Champion of human security

Ever since South Africa’s break with apartheid, Professor Maxi Schoeman has explored the challenges facing the country in its efforts to address the inequities of its past. As Claude Ake visiting chair in Uppsala, Sweden, she will look deeper into issues related to human security, focusing specifically on South Africa’s involvement in and contribution to peace missions on the African continent.

A short news article about a couple who lost their children in drought-hit Zambia opened her eyes many years ago. She was upset by the story of two desperate parents who were forced to leave their children to search for food. When they returned all three children had died because they had eaten mud.

“This was right after the end of the cold war when there was much tension internationally regarding stockpiles of nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union. This issue would fill our newspapers in South Africa too, even though it had very little direct relevance for us. In our region the main concern at that time was people dying of hunger during one of the worst droughts we had ever experienced. The fact that this article was so tiny compared to the stories on global security was an illustration in itself. There was an urgent need to draw attention to the things that mattered to us. To address the questions of human security”, she says.

Professor Schoeman is among the proponents of a human security paradigm that challenges the traditional notion of national security. They say that the proper referent for security should be the individual rather than the state.

After the fall of apartheid in 1994 Professor Schoeman started to look at human security from a woman’s perspective. The complicated process of opening up the national defense force to women combined many of the new challenges of democratic South Africa.

“The defense force not only had a history of racism but also of gender discrimination. With the new constitution, the legislation and policy became clearly non-racist and non-discriminatory but many practical struggles remained”, she says.

She has also been exploring the implementation of democratic South Africa’s regional agenda and ambition for peace, security and development in Africa. While the country’s transformation into a regional economic and political powerhouse is impressive, there are still deep concerns on the domestic front. South Africa has not been able to address its three core challenges: poverty, inequality and unemployment. In fact, these problems remain deeply entrenched in the socio-economic fabric of post-apartheid South Africa.

Professor  Schoeman is Head of the Department of Political Sciences and Professor of International Relations at the University of Pretoria. As the eleventh holder of the Claude Ake Visiting Chair she is offered a calm environment in the Swedish university town of Uppsala to pursue her research for three months.

The Claude Ake visiting chair was set up in 2003 at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, in collaboration with the Nordic Africa Institute. It honors the memory of Professor Claude Ake, a distinguished scholar, philosopher, teacher and humanist, who died tragically in 1996. The Chair is intended for scholars who, like Claude Ake, combine a profound commitment to scholarship with a strong advocacy for social justice.

To the top