For Dineo Skosana, having a South African passport doesn’t equate to a sense of national belonging.
Skosana, a senior researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), visited Queen’s Oct. 16 to 28 to share her research on the displacement of Indigenous communities from their ancestral land. She collaborated with Queen’s Department of Global Development Studies (DEVS).
As part of an ongoing research collaboration between DEVS and Wits, Skosana discussed Futures of Care: Community Challenges to Extraction in South African and Canada.
The project investigates Indigenous land displacement in Canada and South Africa, securing a Canadian Government Insight Grant totaling $384,694. Marc Epprecht, a global development professor, said the project serves to support scholars like Skosana.
“Through this project we can support people like [Skosana] who are young, Black women entering the field,” Epprecht said in an interview with The Journal.
The cross-cultural collaboration will eventually generate recommendations for land policies in both countries and refine comparative research methods, Skosana told The Journal. In South Africa, researchers are focusing on the experience of women affected by coal mining on their ancestral lands.
Similarly, in Canada, mining projects were conducted on top of Indigenous ancestral land in the Northwest Territories.
“We’re trying to understand the experience of women specifically in mining affected communities, specifically coal-extracted communities in South Africa,” Skosana said in an interview with The Journal.
Queen’s professors Epprecht, Allison Goebel, and Rebecca Hall are leading the Canadian perspective into the research with Skosana focusing on the South African side, with help from Wits researcher Kefuoe Makena.
Skosana’s personal research explores the importance of ancestral land ownership and the impact of development initiatives on South African Indigenous communities. A South African herself, Skosana has an intimate understanding of land dispossession.
“In South Africa, we have a strong history of land dispossession, which communities would have experienced during colonialism and the apartheid period,”
Listening to public hearings on the South African Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill in 2013 sparked Skosana’s interest. The public hearings gave South Africans a forum to express their concerns about land regulations to the government.
“People kept speaking about having no access to ancestral sites and wanting to return to the land they were removed from. I began to question why graves or ancestral sites matter to families,” Skosana said.
Through her research Skosana learned people often think about land possession in legal terms, overlooking the spiritual connection Indigenous populations have to the land their ancestors lived on.
Not all connections to land are tangible or material, it’s more complicated than that. For Indigenous South Africans, a sense of belonging can only be achieved by physically returning to their ancestral lands, Skosana explained.
“In South Africa, people hold South African passports and South African IDs, but people don’t feel connected to the place because they don’t have the land,” Skosana said.
To continue the connection between South African and Canadian scholars, DEVS is offering their summer abroad program at Wits.
This program allows students to spend the summer in Johannesburg, where they will stay in secure dormitories and attend classes at Wits and experience South African culture.
Applications will open in December on the DEVS webpage.
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