SAJU 5 cements prospects for long-term research collaboration between South African and Japanese Universities

Published On: 15 August 2022|

The recently completed fifth conference of the South Africa-Japanese Universities (SAJU) Forum hosted 41 papers or posters concerning completed or ongoing research in the three broad areas of Health and Wellness, Security and Social Justice and Growth, Exploration and Conservation. The presentations represented collaborative work or studies lending themselves to future or continuing collaboration between scholars in South Africa and Japan.

The one-and-a-half-day conference was declared an outright success as South African and Japanese scholars identified and acknowledged prospects for deeper and broader collaboration on research and scholarship.

In the Health and Wellness cluster, the 11 presentations featured South Africa’s on-going inter-disciplinary research in areas such as the impact of structural inequality in state responses to the CoViD-19 pandemic, cyanobacteria in water sources and implications for public health, and antimicrobial resistance. Japanese researchers presented ongoing studies on, for example, the participation of disabled persons in sport; infectious diseases research; cattle related injuries in Japan and implications for occupational health in Africa’s livestock industry.

From the Security and Social Justice cluster, the 14 abstracts presented included an examination, in South Africa, of how indigenous strategies could be used to curb poverty in the 21st century, and an exploration of smart water and soil management strategies for achieving food security in Africa. One study made a case for a disability economic empowerment inequality index in the context of South Africa and Japan (Working paper), while another investigated rising Japanese foreign direct investment in the digital economy of African countries.

Under the theme Growth, Exploration, and Conservation, the 12 presented abstracts could be sub-divided into three areas of linguistics, mining, and sustainability studies. In linguistics, studies included one showcasing remote collaboration in Linguistic Research and Forensic Linguistics studies in South Africa and on the African Continent. In mining, researchers showcased results of extensive research collaboration in studies on earthquakes in mining; studies on the physico-chemistry of strata groups in coalfields as well as studies on the implementation of smart technology in Mining. Sustainability studies included solving practical needs of communities through university-community engagement – A KwaZulu-Natal model, and an alternative development model for sustainability: a communal development perspective from Ubuntuism.

The rest of the research work was presented in poster format.

During the wrap-up session of fifth conference of the SAJU Forum, all speakers who summarised what had transpired during the presentation of papers, abstracts and posters on the three broad themes outlined above, said the discussions had affirmed solid interest in the trans-disciplinary research collaborations and paved the way for deeper and broader South Africa-Japan research collaborations into the future.

Professor Takahiro Morio (left), from the University of Tsukuba — a member of the SAJU Forum Organising Committee alongside numerous other entities, said the importance of academic collaboration across disciplines, country borders and stakeholders was continuing to grow for the resolution of global issues and wellbeing of humanity.  Echoing the importance of science, technology and higher education in the context of TICAD (the Tokyo International Conference on African Development), Professor Morio re-emphasised the importance of mutual trust, and trust in the scientific process as a precondition for such collaboration. He said it was also important to involve the younger generation in the SAJU Forum deliberations – “something we did for the first time today.”

He extended gratitude to his staff at the University of Tsukuba, in the JICA (Japanese International Cooperation Agency) office and the Embassy of Japan in South Africa for sparing no inch to make this conference a success. To the delegates, he said: “I thank you all for your participation and look forward to seeing all of you at SAJU 6, in future.”

Tribute to the late Dr Ben Ngubane

One of the founding SAJU Forum scholars, Professor Masafumi Nagao, who is a visiting professor and Programme Adviser at the United Nations University’s Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, and Professor Emeritus at Hiroshima University, acknowledged the contribution of South Africa’s late Dr Ben Ngubane (right), who succumbed to CoViD-19 complications in July 2021.  A former Cabinet Minister of Sports and Culture from 1999 to April 2004, the late Ben Ngubane was appointed South Africa’s Ambassador to Japan in April 2004 and held this post until 2008.

“It was his suggestion to start SAJU 1 in 2007.  During his term of office, South Africa and Japan went on to conclude up to 17 agreements in Science and Technology.”

