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14 April 2023

Social justice champions honoured at the 2022–2023 HSRC-USAf Awards for social sciences and humanities

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Human Sciences Research Council

Pretoria, Thursday, 13 April 2023 Following a rigorous process by the adjudication panel, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and Universities South Africa (USAf) have announced the awardees for the 2022–2023 HSRC-USAf Awards for Social Sciences and Humanities.

The announcement was made at a ceremony held at Maslow Time Square, Menlyn, Pretoria on 13 April 2023.

The HSRC-USAf Awards for Social Sciences and Humanities acknowledge scholars who have made outstanding contributions to the social sciences and humanities through their research.

This year, these prestigious academic awards aimed to recognise research excellence under the “Social Justice” theme.

Under this theme, the adjudication panel identified innovative research projects centred on analysing social justice inquiry, theories and practice and aimed at achieving transformative impact in communities – socially, scientifically and otherwise.

Over 30 nominations were received for this year’s awards, which were presented in four categories: Emerging Researcher, Mid-career Researcher, Established Researcher and Team.

Below is the list of winners and prizes in each category:

The winner in the Established Researcher category received a medal and a monetary award of R60 000

Medal Winner – Established Researcher: Prof Ashwin Desai

Prof Ashwin Desai is a professor of sociology at the University of Johannesburg where he also holds the SARCHI Chair in Social Change. He is a prolific publisher and an outstanding South African scholar. He is an NRF-B1-rated scholar who has exhibited a lifetime of achievement and excellence in social justice research, teaching and training, and community activism.

Prof Desai is an internationally renowned academic and an inspirational mentor and supervisor. He has built, over more than 30 years of experience, a noteworthy international reputation for being a dynamic thinker with a strong passion for upholding the values of critical thinking, freedom of expression, and community-centredness.

He has made an immense contribution to the social sciences, locally and globally, with his life histories and biographies making visible many hidden and unknown South African social, political, historical, and communal realities.

The research that he has produced over time is regarded as substantive, meaningful, and as such highly influential with considerable impact. Prof Desai has recently assumed the position of SARCHI Chair Social Change based at the University of Johannesburg and has already added impetus to the Chair’s research agenda and social justice profile.

The winner in the Mid-career Researcher category received a trophy and a total monetary award of R40 000

Winner – Mid-career Researcher: Dr Vishwas Satgar

Dr Vishwas Satgar is an associate professor of international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). He is also the principal investigator for the Emancipatory Futures Studies (EFS) in the Anthropocene project ( at Wits University. It is a $1 million Mellon-funded project. The project commenced in 2019 and is 5 years old this year and runs until the end of 2025.

This research project builds on the awardee’s interest in the poly-crisis and the need for systemic alternatives to achieve social and climate justice. Prior to coming to Wits, he was involved in co-creating the first eco-village in an African township in Ivory Park in Midrand, which was a major focus for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. He was also involved with the Green-House Project in Joubert Park, promoting post-apartheid cooperative development, which included shaping the first post-apartheid Cooperatives Act and the implementation of the Cooperatives Bank Act after being appointed to the board of the Cooperative Banks Development Agency Board for 6 years by the Minister of Finance. He looked at sustainable local manufacturing in township communities and the People’s Housing Process through the Cooperative and Policy Alternative (COPAC), which he co-founded in 1999. He currently chairs the COPAC board.

The winner in the Emerging Research category received a trophy and a monetary award of R30 000

Winner – Emerging Researcher: Dr Hannah Dawson

Dr Hannah Dawson is a senior researcher at the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies. She is an early-stage researcher who addresses issues of social justice as they relate to unemployment, labour, inequality, and citizenship, which directly contribute to Goal 10 of the SDGs: reduce inequality within and among countries.

Dr Dawson’s profile as an excellent researcher is recognised beyond South Africa as evidenced by her numerous awards including from the IDRC, Commonwealth, DSI and NRF. She produced nine peer-reviewed articles, two book chapters and four research reports. Her monograph, ‘Beyond the Workplace: the everyday lives of young men on the outskirts of Johannesburg’ has been accepted for review by Cambridge University Press.

Her outstanding and sustained contribution to social justice is evident in her ongoing research with young people on the economic margins in South Africa over the past ten years. Her research on the everyday lives of unemployed and marginally employed young people has advanced an understanding of how young people navigate unemployment and economic insecurity.

This has not only been vital to shaping innovations and policies to support but also opening up more plural, inclusive and imaginative possibilities for how we theorise, think about, and respond to the challenges of growing unemployment and inequality in South Africa and beyond. Her more recent work on digital technologies and the future work, with the Future of Work(ers) research project at Wits, has also been game-changing in influencing policy agendas on the impact of digital technologies and how it can be harnessed to ensure the benefits of technological innovation are more equally shared.

The winner in the Team category received a trophy and a total monetary award of R40 000 for the team.

Winner – Team Category: The Centre for Women and Gender Studies (CWGS) – Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University team led by Professor Babalwa Magoqwana

The Centre for Women and Gender Studies (CWGS) at Nelson Mandela University has demonstrated exceptional commitment to gender transformation in research, scholarship, and curriculum at the university.

The CWGS has significantly impacted the region since its establishment in October 2019, bringing universities together to capacitate postgraduates through research workshops, writing retreats, and encouraging publications.

Their intellectual project has directly contributed to the university project of the “Revitalisation of Humanities” by firmly rooting women’s traditions of knowledge in the region of the Eastern Cape. The Centre has also facilitated regional interdisciplinary collaborations between the University of Fort Hare, Rhodes University, and the University of Cape Town, hosting colloquiums and public lectures to honour the memory of Phyllis Ntantala and Prudence Mabele.

They have worked across the university’s faculties, entities, and student residences to build synergies on gender transformation programs at Mandela University and beyond. Their award-winning “Author Friday Seminar Series” helped to break geographical boundaries, linking gender scholars across the globe, and fostered intergenerational conversations at the peak of the COVID-19 lockdown. The Centre’s motto of intergenerational knowledge sharing and student capacitation has already started to produce future gender scholars who are now teaching in higher education.

The centre’s focus on gender empowerment impacts policies and interventions aimed at addressing inequities, inequalities, unemployment, and poverty, and their work includes proposed solutions from a gender transformation perspective (a theme central to the United Nations’ SDGs).

The award ceremony featured live performances by Tumi Mogorosi. Radio and TV personality Brenda Sisane served as the programme director.

For media inquiries:

Dr Lucky Ditaunyane, Cell: 0832276074, Email: Nematandani, Cell: 0827659191, Email:

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Notes to the Editor

About Universities South Africa (USAf)

Universities South Africa is a representative association of South Africa’s 26 public universities. Through our 2020–2025 strategic framework, we envisage an engaged higher education system responsive to South African and global challenges through the creation of new cohorts of organic intellectuals and high-quality knowledge production. The Medal for the Social Sciences and Humanities aligns with USAf’s mission to build the capacity of South Africa’s higher education system as an internationally competitive system that effectively engages and responds to society through its knowledge project.

We are a non-profit, non-statutory, voluntary and membership association.

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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 organisations, and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

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