern positionings.

The Research Chair programme is linked to SDG 4, that states that by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.

The key targets linked to public schooling are to:
  • ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood education;
  • ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, human rights, gender equality, a culture of peace, global citizenship and cultural diversity; and
  • increase the supply of qualified teachers.
Significant progress has been made to make education accessible to poor learners through the child support grant, no-fee schools, and school nutrition programmes. This resulted in the near universal attendance of children at schools. However, opportunities to gain access to good quality education have not been equal, due to poor infrastructure and a lack of well-trained teachers in rural and township schools. In 2018, among children aged 0–6, close to 43% did not attend any education institution and 40,7% were never read to, nor told stories at home. Non-attendance of ECD education exacerbates social class differences in cognitive development among young children and impacts on future learning ability. Each year, on average, 11 out of 100 children aged 14–17 repeated grades. Around 100 000 children aged 6–13 were out-of-school and the most affected were coloured children in the North West and Western Cape. An indicator of the rising levels of poverty in the country is that 83% of children participate in school feeding schemes.

Chair: Prof. Gregory Ruiters
Position: Professor - School of Government (Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences) 
Qualifications: PhD (Johns Hopkins University); MA (Cum Laude) (University of Witwatersrand); BA Hons  (University of Witwatersrand); BA (UCT)


Professor Ruiters has been a professor at the UWC School of Government since 2011 where he teaches and supervises a dozen or more post graduate students. His academic and scholarly interests span a range of socio political issues at the intersection of social justice, political movements, the environment and the local state.

The creation of a new research chair under the niche area of democracy and citizenship will position the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS) at the forefront of teaching, research, and knowledge on democracy, and provide opportunities for Doctoral and Masters’ students to develop their research interests in the broad area of democracy and citizenship and related sub-themes. The chair position will galvanise thought leadership on key issues regarding democracy and citizenship and will initiate and lead the development of new curricula in the research focus areas. The chair will also host public panels in partnership with other stakeholders, institutions and community groups focused on citizen engagement and related themes.

The most recent (2022) World Inequality Report notes: “The poorest half of the global population barely owns any wealth at all, possessing just 2% of the total. In contrast, the richest 10% of the global population own 76% of all wealth” The authors insist that “inequality is not inevitable, it is a political choice. In this context democracy in the sense of people taking control of their collective destinies remains a powerful idea, despite the fact that there are many different and sometimes contradictory beliefs about democracy and the role of institutions in developing democratic citizenship and the common good.

The rationale of this research chair is to assist in rethinking and re-envisaging democracy within our own context and in various sites (home, school, workplace and city) as praxis in everyday transformative processes. We also want to encourage investigations of the preconditions for transcending procedural democracy and building substantive democracy, informed by South Africa’s discrete spatial, infrastructural and housing inequalities such as we see in the township versus suburb divide (see Friedman, 2015). The project will encourage theorising social differences and politics of recognition and redistribution (incorporating issues such as non-racialism, provincialism, the black township and group identity in SA). The specific issues regarding the quality of elections, electoral systems, party funding and internal life of our political parties, state accountability, corruption, state capacity and social movements will also need to be looked at.

SDG 11 speaks to the goals of making “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. The Chair seeks to promote transparency and relevant knowledge to deepen public-minded civicness, promote spatial justice and social solidarity across class, gender and racial divides. It seeks to improve local citizenship and belonging for especially the excluded majority, youth and women on a city-wide basis rather than a parochial focus.

SDG 16 seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The Chair and its activities will contribute to strengthening this goal with a focus on democratic institutions, ecological justice, decommodification and citizen centred public administration reform.

