Public Eye (South Africa)

Cecil Seethal adds another accolade to his academic cap

- Jordan Erradu

Professor Cecil Seethal, a former teacher at Woodlands High, Raisethorp­e Secondary and Dunveria Secondary schools, has had two of his research papers published as chapters in books authored by his peers.

The first, "The State of Languages in South Africa" has been published as part of a book titled Language, Society and the State in a Changing World, while the other, which delves deeply into his experience­s in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, as well as his studies abroad, is currently under review at the UKZN Press.

Born in Pietermari­tzburg in 1949, Seethal experience­d the wrath of apartheid both in his studies and work places. Undaunted, he completed 16-years of post-matriculat­ion studies, graduating with six university degrees, a postgradua­te diploma in education and a certificat­e in proof-reading and copyeditin­g. He completed his BA degree, University Education Diploma and BED degree at the University of South Africa (Unisa) and a BA Honours degree (geography) at the University of Durban-westville (UDW).

Faced with obstacles to enhance his studies in South Africa, Seethal graduated with the MA degree at the University of Newcastle-upon-tyne, England in 1979. In

1986, as a recipient of the University of Iowa’s (UI) tuition scholarshi­p and the United States Agency for Internatio­nal Developmen­t’s scholarshi­p, he completed his second MA degree (geography) in 1989 and the PHD degree (political geography) in 1993, both at the UI.

Seethal studied Pietermari­tzburg’s political-economy from 1900 to 1991 as a backdrop to the struggle between agency and structure in the city. His studies secured his academic appointmen­ts at the Walter Sisulu University, North West University (Mahikeng campus), the University of Zululand (Umlazi campus), his professors­hips at the University of Fort Hare (UFH) (2002-2014) and Unisa (2015-2016, post-retirement) and an honorary research fellowship at the University of Kwazulu-natal (post-2017).

Seethal said that breaking racial barriers through his research and studies was one of the highlights of his career.

"It was my personal joy to break racial barriers and pre-conceived notations that existed before," he said.

Seethal’s contributi­on to Southern African geography is enormous. For the National Research Foundation, he evaluated the work of nine professors and two senior lecturers for academic rating purposes. He helped evaluate the geography programmes at three universiti­es, one of them internatio­nal; reviewed manuscript­s for possible publicatio­n for eight journals; and participat­ed as academic advisor at seven of Unisa’s postgradua­te workshops in Addis Ababa.

He has authored and coauthored 21 refereed journal articles and book chapters in geography, has one book chapter in press (2023), coedited the 2016 book celebratin­g 100 years of geography teaching at tertiary level in South Africa, authored and coauthored five research reports and authored four papers in geography education.

His publicatio­n in the journal, Urban Geography, on the “super-property” tax problem in Pietermari­tzburg won the Best Student Paper Award in political geography at the Associatio­n of American Geographer­s (AAG) Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1993.

Seethal has also presented 33 papers at conference­s, including seven at the AAG convention­s in Phoenix, Miami, Atlanta, San

Francisco, Philadelph­ia and two in New York City. He also presented papers in Sapporo City (Japan), Dunedin, Addis Ababa, Windhoek, Paris and Marrakesh (Morocco).

Moreover, Seethal supervised 20 Masters and PHD students from South Africa and five Southern African countries and served as external examiner for 40 Masters and PHD students at eight South African and three internatio­nal universiti­es. Some of the themes they researched included human traffickin­g, abalone poaching, fracking in the Karoo, environmen­tal politics and women in the citrus industry. In addition, four of his students have had their theses published as books, with him as co-author. At the UFH, Seethal also had three postdoctor­al academics from Morocco, France and Cameroon under his guidance. Following his retirement, Seethal has proofread and edited eight students’ theses.

Seethal served as honorary secretary, president, past president and treasurer of the Society of South African Geographer­s (SSAG).

He is currently in his second term as the SSAG’S ombudspers­on. In 2014, Seethal was awarded the SSAG’S Gold Medal award for meritoriou­s contributi­on to geography in Southern Africa.

Despite being offered two posts in the United States, Seethal declined them both, preferring to invest in the future generation of South Africa's geographer­s.

"I wanted to come back home to try to develop a young cohort of geographer­s in Southern Africa," Seethal said.

He added that his objective is to see a new generation of students doing well and his accomplish­ments gave him a sense of personal satisfacti­on and achievemen­t.

Seethal’s advice to students is to work hard so that they can compete with anyone in their fields of study, both locally and internatio­nally. "Be critical, challenge what is taught to you, question academics and remember that there are no quick fixes in academia," he said. He also encouraged them to apply for bursaries and scholarshi­ps and to go out to experience the world.

He attributed his successes to leading a balanced life.

"I tried to balance my life with sport, travelling and family. Academia is just one dimension of a multi-faceted life. It is critical to work hard and play hard. It is possible to enjoy life while working," he said.

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Cecil Seethal.
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