GMRDC CONFERENCE: Unlocking COVID-19 for sustainable reconstruction and development

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Last week, 23-26 November, the University of Fort Hare’s Govan Mbeki Research Development Centre held a virtual research conference dubbed “Week of Excellence” 

Themed: Unlocking Covid-19 for Sustainable Reconstruction and Development, the conference which was streamed on Microsoft Teams provided an international platform for researchers and policy makers to contribute to this debate by presenting papers and participating in roundtable discussions. 
The conference was officially launched by Professor Renuka Vithal, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic Affairs. Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu, delivered the opening remarks. Welcoming the participants, Prof Munacinga Simatele who is the Acting Dean of Research, said the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world and the country in multiple ways.
“The hard lockdown and dramatic measures to contain it resulted in unprecedented and devastating social and economic implications. The epidemic offers an opportunity to reconsider how to approach systemic development problems such as unemployment, poverty, inequality, and access to key services like health and education.”
According to Prof Simatele, the pandemic raises the following important questions about sustainable reconstruction and development:
1. How can a crisis such as COVID-19 be turned into an opportunity to unlock new ways of analysing, researching, formulating, and effectively implementing new social and economic policy? 
2. How can these responses be implemented sustainably in a manner that builds resilience and to be better prepared for similar disasters in future? 
3. How can different disciplinary approaches crossing traditional boundaries equip us to ask questions in fresh and innovative ways? 
Day 1: 
Opening and welcoming addresses were followed by presentations delivered by representatives of instrumental research bodies such as the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) , National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Human and Infrastructure Capacity Development (HICD). Prof Gary Minkley – UFH History Professor and SARChI Chair in Social Change delivered the closing remarks for day one. 
Day 2: 
Kicked-off with a presentation by the National Institute for Humanities and Social Science’s (NIHSS) Grants’ Manager, Dr Ayanda Zondi and NIHSS’ Academic Director for Scholarships, Dr Nthabiseng Motsemme. Ms Virginia Molose from the Water Research Commission weighed-in on the topic on behalf of the Commission. 
Other speakers on the day included: 
• Mr Simon Lotz who is the Director: Established Researchers for the Grants Management and Systems Administrators. He spoke about the overall research funding application process.
 • Prof Willie Chinyamurindi, UFH Business Management Professor shared his presentation titled: [Re] Imagining Research in a post-Covid-19 world. 
• Ms Stella Ndhlazi - Funding Manager at the National Heritage Council shared the council’s perspective on the “Public heritage funding towards development and transformation agenda in SA.
Day 3 and Day 4: Were dedicated to actual paper presentations and discussions by Academics and Postgraduates. 
• Prof Sharlene Swartz - Research Director at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa and adjunct Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Cape Town, delivered the keynote address. 
• Dr Rhonda Vanshay Sharpe, founder and president of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race, delivered the keynote address on the final day. According to Prof Simatele, selected papers presented at the conference will be submitted for publication in journals accredited by Department of Higher Education and Training.