New NMMU prof researcher of note

Newly appointed executive dean of the NMMU faculty of arts, Prof Rose Boswell
Newly appointed executive dean of the NMMU faculty of arts, Prof Rose Boswell

Mauritian-born mom happy to be back near the ocean

THE newly appointed executive dean of the NMMU faculty of arts, Prof Rose Boswell, an anthropologist, learnt early on how complex human beings are, as she grew up in a place where the poor and oppressed managed to survive and thrive in very difficult circumstances.

“The rich thoughts and wisdom of the poor are often overlooked because people tend to focus on material trappings,” says the professor who was born in Mauritius and raised in Southern Africa.

Her father – who worked in a sugar factory – sought new opportunities to improve their lives and the family literally had nothing when they moved to Malawi in the early 1970s.

“At that time, we lived under a dictatorship and I have two vivid memories: one is of the presence of the military everywhere, and the fear that they would shoot. We lived in constant fear of the military.

“The other is about resilience. Every New Year people from the villages came to the estate where we lived to perform elaborate masked dances in return for food and money. We lived segregated lives even on the estate but even so, this produced rich interconnections and complex social dynamics.

“The best thing that happened to me was, I went to a multiracial school. I learned that everyone shares the same fears, hopes and dreams. I was lucky to grow up in a place where there were vivid and diverse expressions of social existence.”

Boswell completed her undergraduate study and MA in anthropology at the University of Cape Town.

She obtained her PhD at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, focusing on the challenges of integration in the multi-ethnic society of Mauritius, in particular the legacies of slavery and racism.

This multilingual researcher has written two books as well as several academic papers published in peer reviewed journals on topics ranging from perfume to globalisation. She is currently managing a National Research Foundation competitive research grant investigating the links between heritage tourism and identity in South Africa and Mauritius.

She has done anthropological research in Mauritius, Madagascar, South Africa, the Seychelles and Zanzibar. From 2010-2011, she led a sevenmember research team to investigate race discourse and policy in Mauritius on behalf of the Mauritius Truth and Justice Commission.

The Rockefeller Foundation recognised the work and she was awarded a residency at the Foundation’s premises in Bellagio, Italy in 2011.

She describes this time in Italy as memorable and says that she would like to encourage greater creativity in the arts faculty in order to advance cutting-edge research and engagement projects.

Having worked at Rhodes University for 17 years, she says that as an islander, she always wanted to live in Port Elizabeth to be near the ocean.

She enjoys family life with her advocate husband, teenage daughter and two sons, and loves walking, running, weight training, gardening and cooking.

“I aim to achieve a fine balance between creative imagination and discipline, but of course, this is not always easy!”

Boswell enjoys working with young people and in 2009 received the Rhodes University vice-chancellor’s distinguished teaching award.

She was shortlisted for the senior award last year.

‘’When you teach, you invest not only in teaching content; you invest in the process. You give of yourself.’’

Of her mid-career change, she says that people ask how you move from being a social science student to being in a management position.

“As a social science student you learn critical skills like paying attention to detail, developing a good memory and how to deal with finances and people. You become observant, learn the social dynamics, respect existing structures and remain humble. These are skills that are transferable to a new context,” she says.

-La Femme Correspondent

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