NRF Youth Month 2024: Zwelakhe Maseko

NRF Youth Month 2024: Zwelakhe Maseko

This year’s Youth Month is significant as the NRF celebrates 25 Years of Research, Innovation, Impact and Partnerships. These are the stories of the youth who have not only been impacted by the NRF but who also have an impact in their own spaces – and beyond! We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Mr Zwelakhe Maseko is a PhD student in Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Zululand (UniZulu). He received NRF funding for his Master’s and PhD studies.

How did your journey start?

My academic and career journey has been a dynamic and fulfilling one, shaped by a combination of personal interests, academic opportunities, and a passion for making a positive impact in the world. Growing up, I was always curious about the complexities of the natural world and the interactions between humans and their environment. This curiosity laid the groundwork for my eventual pursuit of studies in geography and related fields.

When it came time to choose a course of study for my undergraduate studies, I was drawn to geography for its interdisciplinary nature and its relevance to understanding pressing global issues such as climate change, urbanisation, and sustainable development. I carefully researched universities and programs that offered strong geography departments and ultimately decided to pursue my Bachelor’s degree at UniZulu.

During my undergraduate studies, I immersed myself in coursework that encompassed various subfields of geography, from physical geography to human geography and everything in between. I also sought out opportunities for research and extracurricular activities that allowed me to deepen my understanding of the discipline and develop valuable skills.

Upon completion of my Bachelor’s degree, I faced a pivotal moment in deciding my next steps. Driven by a desire to further my education and delve deeper into my areas of interest, I made the decision to pursue a Master’s degree in Geography. After careful consideration, I chose to continue my studies at UniZulu, attracted by its renowned faculty and strong research focus.

My Master’s studies proved to be a transformative experience, allowing me to refine my research interests and develop a deeper understanding of key geographic concepts and methodologies. It was during this time that I also began to explore opportunities for publication and engagement with the broader academic community, laying the foundation for my future career in academia.

Following the successful completion of my Master’s degree, I transitioned into a role as an academic tutor at UniZulu, where I had the opportunity to share my knowledge and passion for geography with students while further honing my teaching and mentorship skills. Concurrently, I also pursued opportunities for research and professional development, including a research internship at the Human Science Research Council, where I gained valuable experience in research methodologies and project management.

Throughout my academic and professional journey, I have remained committed to continuous learning, growth, and the pursuit of excellence in both scholarship and teaching. My decision to pursue a PhD in Anthropology and Development Studies is a testament to this commitment, as I seek to expand my knowledge, contribute to cutting-edge research, and make meaningful contributions to the fields of geography and anthropology.

Looking back, while I may not have envisioned the exact path that has led me to where I am today, I am grateful for the opportunities I have had and the experiences that have shaped me as a scholar, educator, and researcher. Each step of my journey has been guided by a genuine passion for geography and a desire to make a positive impact in the world, and I am excited to see where this journey will take me in the future.

How has your affiliation with the NRF impacted your studies/career?

My relationship with the NRF has been instrumental in shaping both my academic and personal journey. The support and opportunities provided by the NRF have had a profound impact on my career trajectory and have allowed me to achieve significant milestones.

My first interaction with the NRF came when I received Master’s funding, which played a crucial role in enabling me to pursue my postgraduate studies in Geography at the University of Zululand. This funding not only alleviated financial burdens but also provided me with the resources needed to focus on my studies and excel academically. As a result, I was able to complete my Master’s degree with distinction, a feat that I attribute in part to the support I received from the NRF.

Additionally, I was fortunate to be awarded a travel grant by the NRF, which further enriched my academic experience by allowing me to attend conferences, workshops, and other academic events. These opportunities not only broadened my knowledge and skills but also facilitated networking and collaboration with fellow researchers in my field.

One of the most significant impacts of my relationship with the NRF has been the opportunity to pursue my PhD in Anthropology and Development Studies. Being awarded a Doctoral grant by the NRF was a pivotal moment in my academic career, as it provided me with the means to undertake advanced research and contribute to the body of knowledge in my field. This opportunity would not have been possible without the support of the NRF, and I am deeply grateful for their investment in my academic journey.

The impact of the NRF funding extends beyond my individual achievements and has influenced those around me as well. My family has been incredibly supportive of my academic pursuits, and the financial assistance provided by the NRF has alleviated some of the financial pressures associated with higher education. Additionally, as an educator and mentor, I strive to inspire my students and encourage them to pursue opportunities for research and scholarship, much like the opportunities afforded to me by the NRF.

