First postdoc fellow wins BMRI conference award

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First postdoc fellow wins BMRI conference award

Poster showcases indigenous perspectives in a disability context

Respect for difference and acceptance of people with disability as part of humanity and diversity are key principles of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Inclusivity and acceptance are also key themes in research done by Dr Nomvo Dwadwa-Henda, the Africa Centre’s first postdoctoral fellow.

Nomvo has just won the award for best poster presentation at the third biennial Postdoctoral Research Conference of Africa for her presentation of research she did for her PhD, which she received from the SU’s Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation in March this year. Her poster presentation, “Reframing disability from an indigenous perspective: Learnings from AmaBomvana”, was singled out for the clear organisation of its content and the engaging way this was narrated.

Dr Nomvo Dwadwa-Henda (second from right) received the award for best poster presentation at the BMRI’s Postdoctoral Research Conference for Africa from Prof Dr Ambassador Tal Edgars, founder and group executive chair of the GBSH Consult Group Worldwide (second from left). Pictured with them are Dr François van Schalkwyk (far left), postdoctoral research fellow at the SU’s Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST), and Dr Palesa Mothapo (far right), director of research support and management at Nelson Mandela University. Van Schalkwyk and Mothapo were co-chairs of the conference organising committee.

The conference, which took place at the Biomedical Research Institute on the Tygerberg campus from 18 to 22 September, explored global challenges under the overarching theme of “Postdocs as drivers of knowledge and innovation in Africa”. There were presentations on topics ranging from leveraging African universities’ knowledge production to attain Africa’s Agenda 2063 to environmental signals in seagrass blue carbon stocks, international trade law, and community engagement using citizen science.

Interim director Dr Munya Saruchera was delighted about the award and congratulated Nomvo for the accomplishment: “There could not have been a better way to herald the Africa Centre’s entry into the postdoctoral fellowship space, given that Nomvo is our first postdoc fellow.”

Research foregrounds traditional values of inclusivity and respect

Nomvo’s research used critical disability theory (CDT), which posits that people with disabilities (PWDs) are central to interpreting their experiences, to explore the nexus between PWDs and Xhosa rituals and traditions among the Bomvana people in the Eastern Cape. As part of her research, Nomvo engaged with PWDs and indigenous knowledge practitioners, using interviews, focus group discussions, informal conversations, field notes, and folk dance and traditional song.

The Ubuntu African Indigenous Inclusive Disability Framework, which is based on the AmaBomvana worldview and promotes respect for others through interdependence, provided a structure for her interactions. “The framework supports inclusive spaces that promote wellbeing, which is why the Bomvana people don’t see disability as a problem,” Nomvo explains.

These theoretical underpinnings have an explicit intent of decolonisation and indigenisation, and the study takes a stand against academic and methodological imperialism and its impact on the indigenous communities by challenging the global North’s understandings and conceptualisations of disability, which often locate disability on the person and present it as a tragedy without considering contextual factors.

The work Nomvo presented is aligned to some of the Africa Centre’s key research areas, which include indigenous health knowledge management and spirituality, disability studies and critical research methodologies. She was taken by surprise when she was awarded the prize: “I did not see it coming. I just did my best to tell the story of AmaBomvana.”

“We wish Nomvo many firsts with the rest of her postdoc deliverables, such as journal papers, book chapters and conference papers,” Munya said. “The Africa Centre has a small team with outstretched capacity, especially as we have started a strategic revisioning process. But we are growing in confidence and hope to host more postdoc fellows in the near future.”

Nomvo’s research poster: “Reframing disability from an indigenous perspective: Learnings from AmaBomvana”