The end brings a new beginning

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Thirteen MPhil: Sustainable Development students presented their completed theses during the annual Research Colloquium that took place on 9 and 10 November 2017. Yet again, an interesting and brave mix of topics were spoken about.

Thought-provoking titles such as Education for Sustainable Futures, Exploring Sustainable Urban Automobile Transitions, Food System Transformations, What makes free range chicken free, Agroecology and Climate Change and Renewable energy and communities were elaborated on.

On the topic of Education for Sustainable Futures, the realisation came about that one is unable to teach what one doesn’t know. Many of the teachers at pre-schools in informal settlements themselves never received qualify pre-school education. Due to this missed opportunity, many of the teachers speak about ‘hope education’ as they are not equipped to provide quality education and they themselves hope for the best. When comparing normal pre-school education to Montessori education, it becomes evident that children can be agents of transformative change, that nature is important for holistic development and that teacher training and new ways of learning is immeasurable in value for the child’s development.

Many students reflected on the importance of co-creation of solutions and when different teams or communities work together, the outcome is more inclusive. Real impact can also only be made if organisations are willing to move and act ‘beyond compliance’.

A common point that appeared at the end of day two, was the realisation by students of the very real tickbox mentally when it comes to complying with policies, guidelines and regulations instead of it encouraging real change. As a point in case, when students spoke about companies’ responsibility to invest back into the community, it often happens that the ‘investments’ are one-off or short-term in nature, and does not help to truly empower the community and help them stand on their own feet. As was cited by one student: “If R50 billion is not helping, how much will? Are we doing it wrong or are the challenges too severe?” For many small, isolated towns government grants are their lifeline – and this is not a sustainable solution.

In many sectors of South Africa, especially access to energy, exclusion is still heavily prevalent. Ranging from the powerless to the power elites, the deeply entrenched power mentalities make for a complex and multi-dimensional environment, where drivers of exclusion work against those that try to move forward in life.

Having listened to the presentations made by the students, it became clear that the researcher as much as the researched, learn a great deal when focused study takes place. One cannot help but to walk away with new insights and understanding, and a deep appreciation of how complex it can be to find answers to the many pressing questions we have.


 “Now is a material event

It is also a spiritual moment

And the blinding light of the real

Can pierce through and tear asunder the unreal

Every moment thus carries the ordinary and the monumental

Staring out of an office window

Or being blinded, like Paul, on the plain road to Damascus,

By the light of true seeing,

Then the celluloid of what seems like the real world is stripped away

And behind it we see all things as they could be.

A better world, a world renewed.

This moment is thus

It carries dust and dreams

Pavement or streams

A moment on the clock or a moment of the spirit

I dream of what it can be

I dream of what this millennial moment can be, what we could let it be

A wonderful excuse for beginning a clearing out of the garbage

Of our histories and our consciousness

Best excuse in a thousand years to transcend our grim and ancient fears”


Extract from Ben Okri’s Time to be Real