School of Built Environment & Development Studies

Activist Graduates with PhD for Research on AIDS

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Well-known activist linked with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and Sonke Gender Justice Dr Vuyiseka Dubula graduated with a PhD in Development Studies for a thesis she believes contributes to the social movement praxis.

Dubula was selected from 77 applicants as a PhD candidate to the Irish Aid- funded Centre for Civil Society partnership programme on HIV/AIDS involving the University of Limerick, the University of Makerere in Uganda and the University of Dar es Salaam.

Her research documents the ways in which AIDS activists in Khayelitsha and Lusikisiki shifted their advocacy strategies and tactics following the rollout of antiretrovirals (ARVs) in the public healthcare sector between 2004 and 2014 which led to AIDS treatment access breakthroughs. She hopes her research adds value to the growing body of knowledge about social movements and popular participation praxis within the realm of development studies.

Dubula’s thesis was born out of her concern about social injustice, which emanates from her own personal and political experiences of participation in AIDS policy processes in South Africa. ‘As a black African HIV-positive woman activist who led the TAC, my research undertaking is an attempt to fundamentally disrupt the continual privileging of some movement voices in knowledge production. Among many obstacles to women’s participation in development is the institutionalised male preference, which is embedded in the policy spaces and social movements,’ she said.

Her study found that state-led participation had elements of tyranny and suggests that ‘movements ought to shift tactics, allowing for modifications in approaches and taking advantage of various state ruptures at provincial levels to achieve their social movement goals’. Dubula notes that there are glaring limits to participation because ‘movement resources can influence the ongoing ability of activists to continue fighting’.

‘I received indescribable motivation from Dr Shauna Mottiar – as a black woman scholar I am very privileged to have gone through her clinical approach of graduate supervision.

‘I am also indebted to my family, especially my two young children, Nina and Azania, who endured my absence during their important milestones. Also, thank you to my life partner, companion and comrade Mandla Majola, for unwavering support and cheer during moments of self-doubt.’

Her advise to other scholars is: ‘We all have our studying journeys and what works for others might not work for all so run your own race – what matters is that we all cross the finish line.’

Dubula plans to embark on a postdoctoral fellowship while continuing to research, write and publish.

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