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Inaugural and Senate lectures

The rite of passage to become a professor in a university has for hundreds of years included the test of having to profess your knowledge to a lay audience and fellow academics. Indeed, the origin of the title 'professor' comes from the need to profess, or declare publicly, one’s knowledge.

In a world of rapidly increasing quantities of knowledge, more and more specialisation takes place. One danger of this trend is that knowledge becomes isolated or ‘siloed’ and therefore fails to benefit from collective thinking and cross-pollination of ideas. It is in this context that we must see the challenge of professing knowledge with the general public and the larger academic community.

It is no simple matter. It requires an ability to conceptualise highly technical and abstract matters and to express them in commonly used language, often through analogy, allowing people who have not had the privilege to grapple with the subject for extended periods to quickly grasp the elements at play.

The Inaugural Lecture is thus a platform for newly appointed professors to share their brilliant discoveries, innovative ideas and deep insights with the public and the larger academic community. Additionally, these events allow for random connections to be made that are so beneficial for the creative process we call science. Professionals and academics gain a unique opportunity to engage across knowledge boundaries for the benefit of humankind.

Wits University is a proud host of such an inaugural lecture series. Our esteemed professors carry extensive knowledge capable of driving Africa towards improved social justice and a knowledge economy.

All are welcome to attend these lectures.

2019

Africa, economics and development
Professor Manoel Bittencourt from the School of Economics and Business Sciences
23 August
Event Time : 17:30

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

In this lecture, Bittencourt will talk about African contemporaneous development. He will also talk about the role of pre-colonial institutions, and the slave trade, and the scramble for Africa, and also about the colonial institutions themselves. To understand African contemporaneous development - and ultimately to influence policy - we must have African historical development in mind.

For that, new datasets, new methods and modern economics can really help. He will show how the literature on African economic development has evolved since the 1990s and how his teaching and research take the latest scientific developments into account.

Is a knot a knot? That is the question!
Professor Eunice Mphako-Banda
 
30 July

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

We go deeper into knots – those fascinating geometrical objects which are very simple to visualise, yet remarkably hard to analyse. Simply considering a piece of string, tying a knot and gluing the two loose ends of the string together forms a knotted loop. Such a knotted loop is called a knot in mathematics. Knot theory delves into answering the question of deciding whether two knotted loops made of flexible, but impenetrable material can be transformed by means of continuous modifications into knotted loops having the same shape. Further, one may ask whether an arbitrary knot is a knot. To answer such questions, knot invariants are employed. Two knot invariants; the number of components and the pathwidth of a knot will be discussed. Further, the mathematics behind these invariants, the Tutte polynomial will be presented.

The rise of dinosaurs in southern Africa
Professor Jonah Choiniere from the Evolutionary Studies Institute
 
25 July

Event Time : 17:30

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

Two hundred million years ago, a mass extinction event upheaved Earth's ecosystems, causing the demise of nearly 75% of its species. Dinosaurs flourished in the wake of this event, becoming the dominant land-dwelling vertebrates for the next 135 million years. Southern Africa's rich fossil deposits make it the best place in the world for studying this extinction and its aftermath. Choiniere will share the results of seven years of fieldwork and fossil study in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho, giving an emerging picture on the dawn of the dinosaur era.

Paediatric surgery at Wits: embracing the new millennium
Professor Jerome Loveland from the School of Clinical Science
 
18 July

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Parktown Health Sciences Campus

The Department of Paediatric Surgery has made a significant contribution to the development of paediatric surgery in South Africa, this through the development and training of numerous paediatric surgeons who have made their mark both nationally and throughout the world. The Department at Wits has become a major focus of teaching and training for South African paediatric surgeons, as well as for international trainees from both Africa and abroad. More recently, the Department has focused on enhancing its clinical research outputs, as well as developing specific clinical sub-specialties within paediatric surgery. This lecture traces the Wits Paediatric Surgery's origins from the infancy of surgery in Johannesburg in the 1880s, to a unit with a now well-established clinical and research reputation both within South Africa and abroad.

