Archive | Past events

Workshop on computational history

On 14-16 November 2017, JIAS hosted a ground-breaking workshop on ‘Understanding the pre-colonial world through computational history’.

The workshop was aimed at assessing the scope for southern African input into the Interactive Global Histories (1205-1533) Project based at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

More specifically, it was aimed at assessing how machine learning techniques could contribute to historical databases on the precolonial world and provide data-driven modelling and simulations to fill a crucial gap in the study of Afro-Eurasian networks, namely sharing primary sources, and making them machine-readable.

The event was of interest to historians and scientists interested in the pre-colonial world, and to those interested in the developing field of the digital humanities.


The presenters included:

  • Andrea Nanetti, Mikhail Filippov and Joty Shafiq Rayhan of NTU;
  • Maarten de Wit of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University;
  • Simon Hall, Abigail Moffett and Nicholas Zachariou of UCT; and
  • Yussuf Adam and Mussa Raja of Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo.


For a book chapter and article illuminating this project and the growing field of computational history, click here.

Workshop Report

To download the workshop report, click here.


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Focus on financial services and entrepreneurship in Africa

On 27 and 28 November 2017, JIAS and the UJ College of Business and Economics hosted two events focusing on financial services and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa.

The first was the launch of a book entitled Developing Africa’s Financial Services: The Importance of High Impact Entrepreneurship, edited by Dr Dana T Redford, and published by Emerald Press.

The second was an all-day workshop on the same subject. Both the launch and workshop were addressed by Dr Redford, founder and president of the Policy Experimentation and Evaluation Platform (PEEP), and an international expert on entrepreneurship and public policy.

More about the book

The book contains a chapter by Grietjie Verhoef, Professor of Economic, Business and Accounting History at the UJ College of Business and Economics entitled ‘The rise of financial services in Africa – an historical perspective’.

The backtext reads as follows: ‘An in-depth portrait of the financial services sector and high-impact entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa, this book reveals a region that, despite many challenges, saw tremendous growth over the last decade and is rapidly becoming a global powerhouse.

‘It features a detailed economic history of the region, case studies focused on its entrepreneurial banks, and a closer look at development trrends, such as impact investing, which are redefining Africa’s financial services. Comprehensive and insightful, it is an invaluable reference for students, practitioners and policymakers with an interest in the future of Africa’s financial services.’

Dana T Redford is the founder and president of the Policy Experimentation and Evaluation Platform (PEEP) and has taught at UC-Berkeley and Universidade Catolica Portuguesa. He is an internationally recognised expert on entrepreneurship and public policy, and has worked with the US Department of Commerce, the European Commission, the  OECD, the UN, and various European and African governments.

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Seminar on ‘Big Data and Distributed Ledger’

On 2 November 2017, Associate Professor Bo Xing, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Intelligent Systems in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment FEBE) at UJ, presented a seminar at JIAS entitled ‘Big Data and Distributed Ledger’. This was the final seminar in the series entitled ‘The Challenge of Big Data’, hosted by FEBE and JIAS.

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Conversation on gender and cartooning

On Thursday 19 October 2017, JIAS hosted a conversation on ‘Gender and Cartooning in South Africa’.

The speakers were Stacey Stent, South Africa’s only woman cartoonist, whose work is currently being exhibited at JIAS, and Brenda Schmahmann, NRF Research Professor in South African Art and Visual Culture at UJ.

The event was chaired by Prof Sarah Gravett, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research at UJ.

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Seminar by Pascal Lamy

On 24 October 2017, JIAS and the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) hosted a seminar led by Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), on ‘Challenges and opportunities for a small open economy such as South Africa in the late globalising world’.

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Fourth Brain Matters Seminar

ON Thursday 26 October, JIAS hosted a seminar by Dr Samantha Brooks, Senior lecturer in Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town, on ‘Working Memory for Cognitive Control in Anorexia vs Addiction: A Bayesian Brain Perspective’.

The seminar was the fourth in the Brain Matters Seminar Series, a joint initiative of JIAS and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development at the University of the Witwatersrand, with support from the Southern African Neuroscience Society and the Wits Cortex Club. Like the rest of the series, the seminar was open to members of the public.


We are living in a world that is extremely stimulating and impulse-driven.  It is perhaps no coincidence that we are experiencing huge crises in terms of social unrest in South Africa and across the globe, fueled by an abundance and instant availability of food, drugs, consumer goods, sex – all appetitive processes. This talk will highlight some of the neurobiological theory and evidence that explains how working memory enables cognitive control over appetitive processes such as eating and drug taking.

