Image Credit: “Detail - Masks (Nigeria)” by Andrew Moore, licensed under CC BY 2.0
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On November 28th, the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) Program hosted the Next Gen Post-Doctoral Virtual Writing Workshop. The workshop brought together Next Gen Post-Doctoral Writing Fellows and program mentors to discuss their draft manuscripts, strategies, and plans for publication. The event was convened to facilitate the finalization of fellows’ manuscripts based on their Next Gen-supported research projects for publication in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters, or the completion of book proposals/manuscripts.

The workshop began with welcome remarks by the APN and Next Gen program director, and the introduction of workshop participants. The presentations by each fellow in sessions one and two were followed by feedback from their peers and mentors. This aimed to refine the scope and quality of the draft manuscripts presented by the fellows. Their presentations encompassed diverse discussions of the Next Gen-supported PhD research findings that drew on cases focusing on South Africa and Nigeria from interdisciplinary perspectives, including History, Development, Anthropology, Peace, and Cultural Studies.

In the first of the three presentations of session one, Dr. Rosette Sifa Vuninga, of the University of Cape Town, spoke to her draft manuscript on “Congolese Refugees in South Africa: Contests around Identity Politics and State Documentation,” which highlighted the main arguments of the paper on the agency of Congolese migrants living in South Africa. She explored divisions and contestations that marked relations within Congolese migrants over place and identity in their destination country of South Africa. Participants raised questions about the evolution and single, transient, changing, or multiple identities of Congolese migrants in South Africa.

In the second presentation, Dr. Simbarashe Nyuke, of the University of the Witwatersrand, presented his draft manuscript on “The Price of Hope: Sacrificing and ‘Seeding’ for Churchizenship in Johannesburg” drew on ethnographic research to explore the impact of Pentecostal churches on migrant communities. He examined how these Pentecostal churches provide a space of survival for migrants in a city. He analyzed how recent migrants adopt and use “Churchizenship as they seek out identity and belonging. The paper establishes the vibrant Pentecostal presence in Johannesburg and how this offers migrants a sense of belonging, protection, and hope based on a sense of planting to receive. The presentation elicited positive feedback, with some fellows and mentors suggesting the need to reflect some more on the relationship between the church and the state and seeking further clarification on what hope and belonging meant to migrants in this and other contexts.

Next, Dr. Thatshisiwe Ndlovu from the University of the Witwatersrand spoke on her draft manuscript titled “Standing their Ground while Seated: The Birth of Widowhood Activism.” She interrogated readings of widowhood practices in patriarchal societies that often represented widows as hapless victims who suffered from gruesome mourning and funeral practices after the loss of their spouses. Thatshisiwe uses the concept of “ sitting,” a widowhood rite where widows are traditionally expected to mourn the loss of their spouse by sitting in seclusion,  while also expressing a sense of loss, obedience, subservience, and humility in silence. This practice of making widows sit in seclusion  was usually followed by the loss of rights to property and, sometimes, children. The author argued for a more intimate understanding of the sitting and standing (resistance) and for more importance to be paid to the widows’ agency. She then explained how some widows reassert their agency by “standing their ground,” thereby subverting the practice of “ sitting” by resisting oppressive widowhood rites and holding on to the legal deeds of their property. The discussion that followed focused on the relevance of the paper to the theorization of African feminism past and present, the role of other women in some of these practices, and the importance of contextualizing traditional cultural rites and the significance of post-colonial dynamics in the analysis.

In the second session, Dr. Gloria Naantoe Alli, of the University of Jos, presented her draft manuscript on “Beyond hybrid conflict management: Impact of landgrabs on conflict resolution in Central-Nigeria.” The paper applied a political economy-centered analysis in explaining prolonged land-grabbing in Central Nigeria and its impact on ‘hybrid conflict management’ systems, including the role of state and non-state actors. She examined the drivers of conflict, including cattle rustling, religion, settler-indigene conflict, land grabs, and internal displacement and its implications for conflict management. The feedback received after her presentation included the need for a deeper theoretical framing and historicizing the conflict dynamics.

This was followed by Dr. Tsitsi Jane Mpofu-Mketwa, of the Future Water Institute at the University of Cape Town, who presented her draft manuscript titled “’Vuku’zenzele!’: The pivotal role of agency in alleviating urban poverty, lessons from Cape Town’s Langa Township women informal traders.” The paper explored the agency of women traders in the Langa Township and disrupted common notions of women’s roles in informal economies, including the kinds of networking taking place and how women informal traders were organizing themselves and considering the varied forms of cooperation, collaboration, and competition. By doing so, Dr. Mpofu-Mketwa highlighted the critical role of women’s agency in urban poverty alleviation.

In the last presentation, Dr. Kgomotso Samuel Moshugi, of the University of the Witwatersrand, presented his draft manuscript titled “Mobility and Dispersed Collaborations through Localisation.” His paper explored performative ways of being and the role of culture and arts in framing peace. It focuses on music in the mobilities and dispersals of people and how these were connected to local peacebuilding. The feedback received pointed to the importance of an artistic approach to peacebuilding and the need to provide a stronger empirical basis for localization for the study.

During the plenary sessions, several mentors offered broad feedback to all the presenters. The following issues were highlighted: the importance of contributing to existing knowledge in the field, connecting data to theory, infusing greater clarity into the framing of research questions and the place of originality in research, considering the relevance of decolonial frameworks, and making data speak to specific audiences. Other issues raised included writing on complex subjects or phenomena that change and working on using clear and accessible language. Mentors also shared their publication experiences, urging young scholars to be intentional with the themes of the journals they submit to. Additionally, these senior scholars encouraged fellows to aim to publish their papers in highly-ranked publications.

The workshop ended on a positive note, underlined by the presentations by the fellows, productive peer-to-peer and mentor exchanges, and feedback aimed at strengthening the manuscripts of the Next Gen post-doctoral writing fellows ahead of submission for publication.

The APN-Next Gen program thanks the Next Gen Post-Doctoral Writing Fellows and their mentors for their hard work and dedication to the program.