“A man who believes that to influence social change, one must invest in the individual mind.” Words of admiration spoken by Professor Frans Viljoen as a tribute to Professor Charles Ngwena at the Conference on Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in Africa in honour of Professor Ngwena. On 13 and 14 November 2023, the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria (Centre) brought together over 50 scholars, researchers and activists from all over the world to commemorate Professor Ngwena’s exceptional contributions to human rights and to highlight his pioneering work in advancing SRHR in Africa.
The conference included several panel discussions where diverse insights were shared on a number of SRHR topics, including Breaking Barriers to Safe Abortion Access in Africa; Access to Gender-Affriming Care in Africa and Intersectional Approaches to SRHR with a Focus on Disability.
Professor Rebecca J Cook, Professor Frans Viljoen, Professor Nkatha Murungi and Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng paid homage to Professor Ngwena and expressed their respect and admiration for his rigorous approach, exemplary work ethic, insightful engagement with theory and his ability to translate technical academic content in practical terms. They expressed profound admiration for his contributions in these areas.
The impact of Professor Ngwena's teaching, research, and community engagement contributed to the lives of many scholars and activist, both personally and professionally. Professor Ngwena was described as an “academic midwife” who “contributed enormously to the Centre’s vision”.
Dr Tlaleng, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, described her work relationship and experience with Professor Ngwena and stated that “we continue to do the work in your honour and we continue to do the work for generations to come. There are people who perhaps will never know your name, but your work will directly impact them and will lead them to a more substantively equitable world after all”.
Professor Ngwena’s contributions as a supervisor and academic mentor were praised, with one of his students expressing thanks to him “for being an example of what it means to be bold and daring, and the importance of continuing to challenge myself, and not just in academia but in any space I find myself in”.
The conference included the official launch of Dr Satang Nabaneh’s book titled Choice and Conscience: lessons from South Africa for a Global Debate by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng. Dr. Nabaneh’s book offers a fresh and insightful perspective on the intersection between politics, mobilisation of discretionary power and the exercise of conscientious objection to abortion care