Closing date for applications: 30 September 2019 

 Project background 

The Okavango River Basin is recognised as an internationally important site of biodiversity. It hosts two Ramsar sites, or wetlands of international importance: the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the contiguous Bwabwata-Okavango Ramsar Site in Namibia. The Okavango Delta, one of the largest inland deltas and a World Heritage Site is a popular tourist destination that contributes US$1.5 billion to the GDP in Botswana. Tourism is the second-largest source of foreign income for Botswana and there are many protected areas in the basin, including part of the world’s largest Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA), the Kavango-Zambezi Transfontier Park (KAZA). This TFCA spans an area of approximately 520 000 km2, straddling five countries (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe), and includes a diverse range of protected areas, including national parks, game reserves, forest reserves, community conservancies and game/wildlife management areas. 

The Limpopo River Basin is a complex transboundary system that supports more than 18 million people across the riparian states of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. It is exceptionally rich from a biodiversity point of view and supports a significant tourism industry. The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park includes the Kruger National Park (South Africa), Limpopo National Park (Mozambique) and Gonarezhou National Park (Zimbabwe). It currently comprises 35 000 km² but is planned to cover 100 000 km² once complete. The Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area also falls within the Limpopo Basin, and includes an aggregation of privately-owned land in Botswana, a patchwork of private land, national parks and state land in South Africa and the Tuli Circle Safari Area in Zimbabwe, creating a contiguous area of protected land totaling some 6 000 km². 

The Resilient Waters Project, funded by USAID Southern Africa, aims to build more resilient and water secure Southern African communities and ecosystems through improved management of transboundary natural resources and increased access to safe drinking water and sanitation services. To achieve this objective, Resilient Waters collaborates with regional institutions, including river basin organisations and TFCAs, to examine the critical intersection of social-ecological systems. Resilient Waters focuses on the Okavango and Limpopo river basins, with the 

aim of improving transboundary water security, increasing access to safe drinking water, strengthening ability of communities to adapt to climate change, and conserving biodiversity and ecosystems. 

Opportunity for Masters or PhD student 

Protected areas (PAs) are a core global biodiversity conservation strategy and contribute to human well-being by protecting ecosystems and the services they provide (e.g., climate regulation, freshwater provision, recreation). While research often focuses on the ecological dimensions of PAs, they also have social, economic, and political elements. PAs are embedded in and interact with a dynamic social-ecological context at multiple scales in space and time. Assessing their likely effectiveness in conserving biodiversity long term thus requires an assessment of their social-ecological resilience, defined as their capacity to maintain biodiversity and associated livelihoods in the face of (increasing) environmental, social, economic, and political change. 

The concept of social-ecological resilience is gaining traction in both research and policy arenas, yet it remains challenging to quantify. We seek a Masters or PhD student to engage in a collaborative process with stakeholders in the Okavango and/or Limpopo river basins to develop a set of indicators that can be used to measure the social-ecological resilience of both individual PAs as well as the system of PAs and TFCAs within this region. 

Call for applications 

We seek a motivated individual to contribute to assessing the social-ecological resilience of southern African PA systems. This project will involve a review of existing approaches for measuring social-ecological resilience of PAs, as well as on-the-ground engagement with relevant stakeholders (including PA managers, basin commissions, etc.), to develop and then quantify multi-scale indicators of resilience. The ideal candidate should have a strong academic track-record and analytical skills, possess a keen interest in sustainability issues and conservation science, an interest and ability to integrate across the social and natural sciences, and be an independent thinker who is open to collaboration and keen to participate in the events and activities of the CST. Experience in conducting interviews and running focus groups will be advantageous. 

Successful candidates will be registered at Stellenbosch University and co-supervised by Dr Hayley Clements and Prof Oonsie Biggs at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition (CST) at Stellenbosch University. Degrees will generally be registered within the School for Public Leadership in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at Stellenbosch University, but other options can be considered. Successful candidates are expected to commence their degree at Stellenbosch University in January 2020. 

Bursary value 

Masters full-time over 2 years: R100 000 p.a., excluding field costs. 

PhD full-time over 3 years: R150 000 p.a., excluding field costs. 


Applications are invited from Southern African nationals from the following countries: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 

All students applying for a Masters degree should have completed a three-year undergraduate degree and one-year Honours degree, or equivalent to be eligible. All candidates should show evidence of strong scholarly performance and commitment to publishing. If applying for a PhD, a Masters degree is required. Stellenbosch University will only accept students who meet the minimum academic requirements from recognised higher education institutions. 

Students need to be able to communicate and write in English. Preference will be given to students who can work independently, are well organised, and who will be willing to participate in the regular activities of the CST at Stellenbosch University. 

To apply 

Interested candidates should send: 

  • a motivation letter detailing why you are well-suited to undertake this project, including your previous experience, your general area of interest, as well as your specific interest in this project and project-related ideas, 
  • a 2-page CV that includes your academic record, previous work experience, any scientific publications on which you have been an author, and the names and contact details of at least two academic referees, 
  • transcripts of university-level academic qualifications, 
  • at least one example of recent written work (e.g. a paper, report, thesis chapter). 

Applicants possessing the prescribed minimum qualifications are invited to submit the above required documents electronically with a subject line “Protected Areas Resilience Masters research” (for Masters applicants) and “Protected Areas Resilience PhD research” to Dr Waddell at CST: 

We encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible, but latest by Monday 30th September 2019. 

CST and Stellenbosch University reserve the right to not fill the post if there are no suitable candidates who meet the requirements.