Niehaus Center travels to South Africa

May 1, 2023

The Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance has three missions: to create a community of scholars in globalization and international governance; to promote interdisciplinary research; and to foster ties between academia and policy. To this end, The Niehaus Center has sponsored a series of international study trips and conferences that aim to bring scholars from the Global North (primarily, but not exclusively US-based) to parts of the world that are often less-well understood in international relations, especially emerging and developing countries of the Global South. The objective is to enable scholars engaged in the US academic community to understand strategic and important countries in situ so that they can comprehend the political, social, and economic realities that cannot otherwise be understood, much less observed, from a distance, nor in data alone. The second goal of these trips is to engage with and learn from scholars and policymakers from the Global South.

The Niehaus Center has sponsored study trips to China, Brazil, India, Cuba, Vietnam, and most recently, South Africa. In March, 2023, the Niehaus Center brought a group of scholars of international politics to the Republic of South Africa for ten days of immersion in the intellectual community, history, politics, and culture of the country.

The study trip began on Friday, March 10 with an overview of the current politics and socio-economic trends in South Africa provided by top public opinion expert Reza Omar, who is Strategic Research Director of Citizen Surveys. From there, the group traveled to the US Consulate in Cape Town for a briefing with Consular officials at the about recent events relating to US-South African relations, including US engagement on climate transition policies, and the South African ties to Russia as they relate to the Ukraine war. The group met the same day with scholars at the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, at the University of Cape Town, which provides professional and academic training and forums for discussion for senior public officials and those engaged in public policy across Africa and the world. There the visiting scholars had the opportunity to learn about South Africa’s engagement with international organizations and had the opportunity to ask questions and learn about current research being conducted at the Mandela school.

The Niehaus group spent the weekend in the Western Cape, starting in central Cape Town with a tour of the historic landmarks dating back to the Dutch East India Company’s arrival in what became the Cape of Good Hope.  The group also experienced cultural treasures of the Cape winelands, Table Mountain, and a concert in the botanical gardens of Kirstenbosch.

The Niehaus scholars returned to their academic mission on Monday (13 March) to visit Economic Research South Africa at Stellenbosch University, where they held a colloquium with scholars engaged in research on economic history of South Africa. Two US-based scholars from the Niehaus group, Professor James Vreeland (Princeton) and Professor Erik Voeten (Georgetown), joined  scholars from Stellenbosch who shared their research on the economic history of South Africa, making important connections for future collaboration with ERSA scholars.

The Niehaus group then traveled to Johannesburg, a crucial economic and political hub of South Africa, where they had the opportunity to tour the Constitutional Court with a lawyer who has argued important cases before the court, and toured the remnants of an Apartheid-era prison where political prisoners were detained, including Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. Now a museum, the buildings bear witness to the stark and brutal treatment of those who fought for freedom and equality in South Africa, as well as the inequities of treatment by race even within prison life.

On the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand, the group met with the South African Institute for International Affairs, and engaged with its director, Elizabeth Sidiropoulos and the deputy chairman, Moloetsi Mbeki to discuss South Africa’s role within the African Union, its relations with the US and the EU among other topics. The same day, the Niehaus group enjoy met over lunch with academic scholars at the Gordon School of Business Sciences, where they engaged with those scholars on issues of the economic and political challenges facing South Africa.

On Wednesday, 15 March, the Niehaus group departed for Pretoria, the executive capital of South Africa where they met with Scholars from the University of Pretoria, and policymakers. Dr. Rashad Cassim, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of South Africa, Professor Victoria Graham, Head of Department in Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, and Professor Layna Mosley, of Princeton, participated in a panel discussion of South Africa’s domestic politics and economic challenges, while Professor Sarah Brooks (Ohio State University) and Professor Peter Vale (Centre for Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria), discussed South Africa’s role in global economic governance.

The study tour culminated with an academic conference at the Pilanesberg National Park, a Game Reserve located in South Africa’s North West Province, and home to the Shepherd’s Tree hotel and Conference Center. The Conference brought the group into further dialogue with leading scholars in South Africa, including Prof. Jeremy Seekings (University of Cape Town), Prof. Amanda Gouws (University of Stellenbosch), Prof. Gabila Nubong (University of North West), and Prof. William Gumede (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and executive chairperson of the Democracy Works Foundation.)