Writing decolonisation: Seven keywords
Professor Pamila Gupta 
 
27 June
 
Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

It starts in Goa (India), moves to Southern and East Africa (Mozambique, Angola, South Africa, and Zanzibar), and returns to Goa. The framing device will be that of “keywords” as a vocabulary of culture and society (following Raymond Williams, 1976) in order to reflect shifting research interests and writings on decolonisation.

2018

My anaemic symbiotic relationship with malaria
Professor Robyn Lynne Van Zyl from the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology in the School of Therapeutic Sciences
 
26 November

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Parktown Health Sciences Campus

Malaria remains a concern for all those living on the African continent. Attempts to elucidate critical pathways within this intriguing parasite, and to discover potential antimalarial compounds, have required commitment and resolve. This inaugural lecture will highlight some of the lessons learnt during the journey. 

The open road: Open and reproducible research
Professor Peter Kamerman from the School of Physiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences
 
22 November

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Parktown Health Sciences Campus

The past five years has seen a groundswell in the biomedical sciences for transparent analysis and open data. I will discuss some of the key forces that are driving this change in behaviour, and how technological advances are making it easier for 'old dogs' such as myself to learn (and teach my students) how to report data in an open and accessible way.

Finding Small
Professor Geoffrey Candy from the Department of Surgery, School of Clinical Medicine in the Faculty of Health Sciences
 
8 November

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Parktown Health Sciences Campus

Small' comes in many guises: a molecule, a bacterium in the gut, elucidating the mechanism of a disease, an experimental animal, the interaction with a patient, supervising a post-graduate student or mentoring and advising the trainee specialist clinician/surgeon. Scientists working in Health Sciences must undertake translational research to be clinically relevant. Candy describes the challenges and highlights working as a biochemist and scientist working in the clinical field of surgery and clinical medicine.

Women and children first: A deep history of health inequalities
Professor Lynne Schepartz from the School of Anatomical Sciences
 
30 October

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Parktown Health Sciences Campus

Drawing on her experience with health inequalities in prehistoric populations, Professor Schepartz presents how she pursues similar questions regarding the impact of gender and social roles on health in contemporary African societies. Her research employs a multidisciplinary perspective, incorporating data on dental growth and development, oral health and biocultural anthropology.

Rebellion and resistance: South African young adult dystopian fiction
Judith Inggs, Professor of Translation at Wits University
 
25 October

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

Dystopian fiction for young adults in South Africa has increased in both quality and quantity in recent years, and is able to hold its own against globally celebrated trilogies such as Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games or Veronica Roth's Divergent. While young adult literature often reflects changes taking place in society as the protagonists negotiate a sense of identity and position of power within the institutions of their society, in dystopian literature the young protagonists take a leading role in opposing and subverting the totalitarian societies that have emerged. This lecture highlights recent works by South African authors and seeks to situate them in both a local and global political and historical perspective. The focus is on the portrayal of female protagonists and questions whether writers are promoting the active agency of young women as empowered citizens or whether they are inadvertently reinforcing the traditional role of females as nurturers, ultimately dependent on their male counterparts.

Pursuing knowledge: The unpopular choice
Professor Charis Harley from the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics
 
24 October

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

Scientific achievement and the development of economic success has been the focus of universities, to varying degrees, since their first inception. More specifically, the research engendered by these academic institutions has been a part of humanity's attempts to seek truth. From this purpose followed certain intellectual and moral obligations, such as the continual support and sanctioning of debates around the merits of past and current ideas, and the development of those minds eager to attain knowledge. However, as society's norms and values have altered, so too have the pressures faced by universities, and the academics therein. Having transformed at the behest of so many, at times opposing forces, we should re-evaluate what we define our purpose to be, and how we aim to achieve it. Simplistically, are academics losing relevance? Are we still perceived as part of the intellectual elite of our era? Do we still hold with high regard the pursuit of knowledge, and aim to produce individuals who will contribute to society? Or have the pressures we face led to our consensual participation in a race for popularity, ultimate group righteousness, and hence continual intellectual comfort?

