Rhodes University honours academic and activist Professor Janet Cherry

Academic and activist Professor Janet Cherry.

Academic and activist Professor Janet Cherry.

Published Apr 2, 2023


Rhodes University conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) on the Professor of Development Studies at Nelson Mandela University, Janet Cherry.

Cherry has successfully combined an academic life with activism for more than 40 years, with most of her work focused on the Eastern Cape.

During the mid-1980s, she was active in the United Democratic Front (UDF), enduring a long period of detention without trial.

Cherry completed a BA at UCT in 1982, majoring in economic history and industrial sociology, and served as general secretary of the National Union of South African Students (Nusas) in 1983. The following year, she moved to Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) in 1984, where she established the East Cape Adult Education Project and the PE Crisis Information Centre.

After four years of activism, working in human rights and adult education NGOs, she completed an Honours degree in economic history at UCT.

While working as a research consultant for the Black Sash, the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa and the Centre for Development Studies, she completed a Master’s degree by research in economic history at UCT, which was awarded with distinction.

Cherry lectured in political studies and international relations at Rhodes University in Grahamstown (now Makhanda) from 1992 to 1994 before returning to Gqeberha and setting up a development and research consultancy, ABC Consultants. ABC engaged in research and training for, among others, the Department of Trade and Industry and the South African Local Government Association (Salga).

From 1996 to 1998, Cherry worked as a member of the research team of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and from 1998 to 2003 as a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the then University of Port Elizabeth.

In 2001 she was awarded a PhD from Rhodes University for her thesis, “Kwazakhele: The politics of transition in South Africa”.

From 2003 to 2005, she was employed as a senior research specialist in the democracy and governance programme of the Human Sciences Research Council, and from 2005 to 2009 was a senior lecturer and research associate in the newly formed Department of Development Studies at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Cherry has also served as a research consultant to the South African Democracy Education Trust, the Red Location Museum, the Foundation for Human Rights, the International Council on Human Rights Policy and the International Center on Non-Violent Conflict, and has been a trainer for the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies and the Pan African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network.

She has been involved international and national research projects. She has published widely in the fields of democratisation, democratic participation, South African liberation history, sustainable development, gender and human rights, labour, transitional justice and civil resistance. She has published three books, “Spear of the Nation: Umkhonto weSizwe”, “The Making of an African Working Class: Port Elizabeth 1925-1963”, and “Blot on the Landscape and Centre of Resistance: A social and economic history of Korsten”.

Cherry has supervised eight doctoral students in the fields of sustainable development in the context of climate change, conservation agriculture, citizen science, co-operatives development, post-war development, land policy and livelihoods diversification.

Her current research interest is in conducting participatory action research on the just energy transition and regional policies for sustainable development in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa.

Over the decades she has been an activist in many organisations and campaigns including the UDF, the End Conscription Campaign, the ANC, the Nelson Mandela Bay Transition Network and the Palestine Solidarity Alliance.

Cherry received the Distinguished Old Rhodian Award in 2013 for her intellectual and political leadership.

The vice-chancellor of Rhodes University, Professor Sizwe Mabizela, said: “Professor Cherry’s many years of campaigning tirelessly for human rights and social justice have earned her this well-deserved honour.”

In acceptance of her doctorate conferral, Cherry said: “I am happy to receive this honorary doctorate as it acknowledges what kind of research needs to be done with great urgency in our society.”

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