From the basis of the extremes of an impulse control spectrum model, Dr Brooks will describe brain imaging data from studies in anorexia nervosa versus substance use disorder to understand the neurocognitive basis of cognitive control.  Dr Brooks will touch on Bayesian Brain theory, particularly related to epistemic foraging versus jumping to conclusions, to help to explain a novel training adjunct to treatment for impulse control that Dr Brooks’s team has been developing. Working memory training may harness inherent neural plasticity in brain circuits underlying impulse control.

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Launch of book by Lesego Rampolokeng

ON 14 September 2017, JIAS, the UJ Department of English and Deep South hosted the Johannesburg launch of the novel Bird-Monk Seding, by Lesego Rampolokeng.

Lesego Rampolokeng is a poet and performance maestro and the author of 12 books, including two plays and three novels. He has collaborated with visual artists, playwrights, film-makers, theatre and opera producers, poets and musicians. His no-holds-barred style, radical political-aesthetic perspective and instantly recognisable voice have brought him a unique place in South African literature.

 Bird-Monk Seding, Rampolokeng’s third novel, is a stark picture of life in a rural township two decades into South Africa’s democracy. Listening and observing in the streets and taverns, narrator Bavino Sekete, often feeling desperate himself, is thrown back to his own violent childhood in Soweto. To get through, he turns to his pantheon of jazz innovators and radical writers.

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Second seminar on the challenge of ‘Big Data’

On 7 September 2017, Prof Qing-Guo Wang, Distinguished Professor: Institute for Intelligent Systems in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE) at UJ, presented a seminar at JIAS entitled ‘Investment Portfolio Management: Brief Introduction and New Results’.

This was the second in a four-part seminar series on ‘The Challenge of Big Data’, hosted by FEBE and JIAS.


Part I is a brief introduction to portfolio management problem, including importance of finance, financial bubbles, key factors of investment, theory and problems.

Part II will deal with a multi-period portfolio management problem over a finite horizon. The objective is to seek the optimal investment policy series which maximizes the weighted sum of a linear combination of the expected return and the variance of portfolio over all the investment periods. This formulation enables the investor to adjust weights for any period and have full freedom and control over their best trade-off between return and risk over each period.

We show that such a problem is a convex quadratic programming problem in terms of the decision variables, regardless of price dynamic nature (either linear or nonlinear cases). By solving the convex quadratic programming problem directly, an optimal solution is developed for its original problem without using dynamic programming. The solution is simplified  for a general linear price model with high-order and coupled asset dynamics and shown to be implementable with historical price data.

Simulation is carried out on USA and China stock markets with real data, which demonstrates feasibility and better performance of the proposed solution than the special case considered in the literature. In particular, the proposed solution with suitable non-zero weights on intermediate time periods offers higher return at the same risk level, compared with one involving the terminal wealth only in the objective function.

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Conference on ‘Prelude to Decolonisation: The Turning of the Tide’

On 28-30 August 2017, JIAS hosted an interdisplinary conference entitled ‘The Prelude to Decolonisation: The Turning of the Tide’. The conference featured contributions by scholars from a range of South African and British universities.

JIAS was the main sponsor. Other participating institutions were the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the University of Cambridge.

For the final programme, click here.

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South Africa’s strategic role in Africa

ON 12-14 July 2017, the South African Council on International Relations (SACOIR) held the first of three interactive seminars about South Africa’s place, role and standing in Africa.

Organised by the SACOIR working group on Africa, the seminar series is aimed at engaging with experts in the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO), other relevant state actors, and analysts in academia and the non-state sector to assist it with:

  • Examining and assessing South Africa’s current role and standing in Africa;
  • Determining its will and capacity to lead Africa’s renewal in governance, development and security; and
  • Recommending appropriate steps to decision-makers in government and the non-state sector for achieving these objectives.

The event was co-hosted by JIAS as well as the School of Governance of the University of the Witwatersrand. Prof Peter Vale, Director of JIAS, serves on the SACOIR Working Group on Africa.

Keynote address: Global trends, U.S. policy and Africa

The opening address was delivered by Gregory F. Treverton, chairman of the US National Intelligence Council under the Obama administration, and previous director of the RAND Corporation’s Centre for Global Risk and Security, Intelligence Policy Centre and International Security and Defence Policy Centre.

Entitled ‘Global Trends, U.S. Policy and Africa’, the address contained projections about the global future over a five-year and 20-year period. It concluded with an analysis of US policy under the Trump administration and what it might mean for Africa – and South Africa – in the context of these broader global trends.

The presentation provoked a lively discussion. More presentations and discussions followed over the next two days.

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