Sustainability as Pedagogy?
Towards Tertiary Curricula
in and of Africa

Resourcing "the Africa We Want"

Lesley Green and Nikiwe Solomon

Environmental Humanities South
University of Cape Town
South Africa

July - September 2021

What is "the Africa we want"? How could a critical transdisciplinary study of the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union's Agenda 2063, prepare African university students to bring that Africa into being? This site, produced by Environmental Humanities South at the University of Cape Town, addresses approaches and pedagogies, and curates the contributions of African thought leaders, civil society, activists and academics into an experimental curriculum.  

Who's Proposing What?

All too often, the transformative Sustainable Development Goals are reduced to marketing products or research proposals, or "smart cities" as solutions, without addressing the "land-degrading, resource-alienating activities required to keep the growth-centered economy growing." 

What is our response? Can sustainability discourses be implemented without being captured by the status quo? Are the African Union's Agenda 2063 proposals the answer? What dogmas about economy, personhood, earth and knowledge must be challenged? Can "Sustainability" do more than "talk left and walk right"? 

The responses on this page take inspiration from the motto of Kenyan scholarly publisher Daraja: 

"nurture reflection, shelter hope and inspire audacity"

With a fast-growing global-south conversation on "climate apartheid", African tertiary education institutions cannot afford to ignore critics of climate negotiations and sustainability discourses. Engaging generative critical thinking is a crucial first step.

The "Anthropocene" is a product of misguided ideas like the division of nature from society, which is hard-wired into tertiary education. Rethinking teaching for sustainability, requires rethinking how universities assemble knowledge. African and global south innovators have long troubled concepts that do not advance habitability and wellbeing. Their voices offer vital resources for framing -- and recovering -- an African environmentalism  

Nnimmo Bassey

Nnimmo Bassey founded the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria, and runs the School of Ecology

Amilcar Cabral's Agro-economy

Recent work by Filipa Cesar on Amilcar Cabral's early work on soil as the basis of wellbeing

Wangari Maathai

Professor Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Amitav Ghosh

"Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming?

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva is an Indian author, ecofeminist, scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty activist and advocate.

Katherine McKittrick

Author of Dear Science and Other Stories (Duke 2021) Katherine McKittrick attends to the links between epistemological narrative, liberation, and creative text.

Ikal Angeli

Ikal Angelei is the Director of Friends of Lake Turkana in Kenya. She is a champion of ecosystem and environment protection, natural resource governance and community rights.

Lungisile Ntsebeza

Lungisile Ntsebeza is the National Research Foundation (NRF) Research Chair in Land Reform and Democracy in South Africa.

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Dr. Kimmerer is a mother, plant ecologist, writer and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York.

Firoze Manji

Firoze Manji is a Kenyan activist and the founder and publisher of Daraja Press, and is Adjunct Professor, Institute of African Studies at Carleton University. He focuses on international development, health, human rights, teaching, publishing and political organizing.

Hamza Hamouchene

Hamza Hamouchene is a London-based Algerian researcher-activist at the Transnational Institute (TNI) and a founding member of both the Algeria Solidarity Campaign (ASC) and Environmental Justice North Africa (EJNA).

Mamphela Ramphele

In her current capacity as co-chair of the Club of Rome that foresaw the present sustainability crisis in the 1970s, Dr Ramphele is working to bring thought leaders and business together to rethink economics sustainably.

Aya Chebbi

Named as one of Africa's most Outstanding Young Women leaders in 2013 and the Young Achiever of the Year 2015. Blacklisted and banned from entering Egypt since March 2014.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation

HOMEF offers resources to communities working for environmental justice and sustainability across Africa

Read More  

Anthropocene Curriculum

The Anthropocene Curriculum is a long-term initiative that explores frameworks for critical knowledge and education in our ongoing transition into a new, human dominated geological epoch—the Anthropocene.

Read More  

SDG Academy

Free training courses on the SDGs, partnered with multiple universities

Read More  

Learning Planet

#LearningPlanet is about co-creating a world with values, actions and ambitions aiming towards the health and well-being of oneself, of others and of the planet, in accordance with the UnitedNations’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

Read More  

Rojava University, Western Kurdistan, Syria

"For their final projects, students choose a particular social problem, then research it and write a thesis on how to resolve it."

