College of Human Sciences

Unisa’s renowned scholar in LGBTIQ earns prestigious nomination

Prof Azwihangwisi Helen Mavhandu-Mudzusi

Mavhandu-Mudzusi explains that she feels honoured. “As the nomination is for a Medal for Social Sciences and Humanities: Established Researcher, the recognition might motivate the postdoctoral incubates I am mentoring towards becoming established researchers to realise that with hard work, collaboration, and willingness to become a lifelong learner, one can reach greater heights in academia, “ she says.

As a nominee in the Established Researcher category, Mavhandu-Mudzusi’s nomination was not specifically focused on any specific research projects, but rather on a holistic view and impact of her research work, which includes her record of sustained academic excellence in the social sciences and humanities. This includes being a C3 NRF-rated researcher, inaugurated in 2017 to the rank of a full professor, and sustained record of academic excellence, evidenced by winning several research-related awards. Her awards include: the Chancellor’s Calabash Award: Outstanding Educator (2019), Chancellor’s Award of Excellence in Research: College of Human Sciences (2018), the National Department of Science and Technology Women in Science Award: Distinguished Women Scientist (2017), and the Women’s Award for Excellence in Research: Leadership in Research (2016).

Mavhandu-Mudzusi’s academic scholarship started in 2012; since then, exponential growth has been seen in the number of her publications, citations, and the master's and doctoral students she has supervised to completion. “I have supervised to completion 10 doctoral and 22 master’s students,” she says. With regard to dissemination, she has published 38 journal articles in peer-reviewed accredited journals, two book chapters, and orally presented some of the research outcomes at several national and international conferences. From 2013, she has collaborated with a number of academics and national and international organisations. In the process, she also was able to attract funding from several organisations, which amounts to over 1.5 million Rands combined.

International reputation

As a scholar, Mavhandu-Mudzusi has produced a diverse and wide span of research output that attests to her credibility and standing within the academic community. She was part of a joint collaborative effort in an editorial Special Journal Issue on Destabilizing Heteronormativity in Higher Education with the South African Journal of Higher Education (SAJHE) that was published in 2017. She is also a joint editor on a current book initiative with Unisa Press, titled Un)silence—LGBTI experiences and identities in institutions of higher learning in southern Africa.

She is among scholars who are internationally known for LGBTIQ scholarship, and her work is widely cited. In 2020, she initiated a collaborative study with a former PhD student from Zimbabwe in conducting a study on The lived experiences of frontline health care workers who have been infected or affected by Covid-19 in Bulawayo Province, Zimbabwe. Mavhandu-Mudzusi also co-hosts the symposium on Deconstructing Matola (taboo) related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals in partnership with the University of Venda, Unisa, and the University of the Witwatersrand. To read more about this, click (See the link: here and  here .

In addition, she is a Unisa co-ordinator in a collaborative research project with the University of the Witwatersrand, University of Venda, University of Namibia and University Malawi for the project on Destabilising Heteronormativity in SADC universities. “I am also the principal investigator (South Africa) for South African heterosexual university students’ attitudes toward same marriage and parenting. The study involves six other universities in South Africa. (Collaborating internationally with the University of Liège in Belgium and Alliant International University in San Francisco, California,” she adds. From 2013-2015, she was a Project Leader for Networking HIV/AIDS Community of South Africa (NACOSA) Unisa Men who have Sex with Men /Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (MSM/LGBTI) Knowledge, Attitude, Perception and Behaviour (KAPB) survey. The project is registered as A NACOSA / Unisa MSM / LGBTI KAPB survey.

Contribution to public’s understanding of social sciences

Mavhandu-Mudzusi is fully involved in the community. Apart from her academic contributions, she  is also published in platforms such as The Conversation, which has a broad readership. She is also frequently involved in radio talks and television shows addressing topics related to LGBTIQ, blessers and HIV/AIDS.“I am also a co-organiser for an annual symposium focusing on Deconstructing Matola which is focusing on dispelling the myth related to LGBTIQ individuals in Vhembe district. The symposium is attended by academics, students, community leaders, members of civic organisations, religious leaders, traditional healers, and other indigenous knowledge holders.

The impact of her work is evident on the number of academics and non-academics who approach her to be their mentor in research. The majority of students, especially those who are researching on LGBTIQ topics, are referred to her by academics from other universities or directly approach her making reference to her media shows. “My activism is more evident in the advocacy for LGBTIQ individuals, especially students and those in rural communities. This is also shown by my publications, seminars, dialogues, awareness campaigns, and the number of students I am supervising to broaden community understanding and acceptance of the LGBTIQ community from 2011 to date. My contribution to the LGBTIQ community has contributed to the initiation of the programmes for supporting LGBTIQ individuals, especially students by Higher Education South Africa, which is continuing to date.”

Skuitdrift school children and their teacher rejoice in their new school uniforms.

Furthermore, she is involved in community engagement focusing on the enhancement of HIV prevention among learners in farm schools. There is documented evidence that since her engagement in one of the schools, the pregnancy rate among learners has dropped from more than 50% to 0%. Absenteeism at the schools has also significantly dropped because of her effort in instilling confidence in learners through motivations and supplying them with uniforms and clothes. This initiative has also improved the pass rates of learners at the schools.  One of those schools where the impact is positive is Skuitdrift School, which is a farm school at Musina Municipality.

This is simply a summary of Mavhandu-Mudzusi’s list of research and activism work. At the heart of this Unisan is an academic rooted in excellence and social impact. Unisa stands proud to house an internationally recognised researcher with accolades like hers.

Link to join the virtual awards on 18 March 2021

Read more about the Established Researcher nominees for the HSRC-USAf 2020 Medal in Social Sciences and Humanities here and here.

*By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2021-03-18 00:00:00.0