The 2017 Society of South African Geographers Student (SSAG) conference
The 2017 Student conference opened with the theme of “Geography and the Environment for Sustainable Development”, hosted by the University of Mpumalanga from the 18th- 21st of June. UCT was represented by seven postgraduate students from differing backgrounds at what is currently the youngest university in South Africa at its first ever conference with one of the largest representation of different universities in the SSAG conference’s 101 yearlong history. Nineteen different South African universities, as well as the University of Swaziland, were represented with a wide variety of students presenting and sharing knowledge.
From left: Robin George, Vrinda Chopra, Khadra Ghedi Alasow, Fortunate Mogane, Thandeka Mbambo, Rebecca Whitehead, Prof. Maano Ramutsindela and Ella-Kari Muhl at the University of Mpumalanga
The bar was set by the keynote speaker, UCT’s own Professor Maano Ramutsindela with an astute lecture on the Kruger National Park and its politics. This was particularly relevant and insightful, as later we were all to be first time visitors to the Kruger National Park, this talk was an excellent means of stimulating thought and complexities surrounding issues such as rhino horn poaching, conservation and people’s dependency on the environment.
The second day of the conference introduced UCT’s student representative, Khadra along with Prof. Ramutsindela in leading talks on ‘decolonizing geography’. These talks not only allowed barriers to be broken down but promoted active engagement and greater awareness of the multiple lens and perspectives that exist in order to decolonise geography. This informed and stimulated a realisation that in moving forwards, change truly begins with ourselves and that there is no simplicity or shortcuts when it comes to tackling colonisation.
Top: Ella-Kari Muhl; Thandeka Mbambo, Robin George and Rebecca Whitehead
Bottom: Fortunate Mogane and Khadra Ghedi Alasow at God’s Window
The highlight of the conference was undoubtedly the presentations by fellow students. The diversity of topics and and the opportunity to engage with other students from universities across South Africa enthused a deeper sense of appreciation of geography as a discipline, exploring the multiple uses for it in all of us. It provided an animated forum for presenting research findings as well as discussing with fellow student’s new concepts, and concerns, possibly encouraging cross pollination of ideas in the future.
The 2017 edition of the conference will be remembered for the great memories, network connections it has afforded us as students of the discipline of Geography, for the great wildlife experiences in the Kruger National Park and stunning views of the Panorama route. It is also very satisfying to know that by simply just attending this conference, we helped set the foundation for the University of Mpumalanga to roll out this wonderful growing and broad field to the next generation of scholars in this region of South Africa.