“I have been reporting all SAJU developments to him all these years and continued to do so until corona took his life away. SAJU Forum remains the intellectual brainchild of Dr Ben Ngubane. I am delighted that we still continue after his passing and would like to recognise his legacy.”

SAJU must aim to influence the TICAD 8 agenda

Professor Ahmed Bawa (left), Chief Executive Officer of Universities South Africa, said South African and Japanese universities had made significant progress since SAJU 4, with 3,000 peer reviewed articles (arising out of this engagement) published between 2017 and 2021. He said 90% of those were being cited at the average citation of five each.  “Every single published paper is relevant to human growth and development. We therefore applaud everyone who played a role in this output.”

With reference to the TICAD 8 conference coming up in Tunisia during late August, Professor Bawa said this alliance must strive to ensure that SAJU becomes a platform for the advancement of the African continent, and Japan, “for which we depend heavily on our funding agencies to come to the party.” He said similarly to when SAJU 4 presented a paper to TICAD 7 in Yokohama in 2019, “if an opportunity arises, we should do the same with TICAD 8 – lay out SAJU’s commitment to contribute to the TICAD 8 agenda.”

In his assessment, SAJU 5 had produced the following outcomes:

  1. It had continued to actively pursue stronger collaborations. For the first time since the SAJU Forum inception, SAJU 5 had had a students’ session that showed the extent to which young people could fit in and network across borders – allowing free flow of ideas towards building a new global commons. “I hope we will continue to build on this momentum and not rest on our laurels,” Professor Bawa said.
  2. The conference had committed to continue working through numerous networks to galvanize the synergies that would make this Forum a success.
  3. The conference theme, of Open Collaboration and Innovation with Trust, had rendered it more critical for the SAJU Forum to strive to build an environment of trust that would contribute to a new global commons of scholars and scholarship. “We must take an international approach to solving our inherently global and local problems.”
  4. The evidently increasing participation of governments and local governments in SAJU was “a sign of increasing trust of our governments in this Forum.”
  5. Deliberations during SAJU 5 had demonstrated continued support of the research enterprise – the main source of a sustainable knowledge system.
  6. Delegates had emphasised the need to foster scholar mobility and networking, and
  7. The need to find ways of connecting SAJU 5 to TICAD 8.

Acknowledging the organisers

Drawing from SAJU 5 and all previous engagements, Professor Bawa said for Universities South Africa, the SAJU Forum had always been a strongly pleasurable, collegial platform for collaboration with the Japanese scholars. “We truly hope that this relationship continues to allow SAJU to grow from strength to strength and that it allows a new generation of scholars committed to working across borders, as part of the fundamental role of universities.

“We salute the likes of you, Professor Nagao (left), for initiating the SAJU Forum tradition.” Commending the collegiality that continued to prevail during SAJU 5 engagements, Professor Bawa only regretted that the conference was virtual. “I hope SAJU 6 will enable us to meet in person again once we’re completely free from CoViD. One of the wonderful things emerging here is a clear understanding that SAJU resides in a rich and large ecosystem. Our biggest challenge now is to produce maximal synergies to ensure that our knowledge-intensive institutions add value to the quality of lives in our two countries.”

Among the Japanese hosts, he singled out Professor Takahiro Morio, Professor Shinichi Takeuchi and Professor Masafumi Nagao for guiding the organising team to this end. He also recognised the individuals who had worked behind the scenes, namely USAf’s Dr Linda Meyer and Ms Janet Van Rhyn, JICA’s Ms Janet McGrath as well as the officials in Japan’s Embassy in South Africa, without whose combined efforts this event would not have been possible. “This is not a small event to put together,” Professor Bawa concluded.

At its peak, SAJU 5 was virtually attended by no fewer than 120 delegates from both South Africa and Japan. The SAJU Forum, which gathers bi-annually, was last hosted in person, in South Africa, in May 2019. SAJU 5 was delayed, by-and-large, by the global pandemic – hence the virtual event in 2022.

The office bearers declared SAJU 5 another outright success, nonetheless.

‘Mateboho Green is Universities South Africa’s Manager: Corporate Communication