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“Green Talents Award 2012” – the winners have been announced: an interview with Raymond Siebrits

Raymond Siebrits
(c) Raymond Siebrits

The winners of the 4th “Green Talents”-competition of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, held since 2009 under the auspices of Federal Minister Annette Schavan, have been announced. The annual competition is addressed to young scientists who work in the field of sustainability research.

Raymond Siebrits is one of the awardees. The 25-year-old student was born in South Africa and is currently enrolled in the Master’s programme “Environmental and Geographical Science” at the University of Cape Town. His research focuses on the areas of water resources research and management. In this interview, Siebrits talks about his field of research and his personal goals.


1. What exactly is your area of research and what do you find fascinating about it?

I am trying to understand water research in my country – how it has evolved, what is being done at the moment and where we should be going with it into the future. It’s fascinating as water is an incredibly interdisciplinary area of research and there are often a lot of conflicting values within the discipline, especially in an industrialised economy with the worst inequality in the world.


2. You are one of the winners of the “Green Talents 2012” competition. How did you hear about this format? Does your university cooperate with the BMBF?

I actually came across the call for applications through a notification from our university environmental awareness and sustainability collective: The Green Campus Initiative. The University of Cape Town does indeed cooperate with the BMBF mainly through funding opportunities and visitorships. This is the first time however that I have participated in a programme of this nature.


3. What does this award mean for you personally? What expectations do you have for your stay in Germany with regards to your scientific field of interest?

The award is both a privilege and an opportunity. I could not believe that I was selected at first and had to double check what I had stated in my application! I personally see this as a strong vote of confidence in the research I am trying to pursue and am determined to use this opportunity to ultimately contribute to research in South Africa. I really look forward to my stay in Germany to be able to meet some of the top thinkers and practitioners in sustainability and research management. I also cannot wait to get a better insight of the German research system and environment and I hope I can apply some of these perspectives and impressions back home.


4. How would you assess the situation of research and education at your university, the University of Cape Town? Where can Europe and Africa learn from one another?

I am firmly of the opinion that the University of Cape Town is the greatest university on the continent. This is not only from the global rankings but also because the university has constantly shown to make itself socially relevant while maintaining a degree of academic independence to challenge the state and system. I feel that this, along with being on the most beautiful campus in the world, has attracted top, passionate individuals and teams. The University of Cape Town is indeed leading African academic into the 21st century but is only made stronger and more relevant with the partnerships it has in other regions and areas.

I feel that the European situation of research and education differs dramatically due to overall societal challenges, context and the access to resources that can be utilised. Europe could probably learn a lot about research resource maximisation and wicked problems from Africa while Africa can learn a lot about the importance of research to economic growth, development, societal stability and problem solving and hopefully place more emphasis on this.


5. You have organised seminars at your university, for example on „Water Research Challenges in South Africa“. Where do you see challenges in this context that especially concern South Africa?

One of the greatest challenges that we appear to be facing is that there is limited ‘revolutionary’ or ‘cutting-edge’ research being done in many fields. A lot of resources are being targeted on fixing broken systems or getting policy and governance to work instead of looking for what the future threats and opportunities are going to be. A specialist workshop in October which we are hosting will hopefully guide this problem better and allow for strategic research planning to become an accepted practice in South Africa.


6. Both the “Green Talents 2012” and the German-South African Year of Science 2012/2013 strongly emphasise international cooperation. What do scientific exchange and university cooperation mean to you personally?

I have personally engaged with the pioneers of my research method at Cambridge and shared ideas with them while receiving invaluable advice. I believe that collaboration and engagement can only occur in a transparent and inclusive environment, so I hope that through this programme with “Green Talents” and the Year of Science that further international cooperation will occur and begin to grow, especially amongst young researchers.

Further information about Raymond Siebrits’s current research including data, results, updates, reports and a forum for feedback and discussion is available on: www.aquaduct.org.za.