In summary, my relationship with the NRF has been transformative, both professionally and personally. The funding and opportunities provided have empowered me to achieve academic excellence, pursue advanced research, and contribute meaningfully to my field. I am grateful for the support of the NRF and look forward to continuing to make impactful contributions to academia with their assistance.

What is your area of expertise?

Currently, my work and studies revolve around my pursuit of a PhD in Anthropology and Development Studies, building upon the foundation established during my Master’s studies in Geography. My research focus encompasses several interconnected themes within the realm of human geography, anthropology, and development studies.

One of my primary areas of expertise lies in examining the complex dynamics of land use, conservation, and sustainable development, particularly in the context of Southern Africa. I am interested in exploring how various stakeholders, including local communities, governments, and conservation organisations, negotiate and navigate competing interests and priorities related to land management and resource utilization. This involves analysing the socio-economic, cultural, and environmental factors that influence decision-making processes and shape patterns of land use and resource allocation.

Furthermore, my research interests extend to issues of social and environmental justice, with a particular emphasis on understanding the impacts of development interventions and policies on marginalised communities. I am committed to exploring alternative approaches to development that prioritise equity, inclusivity, and sustainability, informed by insights from critical development studies and postcolonial theory.

Additionally, my doctoral research delves into the intersections between tourism, conservation, and community development, examining the potential for tourism initiatives to contribute to both economic growth and socio-cultural well-being in local communities. By critically evaluating existing tourism models and practices, I aim to identify opportunities for more inclusive and community-centred approaches to tourism development that empower local populations and promote environmental stewardship.

Overall, my research endeavours are guided by a commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship, social justice, and sustainable development. Through my work, I aspire to generate knowledge that not only advances academic discourse but also informs policy and practice, ultimately contributing to positive social change and the well-being of communities in Southern Africa and beyond.

Why is your work/studies important?

The significance of my work and studies lies in its potential to address pressing socio-economic, environmental, and developmental challenges facing South Africa and the broader global community. By focusing on themes such as land use, conservation, sustainable development, and social justice, my research seeks to contribute to positive change and promote inclusive and sustainable development outcomes.

One key aspect of my research is its relevance to land governance and resource management in South Africa, where issues of land tenure, land redistribution, and natural resource utilization are of critical importance. By examining the complex dynamics of land use and conservation, my work aims to provide insights that can inform more equitable and effective land management policies and practices. This has the potential to benefit local communities by empowering them to assert their land rights, participate in decision-making processes, and sustainably manage their natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

Furthermore, my research on tourism, conservation, and community development has implications for the tourism industry, which is a significant contributor to South Africa’s economy and a key driver of rural development. By exploring alternative tourism models that prioritize community participation, cultural authenticity, and environmental sustainability, my work seeks to promote tourism initiatives that generate meaningful economic opportunities for local communities while minimising negative environmental and social impacts.

Beyond South Africa, my research has broader implications for sustainable development efforts globally. Many of the challenges and issues I investigate, such as land conflicts, environmental degradation, and social inequality, are not unique to South Africa but are experienced in various contexts around the world. By generating knowledge and insights that are applicable across diverse geographical and cultural contexts, my research has the potential to inform policy and practice in other regions grappling with similar challenges.

Ultimately, through my work and studies, I hope to contribute to the creation of more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable societies, both in South Africa and beyond. By addressing key issues related to land governance, conservation, tourism, and social justice, I aim to foster positive change and contribute to the well-being of communities, the preservation of natural ecosystems, and the promotion of social justice and human rights.

What are some of your proudest academic achievements?

  • Publication in “Conservation, Land Conflict & Sustainable Tourism in Southern Africa”: Contributing a chapter to this esteemed publication allowed me to showcase my expertise and insights on critical issues related to conservation, land management, and sustainable tourism in Southern Africa. Unfortunately, as an AI language model, I cannot provide direct links to specific publications, but the book may be available through academic databases or online retailers.
  • Distinction in Master’s Studies: Graduating with distinction from my Master’s program was a significant academic accomplishment for me. This achievement reflects my dedication to academic excellence and my ability to excel in my field of study.
  • Receipt of NRF Funding: Being awarded funding from the NRF for both my Master’s and PhD studies is another proud achievement. This recognition of my academic potential and research contributions has been instrumental in supporting my academic journey and advancing my career.

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