Mining and post-extractivism: How do we talk about contribution and cost?

Professor Tracy-Lynn Humby from the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management

15 October

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

Under a post-extractivist model of development, poverty would be a thing of the past and rights would be conceded to nature. Under the current dominant model of predatory extractivism, mining promises poverty alleviation and manageable impacts but contributes to highly unequal development and the erosion of the commons. Multiple pro- and dissenting mining discourses presently frame contribution and cost in a manner that makes common ground appear elusive. In her lecture, Humby asks: How should a post-extractivist mining discourse present contribution and cost; and would it facilitate a common political agenda?

A non-random walk through partitions of integers and sets

Professor Augustine Munagi

27 September

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

Whenever a finite set of distinct objects splits into subsets in which only the size of each subset is of significance, the object of interest is a partition of the integer cardinality. The ramifications of this relationship between integer partitions and set partitions is ubiquitous in number theory and combinatorics, with applications in statistical mechanics, group representation theory, molecular chemistry and vertex colouring of planar graphs, to name just a few. This lecture will trace a selective path of recent discoveries under the two themes.

Public history in times of decolonisaton: Reflections on the past and present

Professor Noor Nieftagodien from the School of Social Sciences

23 August

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

The lecture will reflect on the ideas and practices that shaped Public History. Contrary to expectations, the moment of formal decolonisaton – the post-1994 era of democracy – did not lead to an embrace of the transformative impulses inherent in Public History. Instead, History came under pressure to support the production of ANC-centric narratives of the liberation struggle and to become institutionalized in the service of mega heritage projects. These objectives of the new ruling elite were always challenged and increasingly so as popular discontent gained momentum from the mid-2000s. It will finally be suggested that the Fees Must Fall movement powerfully and urgently placed on the agenda the need to rethink the role of public universities. Encapsulated in the demand for ‘decolonised education', this movement further opened space to critically reflect on the relationship between the academy and publics. By reconnecting to its roots, Public History, undergirded by rigorous and principled intellectual work and a commitment to dialogical practices, can contribute to a revitalisation of the idea of a decolonised public university. In so doing, Public History can also be reimagined.

Speaking Truth to Power? The political appeal of 'Modern Slavery'
Professor Joel Quirk
 
31 July
 
Event Time : 18:00
Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

Calling something ‘slavery' is a popular way of seeking to draw attention and investment to specific causes and issues. One recent example of this strategy is the category of ‘modern slavery', which has unexpectedly emerged as a major source of popular fascination and political mobilisation since the mid-1990s. Over the years, numerous governments and activists have declared their intention to end slavery once and for all. However, there are a number of fundamental differences between transatlantic enslavement and ‘modern slavery'. In stark contrast to historical campaigns to end legal enslavement, which were firmly aimed at the profits and privileges of the rich and powerful, campaigns today rarely pose a direct threat to major political and economic interests, particularly in the Global North. Governments and corporations feel comfortable supporting campaigns against exceptional cases of ‘modern slavery' – rather than broader campaigns for migrant, worker or women's rights – because they selectively focus on deviant criminals and ‘bad apples', thereby pushing larger global systems of exploitation, violence, discrimination and privilege into the background. High profile campaigns against ‘modern slavery' have secured support because they do not rock the boat. How much can a campaign realistically accomplish if it is popular because it doesn't make waves?

Economics in the real world: Reflections on three policy engagements
Professor Imraan Valodia, Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management
 
16 April

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

In his inaugural lecture Valodia will reflect on the role of an economist in shaping policies aimed at reducing inequality. He will focus on three policy issues that have played some role in guiding ‘academic discussions' to actual policy recommendations. These are the proposal for a National Minimum Wage in South Africa; the proposed amendments to the Competition Act; and finally, the proposal to increase the rate of VAT from 14% to 15%.

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