About The Claude Leon Water Stewardship Programme

The Water Stewardship programme of research, postgraduate supervision and advocacy is an inter- and transdisciplinary programme that will tackle current and future water challenges, with the aim of finding solutions that will benefit communities in South Africa, and the continent. The Chairs recognise the inherent value of water and aquatic ecosystems, understand water within complex and adaptive socio-ecological systems, and appreciate the importance of ecological infrastructure and Nature-based solutions.


The programme sits at the intersection of the work of the two Research Chairs.

Professor Tracy-Lynn Field (Mandela Institute, School of Law) will hold the Chair in Earth Justice and Stewardship and Professor Craig Sheridan (School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies) will hold the Chair in Water Research. Both Chairs will also be given honorary staff appointments at the University of Edinburgh.


Professor Tracy-Lynn Field, the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Earth Justice and Stewardship explains why this Chair is important: “Our aim is simple – to expand human freedoms while easing planetary pressures. The complex interplay between environmental problems and socio-economic hardships requires collaboration across traditionally separate disciplines such as Science and Law, between institutions in different countries, and it requires academe to interact more with society. The two Chairs will seek to address multi-dimensional, emergent and interconnected predicaments in a manner that addresses global South concerns.”


Professor Craig Sheridan, the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Water Research, adds: “Life flows from water and water holds all life. Water is precious, an ever-flowing interface between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the systems undergirding human well-being: food production, shelter, transport, energy, play, industry, and health. And yet water is not with all of us. Globally, among regions, between localities, water is a profoundly unevenly distributed resource and its scarcity prompts hardship, a loss of dignity, conflict, even death. These are some of the reasons why this research is so important in South Africa.”


The Programme includes:

  • · Two Wits-University of Edinburgh postdoctoral fellowships,

    · Two Wits-University of the Western Cape postdoctoral fellowships,

    · Two PhD scholarships,

    · Two Masters scholarships, and

    · Five annual symposia.


Three initial research projects have been identified:

  • · App-based potable water test-strips to promote access to the right to safe water in vulnerable communities and citizen science, and

    · Supporting evidence-based legislative, political, and judicial decision making to protect South Africa’s strategic water source areas, and

    · Accountability mechanisms for system-level failures in South African Water Treatment Plants.


Researchers, students, and scholars who wish to get involved in these projects are welcome to contact the Chairs for more information.



About the claude leon Foundation


The Claude Leon Foundation is a South African foundation and is a longstanding benefactor of Wits. This donation demonstrates the Foundation’s support to helping South Africa overcome its ecological and social crises and its manifestation in the water sector, by showing an interest in Wits’ research regarding environmental issues in general, and water research and advocacy. It is also a continuation of the Foundation’s outstanding contribution to education, human rights, and a just society.


Claude Leon served on the Council of the University of the Witwatersrand for several years and was a key member of the Wits Finance Committee. During his lifetime he made huge philanthropic contributions to Wits and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law. Over the last 20 years, the Foundation has conducted an immensely successful Postdoctoral Fellowship programme in the sciences to which it has contributed over R200-million for research at universities in South Africa.


Wits, inter alia, has been one of the principal recipients of those grants to postdoctoral students for research. The Foundation has previously supported the Wits Rural Facility, which benefitted from funding for a water and sanitation project that ran for a decade; Wits honours degree students, postdoctoral fellows and young staff which helped to build the South African academy; the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits and the Wits Justice Project; and several palaeontological projects. Wits is eager to work with the Foundation on such a current, crucial concern. Indeed, the four areas the Foundation has supported at Wits over many decades - namely funding research, building an academy, focusing on water, and on advocacy – are threaded together in novel ways in this proposal for a pair of Chairs with Water Stewardship at the intersection.


Bill Frankel, who has served as the Chair of the Foundation since 2001 was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen in her Millennium Honours list, for his services to Human Rights. In South Africa, he was also honoured in 2015 with the Order of Luthuli for his services to Human Rights. In 2007, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa for his service to science research.





University of the Witwatersrand


The University of the Witwatersrand (aka Wits University) is a premier research-intensive university in Africa committed to academic excellence, social justice, and the advancement of the public good. It has a long history in water research across disciplines, institutions, and sectors. It is home to the Centre in Water Research and Development, the Global Change Institute, has immense experience in environmental law and water law, and in advocating for the rights of South Africans to water and sanitation. Read more about Wits’ water research in Curios.ty, Wits’ research magazine.


University of the Western Cape


The University of the Western Cape (UWC) is a research-led learning and teaching African university with a legacy of social justice, community engagement, and graduate employability, which makes the University a perfect fit for this collaboration. It houses the Environmental and NanoScience Research Group which is known for research on water chemistry and effluent remediation. Group, based in the Department of Chemistry, is headed by Prof. Leslie Petrik, and specialises in waste water treatment and water quality monitoring. She says: "We work toward safe and bountiful water as a legacy for future generations, but this is only possible if we protect and steward our current water resources." Current projects focus on advanced oxidation for degradation of persistent organic pollutants in wastewater and understanding the impacts of sewage effluents on the environment. Nanomaterials in development include metal selective ligands and high-capacity adsorbents for recovery of valuable metals or removal of toxic metals from mining effluents.


University of Edinburgh


The collaboration between the University of Edinburgh (UoE) a leading research-intensive UK-based institution, and Wits University is intended to serve the dual purpose of addressing crucial water stewardship research questions whilst developing the next generation of researchers, including postdoctoral fellows, and PhD and Masters students. Wits and the UoE have strong ties through a partnership over many years and this programme further develops the network of links between the UoE and Wits. The University of Edinburgh is a leader in water technology and research and has research interests in Clean Water and Sanitation; Water Hazards and Risks; Sustainable Landscapes; and Water and Livelihoods. It is home to a multidisciplinary collaborative network and is establishing the Edinburgh Earth Institute which will be linked to Wits’ Global Change Institute. The EEI will explore themes such as socially just transitions, planetary health, sustainable land and sea, and future energy, which connect well with Wits’ Chairs.