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Mission impossible? Not for these postdocs

- Wits University

9 Postdoc Fellows join Wits to boost research on the intersecting themes of climate change, just transition, sustainability, and inequality.

The appointments this January of Drs Orevaoghene Eterigho-Ikelegbe, Alex Lenferna, Nelson Sergeo, Obianuju Patience Ilo, Liboster Mwadzingeni, Salome Jones, Pedzisai Kowe, Mbuso Moyo and Kutenda Trinos will enhance research output across five faculties at Wits. [See below for a list of their research projects.]

This Fellowship programme is part of the Centennial Postdoctoral Fellowships and the Pro Vice-Chancellor: Climate, Sustainability and Inequality research initiatives. The appointments reaffirm Wits’ commitment to support emerging scholars and to encourage fresh research that is responsive to the urgent demands of a world facing multiple challenges as a result of rising global temperatures.   

The Fellows hail from across the continent and bring with them a diverse range of skills, insights and readiness to tackle bold research topics. They represent disciplines that include chemical and mechanical engineering, biological and environmental sciences; finance and economics; science education, as well as environmental policy and planning.

Rich research proposals have already been outlined by the Fellows and their work look set to bolster scientific understanding of climate science while also bringing into sharper focus the social and economic impacts associated with climate change.

Over the next two years, the Fellows intend to work on a range of topics and research questions. Included among the proposals will be research into the thermal environments of school playgrounds and how rising temperatures affect the learning and development of South African school children.

Another research project will look at better ways to assess trade risks and benefits as South Africa makes the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The role of new technologies to optimise irrigation schemes of smallholder harms that are an essential pillar of food security in South Africa and Zimbabwe is another key research topic. Other Fellows meanwhile, will focus on ways to build stronger, radical environmental justice networks from the ground up and will home in on sustainable job creation as the green economy makes different demands on the labour market.

The University’s selection and support of this new cohort of Fellows promotes trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research. Wits recognises that at this critical moment when the climate crisis looms ever larger, excellent research with a broad reach is essential to ensure that South Africa and the rest of the continent advance successfully with just transition objectives even as pressures of limited resources and funding, low capacity and competing agendas persist.

Professor Imraan Valodia, Pro Vice-Chancellor: Climate, Sustainability and Inequality and Director of the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies (SCIS), said the appointments add to Wits’ research capacity and reaffirm the need to act with urgency and rigour to find solutions to one of the greatest threats to humankind right now.

Valodia said: “We congratulate our nine new research fellows on their appointments.  Their work will strengthen the university’s commitment to advancing research on climate change and inequality. The investment in this programme, which brings together multiple disciplines across the university, is significant and represents Wits’ support to nurture and grow the next generation of academic scholars, innovators and problem solvers.”

Research projects

  • Dr Orevaoghene Eterigho-Ikelegbe: Recycling coal waste to building components
  • Dr Alex Lenfern: Reclaiming the Just Transition
  • Dr Nelson Sergeo: Resilience Strategies to Climate Shocks and their Effects on Family Farms in Rural Areas in Senegal
  • Dr Obianuju Patience Ilo: Towards a just transition and a low carbon economy in South Africa: An assessment of climate change risks and opportunities
  • Dr Liboster Mwadzingeni: Climate resilience-building interventions among smallholder irrigation schemes: The case of Zimbabwe and South Africa
  • Dr Salome Jones: Assessment of the thermal environment of South African school playgrounds
  • Dr Pedzisai Kowe: Impacts of greenery on urban heat islands and climate change mitigation in southern African cities
  • Dr Mbuso Moyo: Accumulation, extractivism and land dispossession in contemporary South Africa and Zimbabwe
  • Dr Kutenda Trinos: Toward a Just Transition: Integrating Climate Science, Social Equity, and Economic Sustainability