Employing the SDGs as a common lens through which to investigate sustainability issues in a semi-urban, semi-formal city in South Africa.
In this series of interviews, we talked to book authors and editors about how publishing open access has extended their impact and reach, something that is especially important to topics related to the SDGs.
Sustainable Futures in Southern Africa’s Mountains employs the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a common lens through which to investigate sustainability issues in Phuthaditjhaba (Republic of South Africa). Phuthaditjhaba is a semi-urban, semi-formal city and the former capital of the Apartheid homeland of QwaQwa. The city sits at 1,600 masl in the foothills of the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains and on the international border with the Kingdom of Lesotho.
Facing multilevel social, political and environmental challenges, since the end of Apartheid the city has undergone a process of ‘remotization’, that is, an increasing isolation from other economic and cultural centres of the country. The social and political history of the city under Apartheid still today impacts access to key resources and services, most notably water. At the same time, the challenges faced in Phuthaditjhaba have contributed to the resilience of its inhabitants, who show high levels of social innovation and cultural creativity.
Involving local scholars and practitioners, this publication takes a transdisciplinary approach to showcase the variety and quality of the existing research on Phuthaditjhaba and its wider territory, as well as to contribute to raising the profile of southern Africa’s mountains – and their researchers and practitioners – in sustainability and development research internationally.
The book brings together multiple contributions from diverse disciplines and therefore all 17 SDGS are addressed. SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) features frequently, given the focus of study being the city of Phuthaditjhaba. SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) together with SDG 1 (No Poverty) are also frequently addressed as these are key development issues in the city.
One of the goals of this book is to raise the profile of research in southern Africa’s mountains. Much of the research conducted in and on Phuthaditjhaba is not published in peer-reviewed journals, giving the false impression that the area is ‘under-researched’. There are several reasons for this lack of publication, including, but not limited to: a lack of local peer-reviewed journals, meaning scholars must compete for publication in international journals; locally-focused research holds less appeal for an international audience, sometimes leading such articles to be rejected; institutions that do not use number of publications as a metric of internal assessment necessarily place less pressure on scholars to publish; high publication fees; western bias of some reviewers/editors.
OA naturally broadens the potential audience of the volume, and removes access restrictions that disproportionately affect researchers in lower income areas such as Phuthaditjhaba. For the editors, there was no question that the book must be OA.
The open access fee was funded by the University of the Free State (UFS) which is the institution of the majority of the authors. The Afromontane Research Unit based at the QwaQwa campus of the UFS is dedicated to raising the visibility of mountain research in southern Africa and has driven the book project from behind the scenes.
The editors and co-authors will directly promote the book, both in southern Africa and Europe, but also in other continents, thanks to their participation in international networks, conferences and academic institutions, also through social media. A book launch event is planned in South Africa. The volume will also be adopted in different academic courses.
Yes, it is a great opportunity to reach a wider audience, particularly beyond a purely academic sphere, where the research presented in this book can also have an impact.
Andrea Membretti (PhD in Sociology) is Assistant Professor of Territorial Sociology at the University of Pavia (Italy) and Research Fellow at the University of the Free State, Afromontane Research Unit (South Africa). He is also Research Affiliate at the Department of Cultures, Politics & Society of the University of Turin (Italy), where he leads a national project on new peopling in the Alps. His main field of research is migration and mobility to/from mountain and remote regions, in relationship to sustainable development.
Jess L. Delves is a researcher at Global Mountain Safeguard Research (GLOMOS), a joint research programme of the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (Germany) and Eurac Research (Italy). Her research takes a political ecology perspective in investigating land degradation and water management in Lesotho and South Africa.
Susan Jean Taylor (PhD) is a development consultant with experience in researching, writing and lecturing about climate change and social/development issues in South Africa and Africa. She has worked in the research sector doing crop biotechnology, in nature conservation and in the NGO sector as a climate change activist, and then in the academic sector as a science writer. Her current interest is cities and climate change adaptation.