News & events

Press Releases

19 March 2021

Awardees of the HSRC-USAF Medal in Social Sciences and Humanities Announced

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, Friday 19 March 2021 – After a rigorous process, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Universities South Africa (USAf) last night announced the awardees in the 2020 HSRC-USAf Medal in Social Sciences and Humanities at a virtual event.

The 2020 Medal was unique in that, in addition to celebrating the country’s academic capital, it considered the contributions of social scientists, researchers and academics to South Africa’s fight against COVID-19 through the inaugural team awards.  South Africa’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus through, amongst others, behaviour and attitude change, will have been ineffective without the work of this cohort of social scientists and academics.

Having received 34 nominations in the categories of Established and Emerging Researcher as well as the inaugural team awards, the adjudication panel found itself in a difficult position to select the finalists and awardees.

The final list of awardees included:

•Professor Jonathan Janssen from Stellenbosch University who was selected as the Established Researcher for 2020.  Jonathan Jansen is Distinguished Professor of Education at Stellenbosch University and President of the Academy of Science of South Africa. He is a curriculum theorist and an A-rated researcher (NRF) whose research is concerned with the politics of knowledge. His recent books (co-authored, co-edited) include, The settled curriculum: Radical ideas, institutions and the decolonization of knowledge (Cambridge, 2021); Who gets in and why: the politics of admission in South Africa’s elite schools (UCT Press, 2020); and South African Schooling: The enigma of inequality (Springer, 2019). His current research includes a national study on the impact of the pandemic on the academic work of women scholars, and a study on the underlying causes of chronic dysfunction in ten South African universities. He holds a PhD (Stanford) and four honorary degrees in education.

•Dr Ryan Nefdt from the University of Cape Town who was selected as the Emerging Researcher for 2020.  Dr Ryan Nefdt is a senior lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Cape Town and a fellow at the Center for the Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. He is an NRF P-rated researcher and has won multiple research awards including UCT’s College of Fellows Young Researcher Award in 2020. He has conducted research at a number of international institutions including Yale, Edinburgh, the University of Texas at Austin, Leeds, and the University of Michigan as well as his graduate studies at the Universities of St Andrews, Amsterdam, and UCT.  His work focuses on the interconnections between language, cognition, and science. He has published numerous articles and book chapters on these issues in some of the top international venues as well as an edited volume with Palgrave Mcmillan and forthcoming monograph with Cambridge University Press.  His other interest is in bringing philosophy and the humanities in contact with broader audiences within the public sphere and the sciences. He is currently working on issues related to scientific modelling during the COVID-19 pandemic and how these issues might affect our continent.

•The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT) Urban Futures Centre (UFC) Team led by Prof Monique Marks received the inaugural Team Award for their outstanding work during Covid-19, and their huge role in reducing the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable in our community – homeless people with a drug use disorder.  Their responsiveness during Covid-19 was possible due to their long-term record of running substantive engagement programmes together with network actors, both state and non-state.

•The Human Science Research Council’s COVID-19 research team led by Professor Priscilla Reddy which was at the forefront of South Africa’s social sciences research response to COVID-19. From as early as the third week in March 2020, the team initiated a range of qualitative and quantitative research studies to investigate the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of the public and various at-risk populations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact of the lockdown measures on their lives launched as the “street talk” series.  The research team consisted of about 150 people including senior researchers and medical students from multiple universities.  The Team is currently engaged in designing and conducting “One Year Later” Covid-19 surveys on, amongst others, Covid-19 vaccine preparedness amongst the respondents.

Awards were bestowed by the CEO’s of the HSRC and USAf, Professors Crain Soudien and Ahmed Bawa; UNISA’s first female vice-chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula; the JL Dube Chair in Rural Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and HSRC Board Member, Professor Relebohile Moletsane; and Group Executive of the HSRC’s Impact Centre, Professor Heidi van Rooyen.

With a view to showcase other elements of the country’s human capital, entertainment will be provided by the Stellenbosch choir.

The Medal is awarded annually to scholars who have made outstanding contributions through their research in the social sciences and humanities.  The panel received an unprecedented list of nominees for 2020. 

To access the full list of nominees

Should you wish to speak to any of the nominees, kindly contact Manusha Pillai on 082 389 3587 or

Follow the conversation on 




For more information or to set up interviews, please contact: 

Manusha Pillai

Mobile:  082 389 3587


About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.

Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences. 

The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organizations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

About Universities South Africa (USAf)

Universities SA is a membership organisation of the 26 public universities and provides for a sector-wide facility to strengthen the institutions in performing teaching/learning and research/innovation. It does this mainly through policy interventions, advocacy, leadership and management development, entrepreneurship development, and research. It works primarily through five strategy groups: the Funding Strategy Group that focuses on the sustainability of the higher education institutions and system; the Teaching and Learning Strategy Group that zooms in on student access and success; the Transformation Strategy Group that seeks to address institutional culture change through the redesign of universities to optimise their role in student growth and development and on the idea of the engaged university; the Research and Innovation Strategy Group that seeks to strengthen the knowledge building capacity of the universities; and finally, the World of Work Strategy Group that builds linkages between the functioning of  higher education institutions and the world of work. When it is necessary Universities SA represents the sector.

Join the conversation at:


Related Press Releases