Indian book donation boosts research capacity at S African university

By Fakir Hassen, IANS,

Johannesburg : A gift of more than 500 books on a wide range of subjects by the Indian government has given a major kickstart to the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) here.

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“This is the first Centre of its kind on the African continent and it ties in with Wits’ philosophy of fostering south-south co-operation. (The university) looks at not only linking India with South Africa, but also with other countries in the regional as well,” said Indian Consul-General Navdeep Suri, who was the guest of honour at the official opening of the library Wednesday evening..

“We hope that these books will really become accessible to a large body of students and that it furthers their interest and curiosity about India,” Suri continued, adding that there was already an active programme that has been planned for this year at the university.

“Wits plans to start with four courses that will focus on different facets of India.

“There is also a very active exchange of academics being planned, from India to South Africa and vice versa to teach courses and interact with academics.

“There are also many joint research projects in a variety of areas being planned, so all this will lay a solid, sustainable and durable platform to build greater understanding between India and South Africa and between India and Africa in general.”

Prof Stephen Gelb, who has been appointed as Acting Director of CISA, said more than 30 Wits academics are already involved in joint projects with Indian counterparts.

“We are going to do a lot of teaching about India at Wits University and we want to get students involved in research projects on Indian topics with Indian scientists and Indian collaborators, so that people are not only looking at the US or the UK when they want to do research, but also look at other parts of the world that are increasing in importance.”

Gelb expressed the hope that the Indian government would provide further tranches of books for the library, committing to the university also buying books from India to supplement the collection.

An advisory board comprising leaders from various fields from South Africa, India and other Africa countries will make recommendations to Wits University about CISA’s structure and programmes.One of the first projects of the advisory board is a plan to secure funding from the South African National Research Foundation to allow a senior professor from India to be based at the University as the Chair of the Centre.

The official launch of CISA is planned for September this year, when Wits proposes to organise a major ‘India in Africa’ conference at which they hope to attract some senior people from the Government of India.

(Fakir Hassen can be contacted at [email protected])