Chair: Prof. Yonatan T. Fessha
Position: Professor - Department of Public Law and Jurisprudence (Faculty of Law)
Qualifications: PhD (University of the Western Cape), LLM (University of Pretoria, LLB, Faculty of Law, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, Diploma in ‘Federalism, constitutionalism and democratic governance in multicultural societies’, The Institute of Federalism, University of Fribourg, Switzerland


Yonatan T. Fessha is Professor of Law and Research Chair in constitutional design in divided societies at the University of the Western Cape. His teaching and research focus on examining the relevance of constitutional design in dealing with the challenges of divided societies. He has published widely on matters pertaining to, but not limited to, federalism, constitutional design, autonomy, intergovernmental relations and politicised ethnicity. His publications include books on “Intergovernmental relations in divided societies” (Palgrave 2022, co-edited), ‘Courts and federalism in Africa: Design and impact in comparative perspective’ (Routledge 2020, co-edited) and “Ethnic diversity and federalism: Constitution making in South Africa and Ethiopia” (Ashgate 2010). He was a Michigan Grotius Research Scholar and recipient of the Marie-Curie fellowship.

The chair focuses on constitutional design in divided societies, investigating the relevance and effectiveness of constitutional design in the management of divided societies, societies that are grappling with identity-based political tensions and conflicts. The Chair focuses on the priorities set by the Sustainable Development Goals. The imperatives of establishing and maintaining peaceful and inclusive societies has been recognised as a priority area in the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 16 of SDG calls for the promotion of ‘peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development’, the provision of ‘access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’.

Chair: Prof. David Holgate
Position: Professor - Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics (Faculty of Natural Sciences)
Qualifications: BSc (Hons) (UCT), MSc (UCT), PhD (UCT)


David Holgate is a professor of Mathematics. Before being awarded the research chair in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, he served as Head of Department and as Deputy Dean responsible for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Natural Sciences. He is passionate about sharing his love for pure mathematics through research, teaching and academic service in the context of South Africa, because he believes that Mathematics has a truly powerful role to play in nation building and addressing social injustice.

David’s research niche is in the overlap of Topology and Category Theory. Topology is a large branch of mathematics that studies continuity of movement, shape and time, and the structures that allow you to work with these. Category theory is a unifying theory that seeks to understand mathematical objects and structures by asking how they relate to other things. (Typically, mathematicians express their ideas by using the language of set theory, in which mathematical objects are understood by what belongs to them.) His research approaches topology from the philosophical standpoint of understanding mathematics by how structures relate to each other, how they interact. How does working in topology help to develop category theory and how does using the insights of category theory deepen our understanding of topology?

Besides his research interest in Topology and Category Theory, for which he holds a B-rating from the South African NRF, David also contributes to research in (undergraduate) mathematics education and academic staff development. He maintains a broad involvement in national mathematics activities, playing a key role in the National Graduate Academy for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, a consortium of South African universities that collaborate regarding the training of the next generation of mathematicians, statisticians and data scientists. He is currently on the Council of the South African Mathematical Society (SAMS), the board of the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) and chairs the Council of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).

Before joining the UWC David held positions at the University of Cape Town, where he completed his PhD in 1995, and the University of Stellenbosch, where he headed the Mathematics Division of their Department of Mathematical Sciences for a while. Over the course of his academic career he has been a research guest at over 20 universities across the globe and held visiting positions at the University of Bremen (Germany) and the Brno University of Technology (Czech Republic).

David makes sure that mathematics does not take all his time away from his life’s main passions – his family and the fynbos, mountains and oceans of the Western Cape.

UNESCO has declared 2022 to be the “International Year of Basic Sciences in Sustainable Development” (IYBSSD2022), highlighting the essential contribution that the basic sciences have to make in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. In making this declaration UNESCO explains that while “basic sciences are the sine qua non for sustainable development” their role is not always appreciated.

*Applications of technology are easy to recognize. On the other hand, contributions of basic, curiosity based, sciences are not well appreciated. They are nonetheless at the basis of major technological advances that stimulate innovation, as well as essential for training future professionals and for developing the capacity of populations who can take part in decisions that affect their future.