Project Description


South Africa

Learning to re-imagine the commons

South African T-learning researchers work across learning networks to re-imagine learning and change for the common good. These learning networks are found in rural farming communities, amongst urban youth, in local governments, and in activist movements. Nexus issues involve climate change and food security, democracy and social justice, well-being and decolonisation, and service delivery. Methods include arts-based inquiry, empatheatre, cartography, change and challenge laboratories, studios, podcast and film, use of mobile and digital social learning, and participatory change projects.

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Team members

The South African research team are spread across a range of different institutions and case studies where different learning networks oriented towards sustainability and the commons are active.  Our interest is to share t-learning methods, processes and interests across a range of diverse learning networks.

Research team leader: 

Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka is an NRF SARChI Chair of Transformative Social Learning and Green Skills Learning Pathways. Her research interests include critical research methodologies, transformative social learning, and human agency for change.  She also works on translating insights from this research into education system change.  She is the Primary Investigator of the ISSC T-learning project.

Senior Research Team Members:

Professor Rob O’Donoghue is Professor of Environmental Education in the Education Department at Rhodes University. He is also Director of the Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University. He is co-ordinator of the UNU Makana Regional Centre of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development. He is supporting a number of research-based learning networks.

Professor Sheona Shackleton is Professor of Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Science at Rhodes University. She is Senior Associate with the Center for International Forestry Research in Indonesia. She has worked extensively at the interface between rural development and natural resource management, most recently focusing on climate change adaptation.

Professor Coleen Vogel is based in the Global Change and Sustainability Research Unit at the University of the Witwatersand where she is appointed as distinguished professor. A climatologist by training, and IPCC scientist, she also works on the social dimensions of climate change, focusing particularly on climate change adaptation.


Dr Lausanne Olvitt holds a PhD in Environmental Education from Rhodes University. She is a senior lecturer in the Education Department at Rhodes University, and conducts her research in association with the Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University.  She is leading a research group and learning network focusing on ethics-led learning and change involving Ms Cindy Cloete, Ms Sherraine van Wyk, and Ms Chesney Ward-Smith.

Dr Ingrid Schudel holds a PhD in Environmental Education from Rhodes University. She is a senior lecturer in the Education Department at Rhodes University. She is leading a national teacher education network named ‘Fundisa for Change’, which aims to strengthen implementation of transformative environmental learning in teacher education institutions. She works with a team of researchers including Ms Zintle Songqwaru, Dr Sirkka Tshiningayamwe, Dr Caleb Mandikonza, Ms Sibongile Masuku van Damme, Mr Lebona Nkhahle.

Dr Dylan McGarry holds a PhD in Environmental Education from Rhodes University. As a post-doctoral scholar on the ISSC t-learning programme, Dylan is developing a T-learning case study using emphateatre. Dylan is working closely with theatre practitioners Neil Coppen and Mpume Mthombeni, and the Big Brotherhood community theatre project.

Mr Tichaona Pesanayi holds a Masters Degree in Environmental Education. He has worked with agriculture and food security educational programmes across the Southern African Development Community.  The t-learning case study that Tichaona is leading focuses on boundary crossing learning in local learning networks involving agricultural education institutions, farmers associations and local economic development officers. Tichaona is working within a wider network of researchers in a co-engaged social learning research programme working on water-food-climate-social justice issues in rural farming areas, including Ms Chisala Lupele, Ms Phindile Sithole, Mr Christopher Mabeza, Ms Patience Shawarira, Ms Wilma van Staden, Ms Kim Weaver, Ms Laura Conde Allier, and Ms Live Matiwana, all of whom are associated with the SARChI Chair on Transformative Social Learning and Green Skills Learning Pathways at Rhodes University.

Ms Injairu Kulundu holds a BA in Politics and Drama, Applied Theatre (Hons), Post grad Diploma in African Diplomacy and Peace Keeping, MA in Political Studies (Rhodes). She is currently a PhD scholar and change agent working with a youth t-learning network associated with the Activate! Change Drivers youth leadership programme in South Africa. Her research will focus on t-learning with youth change drivers, with a focus on decolonization and transgression.

Ms Jane Burt holds a BA Honours in Psychology and a Masters degree in Environmental Education from Rhodes University. Jane has been involved in various Water Research Commission projects, all with a focus on the democratic and sustainability imperatives of the South African National Water Act. The case study she is developing on t-learning involves water and environmental justice activist organisations through the Environmental Monitoring Group, a leading environmental justice network who are responding to water justice issues.

Ms Priya Vallabh holds a Masters in Environmental Education. The case study she is developing on t-learning involves a national review of the learning potential of citizen sciences and the capacity of citizen sciences to drive transformative, transgressive types of learning, involving wider ecologies of knowledge and commons practices.

Local transformative knowledge network partners

Each of the learning networks involved in the South African t-learning research programme involves a number of local transformative knowledge network partners. Some of the major partners are included below.

  • University of Witwatersrand Global Change and Sustainability Research Unit undertakes research on global change and sustainability related concerns, including transformative learning and climate change adaptation.
  • Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa is one of the oldest environmental NGOs in South Africa, with a large education and sustainability programme.
  • Activate! is one of the largest youth led movements in South Africa. It is a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa.
  • Water Research Commission has supported the Amanzi for Food programme, and the Water and Social Movements project of the Environmental Monitoring Group, and has up-to-date knowledge resources that are helpful for transformative learning in the water-climate-food security nexus area.
  • South African Water Caucus and the Environmental Monitoring Group are and environmental justice social movement and NGO group who actively work with civil society to monitor environmental concerns.
  • Big Brotherhood community theatre project is a project in Durban using emphatheatre methodology for civil society and social justice engagement.

Project updates

Phetoho: Changing practice network

The network emerging out of the changing practice course has produced a newsletter sharing updates to honour the work that continues long after the course is over. The network has adopted the name Phetoho (meaning change in [...]

Prof. Heila Lotz-Sisitka