Sarah Nuttall Finishes her Second Term as WiSER Director

Sunday, 1 January, 2023 - 00:00

At the end of 2022, Professor Sarah Nuttall’s second and final term as Director of WiSER comes to a close. She has served with distinction in this position, for a period of ten years. Reflecting on the decade of work, she writes:

“At the heart of the last ten years has been the manifest desire to sustain and build an Africa-based institutional project in the critical humanities – one that is open to the world and at the same time cognisant of, and engaged with, North-South inequities of knowledge and resources. WiSER’s interventions have been city-based, national, regional, continental and worldly.

SN pictureI am proud that we have contributed to shaping multiple streams of humanities work and to the building of the next generation of African scholars; that we have actively responded to calls for and debates around decolonization and reached out and found new audiences here and across the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am gratified by the over 60 books and several hundred journal articles, book chapters and media interventions WiSER researchers have generated during these years. These have contributed in a major way to the Faculty of Humanities at Wits being the leading Faculty in this field on the continent. The many awards, local and international, that WiSER staff and research fellows have received over the last ten years has further highlighted this contribution. Generative collaborations with staff and institutes at Wits and others too numerous to mention have been formative. I have found that what enables an Institute such as WiSER to work well is the calibre and luminosity of its ideas and scholarship, but also the ordinary work of creating the conditions for people to flourish in their workplace, to be carefully listened to, to have their opinions asked and valued - and to embrace the art of democratic contestation.  

I thank my colleagues at WiSER for sustained collegiality and support over many years – and for responding to my commitment to building an interdisciplinary intellectual community. I am grateful to Professors Ruksana Osman and Garth Stevens, exceptional Deans under whom I served. I’m thankful for the wide support I have received from colleagues here and elsewhere in the world as Director, and for all the diverse interlocuters I have been able to listen to, learn from and engage with to my best abilities in navigating the project of the humanities now. I have put my whole heart into this job, which has held deep meaning for me; I hope now to return to my intellectual work at WiSER with the same energy and heart. I offer my warm support to the next Director of WiSER, whoever they may be”.

Prof Garth Stevens, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, commended Prof Sarah Nuttall on her leadership of WiSER over the past ten years, noting that:

“Under the deft guidance of Prof Sarah Nuttall, WiSER has continued to generate cutting-edge work that has been at the forefront of intellectual  innovation, speaking to global challenges faced by humanity, but from a notably Southern epistemological standpoint. It has engaged with, contested, and expanded beyond the traditional and dominant knowledge forms prevalent across the world today, and has contributed immeasurably to the capacitation of new layers of scholars, intellectuals and activists. This mission continues unabated, providing a space for intellectual debates that have always transcended the boundaries of mainstream Humanities thought, and has been an important site for me as an academic and a scholar to revitalize my thinking on an array of subjects. I extend my gratitude to Prof Sarah Nuttall, as well as all members of the WiSER team who have supported her, for stewarding this project in all the fascinating directions it has taken and continues to travel. It seems an important moment, too, to recommit to sustaining institutions such as WiSER, and to enabling them to thrive. I wish Prof Nuttall well as she returns to focusing on her own intellectual interests within WiSER, and look forward to the next phase in WiSER’s evolution”. 

WiSER has been in discussions, for several months, on its leadership needs and will take some further time early in the New Year to assess its transitional process going forward. To this end, Professors Hlonipha Mokoena and Keith Breckenridge have graciously agreed to serve as Acting Co-Directors for that time. The permanent Directorship will thereafter be advertised and open for application.