Annual report 2015
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The year 2015 was a momentous one for PLAAS. It marked twenty years since the day that PLAAS started off as an organisation with some generous start-up funding from the Ford Foundation. PLAAS started life small: initially it was conceptualised as an academic programme within the School of Government, and comprised only two members of staff: Ben Cousins (who had been seconded from the Department of Social Anthropology) and a postgraduate student, Thembela Kepe. (I joined a month later, and became the third member of staff). The new unit was quite disconnected from the University of the Western Cape (UWC)’s academic mainstream, operating out of cramped and poorly lit basement offices in what had been the Department of Coloured Affairs in Voortrekker Road, Bellville. It was modest in its aims and narrowly focused, being concerned mostly with providing policy advice and backup to the newly created Department of Land Affairs. It seemed a fragile creature, unable to pay for researcher salaries from the University coffers, and therefore entirely reliant on donor funding for most of its staffing requirements. I still recall a visiting UK anthropologist and well-known development scholar (no names!) telling me bluntly over tea one day that given any realistic model of organisational viability, PLAAS had no chance: ‘I am sorry to say this’, this person said, ‘but I give you about three years’.