College of Human Sciences

The African spirit is strong in this researcher

Prof Jan Maluleka, a Unisa alumnus and outstanding researcher who was mentored by the best professors within the university

On Friday 3 June 2022, Prof Jan Maluleka from the College of Human Sciences was one of three young Unisa researchers who received the Principal’s Award for Excellence in Research at the university’s 2022 Research and Innovation Awards Ceremony. Maluleka is an Associate Professor in the Department of Information Science. 

Click here for coverage of the 2022 Unisa Research and Innovation Awards Ceremony.

Big-hearted Maluleka says the award is an honour that is out of this world. "This is the biggest recognition I have ever received at any levels. Getting this in the area of my research in a mega-institution like Unisa means everything to me."

This award supports the transformation nature of the university by honouring the research and innovation excellence of Unisa’s academic staff to reflect and nurture South African and African identity and the diversity in a global context.

Looking at the list of previous winners of the award makes Maluleka proud. "Winning is good, but winning an award like this one is very special," he says.

Maluleka states that his departmental research culture propelled him to emerge as an award recipient. He explains: "I am based in one of the strongest departments when it comes to research at Unisa. Because of the research culture that has developed over the years, we have the brightest colleagues who can easily win any research award. I am happy I am the one who got it this time."

Something that Maluleka likes about his research is its multidisciplinary focus. He has a deep love for Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Informetrics, and Archives and Records Management. He says, "I conduct research in different sub-disciplines within the Information Science discipline due to the collaborative ventures that I always have with different colleagues."

African solutions to African problems

Maluleka adds, "Informetrics allows me to cut across disciplines investigating different information patterns. When it comes to indigenous knowledge systems, I believe I am driven by the African spirit that lives in me. The knowledge that sustained our forefathers should be part of the solution to the African problems that we currently facing. The best thing about conducting research in this area, is the fact that I can relate to most of what I conduct research on."

Maluleka says that pursuing Indigenous Knowledge in a comprehensive open and distance eLearning (CODeL) environment allows him to change the lives of Africans and Unisans. "By its very nature," he explains, "it is generally known to have been passed on from generation to generation through oral tradition. This knowledge is currently facing the danger of being obliterated due to factors such as the lack of interest from younger generations, low life expectancy, where people die before transferring it to the next generation, and it not being documented. So, my research is contributing to the preservation of knowledge that developed within indigenous African societies." 

According to Maluleka Unisans will benefit from his research especially after curriculum transformation. "We are in the process of revising our curriculum in our department and indigenous knowledge systems is among the new changes in the new curriculum," he notes.

Mentorship versus academic growth

"Academia can be a complex and difficult space for young researchers, especially for young black South Africans. Many experience failure and frustration before finding their feet. Some succeed without being assisted while others are lucky enough to have mentors," says Maluleka.

"Having a mentor," he continues, "allows you to benefit from their knowledge and experience. I was young when I joined the department and very lucky to meet Prof Thomas van der Walt who connected with me right away. He sees what I cannot see in myself – he believes in me. As I progressed, I worked with Prof Bosire Onyancha who pushed me more in the area of research. The interaction laid a solid foundation in me. Then Professors Patrick Ngulube and Mpho Ngoepe took me a notch higher and developed me further into the person I am today. So, I can proudly say I am standing on the shoulders of giants."

Moreover, Maluleka gives credit to his parents, especially his mother. "She is the one person I have sworn not to disappoint," says NRF Y2 rated researcher.

"This recognition is an indication that I am on the right track, and I should work harder to continue and do more. This will motivate my fellow young academics to believe in their craft," he says.

Lastly, Maluleka acknowledges the people who nominated him for the award. "They saw something in me that I did not think was there, and for that I will continue doing what I do without fail," he concludes.

* By Lesego Chiloane-Ravhudzulo, Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2022/06/10

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