Africa Thesis Award 2010

Africa Thesis Award for 2010, Michal Singer and Dr. Harry WelsThe Africa Thesis Award for 2010 has been won by Michal Singer (University of Witwatersrand) for her thesis entitled "Changing conceptions of South African coal-based pollution, with special reference to the Witbank coalfield, 1906-1978".

Full text of thesis (pdf, 5MB)

Jury report
The jury of the Africa Thesis Award was particularly impressed with the quality of the thesis of Michal Singer. Michal sketches a historically informed picture of how perspectives of coal and coalmining in particular have changed over the years, from a source of wealth and comfort to a major polluter. At the beginning of the twentieth century opencast coal mining experienced a tremendous growth in South Africa, particularly around the Witbank area (then Eastern Transvaal, now Mpumalanga Province). At the beginning of the third millennium plans for opening up new coalfields in South Africa usually spark strong resentments among the general public in general and from local communities concerned in particular because of the pollution coming with it. Of all fossil fuels, coal releases the most carbon dioxide emission per unit of energy. The release of carbons from fossil fuels, are considered one of the major causes of global warming. Still the demand for coal continues to grow worldwide.

Interesting in Michal’s approach is that she tries to locate and contextualise the concept of ‘pollution’ both in domain of the general public as well as in the domain of the production of scientific knowledge on pollution. The perspectives of the general public were particularly informed by literally seeing, smelling, hearing the physical evidence of air pollution, destruction of land, and underground fires. They saw it happening before their very eyes, ears and noses. This basically paved the way for trying to scientifically understand the pollution in the air, land and water that coal mining instigated and particularly pollution caused as a result of coal combustion.

The thesis would become near perfect with a little more theoretical and methodological persistence and explicit elaboration throughout the thesis, but this observation is not detrimental to the overall view of this beautiful and original thesis.

The jury of the Africa Thesis Award was unanimous in their opinion that Michal Singer’s thesis is of the utmost societal relevance, not only in South Africa, but actually worldwide. It is therefore a thesis that can be read as learning about coal mining and pollution in South Africa, but also as an approach-to-follow in other countries around the world where pollution as a result of fossil fuels are reasons for major concerns.

To conclude: the thesis is solidly structured, well-written, lavishly referenced, and has a clear scientific point to make as the above makes clear. On this basis the jury was unanimous in its decision to award Michal Singer the Africa Thesis Award 2010.