Read More  

Himalayan Institute for Alternatives, in Ladakh (HIAL)

New School of the Anthropocene (NSOTA)

Dedicated to addressing ecological recovery and civic rejuvenation through the arts and humanities, and will be incorporated in September 2021 as a community benefit society.

Read More  

Sustainability Program of the Nature journals

Springer Nature's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Programme aims to connect the researchers who are tackling the world’s toughest challenges with the practitioners in policy and business who desperately need those insights to achieve their goals in improving the world

Read More  


The invitation to advance the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 is simultaneously an invitation to Universities to rethink inherited structures of teaching; modes of delivery, and paradigmatic frameworks -- including the division of nature from society, and natural from social science.


Problem-based teaching, based on a local situation, will advance conversations across disciplines, equipping graduates to bring on board multiple skills and capacities.


Understanding different interpretive frameworks of "Sustainability". Learning how evidence is produced in answer to specific questions and assembled via specific techniques (e.g. maps; spreadsheets; databases) that address sectoral concerns.


Teaching "sustainability literacy" will equip students to read, recognise and respond to different appropriations of the Agendas; understanding and negotiating interpretive frameworks and competing agendas.


Learning how to hear those who most often silenced. African HE graduates trained in advancing sustainability will be characterised by their "response-ability" to the total context.


A focus on lived experience will facilitate the presence of learners as whole selves, in their learning. Embedding learning in a local environment equips students to bring into the classroom what they already know, and test, hone and connect life knowledge with classroom learning. A pedagogy of de-alienation is crucial on the African continent, and in the global south

Generatively Critical

Students will be invited to develop the skills of generative critique and mutually respectful transdisciplinary engagement. Social science students will be invited to engage with material flows; science students with the power of ideas. All students will engage with policy, governance, infrastructure, planning and decision-making.


Students will understand how research questions can be framed and knowledge is tested in different disciplines.


Our courses avoid the "banking model" of learning. Our students will recognise their learning process is part of world-making practice.


Week 1: Introductions

The Challenge: What is "Sustainability" as a framework? How do its ideas play out in the SDGs and Agenda 2063? How would these approaches apply Cape Town's urban back yard: the Cape Flats south?

Feb 13, 2023

Week 2: Our Shared Present: The Commons

Understanding the idea of the Commons: in air, water, land; Common wealth and common poverty via the idea of urban metabolism.

Learn MoreJan 08, 2016

Week 3: Pasts Present

Engaging activists, and colleagues from geology, archaeology and history of the area. Understanding different “big pictures” and contending views and values.

Learn MoreFeb 10, 2016

Week 4: Futures Present: The Africa We Want

Engaging activists, policy, science, arts of the area: Understanding different “big pictures” and contending views and values.

Learn MoreMar 14, 2016

Week 5: Learning to See & Question

Field Trip and Group Projects on Unsustainabilities

Learn MoreMar 06, 2023

Week 6: Learning to Be Present

Thinking from your feet. What is it to do research? For whom? Where do your research questions come from?

Learn MoreMar 13, 2023

Week 7: Learning Together

Project 1 Presentations: Unsustainabilities

Learn MoreMar 27, 2023

Week 8: Learning to Hear

Community concerns: From stories and problems to research questions

Learn MoreApr 10, 2023

Week 9: Learning to Imagine Solutions

Developing Project 2: Proposals and Innovation

Learn MoreApr 17, 2023

Week 10: Learning to Re-Think

Questioning Key Words e.g. “Development”; “Sustainability”; Working towards paradigm shift. Finalise Project 2

Learn MoreApr 24, 2023

Week 11: Learning to Propose and Innovate: Design, Infrastructure and Solutions

Present Project 2: What solutions to your team's problem have been tried elsewhere?

Learn MoreMay 01, 2023

Week 12: Learning to Negotiate: How to prioritise, trade-off and reach consensus

Learning the arts of mediation -- facilitated exercise in negotiating

Learn MoreMay 08, 2023

Week 13: Course Review

What have we learned?

Learn MoreMay 15, 2023

Position Paper

  •   2021/09/06 11:08 AM