A team of sixteen researcher change makers associated with the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC) at Rhodes University attended the Future Earth Seedbeds of Transformation in Africa Conference in Port Elizabeth from 9-11 May. The team offered various contributions via panel discussions, convening of the Early Careers Research Group and the Arts and Sustainability theme, a Citizen Science LAB, a symposium on Transformative, Transgressive Learning, and contributions into an international sustainability networks forum.
The Conference aimed to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in synergy to industry, community interests, the political sectors, and society, framing these discussions in how best to situate these SDGs within the African context.
Distinguished Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka, one of the opening keynote speakers in the programme chartered an alternative that was well received in line with the values and ethical care of the Environmental Learning Research Centre.
We believe in the innovative and dynamic cultivation of SDGs within local communities. This entails putting these communities at the centre of generating their own solutions through integrated learning systems. For the purpose of our success as the African peoples, it then becomes paramount that we turn our tensions and contradictions into learning and research opportunities for the purpose of cultivating contextual solutions. This can be achieved through pushing conceptual boundaries of what is possible within these communities, within our own communities.
Prof Sisitka’s address emphasised the need to create platforms where we are able to think outside the box where we can look for connections instead of binaries. In doing so we are actively changing the narrative to Africa being known for what she is instead of what she is not (Mbembe, 2001).
We need to start situating SDGs within local contexts and realities in recognition of people’s agency for change, understanding that it is not goals and targets, but people with political will, ethical motives and resources who drive transformative change. Linking local views to the global within a laminated systems view was another key perspective presented.
In line with the above, it is necessary to cultivate goals and targets that are achievable, simultaneously promoting action-based implementation that moves towards SDGs but which are grounded in local realities and meaning. Research can provide tools for this in ways that can respond to the current situation with rigorous political will; our research is not a-political. Social critique and realistic alternatives more importantly have the potential to provide alternative means to living and sustainability that matter to all – current and future generations - in the long and short term.
MASI BAMBANENI SAKHENI INGOMSO ELIKHAZAMILEYO LA BANTWANA BA NGOMSO (let us hold hands and build a shinning tomorrow for the children of the morning)