Pope Francis Appoints South African Professor of Anthropology to Pontifical Academy

South African Professor of Anthropology, Pearl Sithole who has been appointed as an Ordinary Member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Credit: Courtesy Photo

A South African Professor of Anthropology has been appointed as an ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Pope Francis appointed Professor Mpilenhe Pearl Sithole to the Vatican-based institution created to promote the study and progress of social sciences Tuesday, August 4. 

The Academy that was established in January 1994 by St. John Paul II aims at promoting the academic fields of “economics, sociology, law and political science, thus offering the Church those elements, which she can use for the development of her social doctrine, and reflecting on the application of that doctrine in contemporary society,” the entity’s leadership has documented.

Prof. Sithole is the Vice Principal and Head of Academic and Research at the University of the Free State Qwaqwa Campus in Phuthaditjhaba, South Africa. 

The 48-year-old academic is a trained social anthropologist with interest in governance, gender and development, politics of knowledge production, and social inequality, says the leadership of the Pontifical Academy


She is an alumna of the University of Durban-Westville and holds a Master's degree and a Doctorate in Philosophy, specializing in Social Anthropology, from the University of Cambridge.

The South African academic has previously worked on rural development and policy management at the Human Sciences Research Council.

She was also a lecturer of Anthropology at the University of Durban Westville and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. 

Prof. Sithole has also served as a member of the Ministerial Transformation Oversight Committee for Higher Education in her native country of South Africa.

She is the publisher of over 20 research papers in peer-reviewed journals and several books, the most recent being, ‘Land in South Africa: A Permanent Question; thanks to History, Law and Economics’ published in 2020 as a book chapter; and the journal article, “Is Decoloniality Possible: A Noble Mission, A Frustrated Strategy” also published in 2020.

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In 2011, Prof. Sithole received the Distinguished Young Woman in Science Award by the South African Department of Science and Technology for her sterling work as a social scientist.

She is the 2020-2021 Panel member for the Council of Higher Education’s National Review of Doctoral Degree.