blankDr Adrian Nel in the Discipline of Geography in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) has been awarded the prestigious Society of South African Geographers (SSAG) Centenary Award, designed to recognise and invest in emerging academics.

According to the SSAG, applications were of a very high standard, making the selection even more of an achievement. SSAG stated that the quality of applications bodes well for the future of the Discipline of Geography in South Africa.

Nel, who has been at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) since June 2015, teaches courses on topics including human environments, urban and rural change, political ecology, research methods in Geography, and managing environmental conflict. He is also currently supervising three PhD, five masters and three
honours students in fields related to conservation, climate change governance, water and waste geographies. In addition, he runs the Discipline’s social media and a seminar series called “Research Practice” for colleagues and postgraduate students.

Before coming to UKZN, Nel completed his PhD with distinction, through the University of Otago in New Zealand in 2014.

His thesis on climate change mitigation initiatives in Uganda, was one of eight “exceptional” theses conferred that year.

He also held a Visiting Scholar position with the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, and a research associate position with the Institute for Development Studies at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, while conducting post-doctoral research on the topic of rural livelihoods after the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) in Matobo district of Matabeleland South.

His application for the Centenary Award centred on his work on a collaborative project titled “Amandla neMvelo (Power and Nature): Natural resource governance and power in KwaZulu-Natal”.

This research agenda involves the exploration of connections between Power and Nature, including power over nature and the nature of power. His major objective is exploring the changing roles and interrelationships of diverse authorities and actors in environmental governance across varying socio-ecological contexts in KwaZulu-Natal.

Nel has set up three initial case studies to launch this research agenda. The first investigates the involvement of the private sector, land claimants, traditional authorities and forest-adjacent communities in land reform on forestry areas around Richmond. The second explores diverse water governance roles in the catchment management of the uMngeni River (as part of the uMngeni School of Water Governance). The third is a study of conservation governance and funding in the prospective Greater uMfolozi Biodiversity Economy Node (BEN); which includes private game reserves, community conservation areas, the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park and the eMakhosini-Ophathe Heritage Park. The limited funding attached to the Centenary award has been designated to the fieldwork of the first and third components of this research.

Christine Cuénod