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Diversity, equity, and inclusion driving UCT Libraries publishing

by Jill Claasen, Manager, Scholarly Communication & Research, UCT Libraries, and Reggie Raju, Director, Research & Learning, UCT Libraries

At the outset, it is important to acknowledge the LPC Publishing Practice Award Committee for recognizing the contribution of the University of Cape Town’s library publishing programme to the advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusivity. Drawing from the University’s social responsiveness goal, the Library shaped its publishing programme on social justice imperatives in an attempt to deconstruct decades of legislated inequalities entrenched in the system of apartheid.

Image of UCT Publishing Programme Staff. Emma de Doncker, Tamzyn Suliaman, Bonga Siyothula, Reggie Raju, Faaediel Latief, Jill Claassen
Pictured top left to bottom right: Emma de Doncker, Tamzyn Suliaman, Bonga Siyothula, Reggie Raju, Faadiel Latief, and Jill Claassen

South Africa is a fledgling democracy that has endured decades of apartheid which compartmentalized higher education, with the historically disadvantaged black institutions being dramatically under resourced (Raju et al., 2020). UCT Libraries has taken the stance that historically advantaged institutions should have a moral obligation to share scholarly content for the advancement of research in the country as a whole and for the greater good of the public. The view held is that the sharing of scholarly output will have a domino effect of accelerating the growth of research in South Africa and Africa. Hence, UCT Libraries’ roll-out of a social justice[1] driven library publishing service to further diversity, equity and inclusivity.

South African higher education context

The South African higher education context, within the larger African context, is relatively unique but does present crucial library publishing practices for mirroring in other African academic institutions. It is acknowledged that apartheid was woeful but what it has done was elevate conscientisation for the adoption of social justice principles and remedying injustices of the past. However, it is incumbent on the advantaged higher education institutions to lead the social justice drive and that would include, inter alia, positively responding (within domain/disciplinary practice) to student pleas for equitable and inclusive educational practices.

Protest action shaping publishing practice

In the post-apartheid era, the 2015–2017 student protest action was South Africa’s most disruptive student action since the 1976 Soweto Uprising[2]. According to the BBC (2016) report, “South African universities have been affected by the biggest student protests to hit the country since apartheid ended in 1994”. At the center of this protest action was the indirect or unintended exclusion and marginalization of the black majority from quality tertiary education. This action was viewed as another desperate attempt at social justice. The need for tangible change was compelling in post-apartheid South Africa, as there was no actual social justice, “either because that there has been no concrete change in post-apartheid or because the country is currently suffering from a post-apartheid ‘hangover’ where the legacy of apartheid still affects the daily life of the average South African” (Linden, 2017). For most black students, the protest action was viewed as a positive action to achieve the necessary promised social change and the next step in South Africa’s democracy. The frustration levels continue to rise because most Blacks are excluded from tertiary education due to the inequitable economic challenges despite the fact that South Africa is more than 25 years into a democracy. The inability of the higher education system to shed this lingering systemic exclusion eventually culminated in the 2015–2017 student protest.

One of the positive responses from the academic library was the introduction of a library publishing service. This service was rolled out with conviction at UCT to dismantle lingering inequalities. There is clear indication that the library publishing programme was conceptualised and rolled out with the intention of promoting equity and demarginalisation, promoting diversity and decolonisation, promoting inclusivity and prising open the doors for an equitable higher education system.

Open access and African research dissemination

To breach decades of colonialism, to breach South Africa’s racial divide and lingering systemic inequalities, UCT Libraries had taken on the mantle of growing mechanisms for the sharing of African research free of cost and copyright barriers. UCT Libraries had followed the work of Joachim Schöpfel (2017) and Collyer (2018) in crafting its response to the challenges.

Joachim Schöpfel (2017) posits that “open access is not only access and consumption but also and, above all, production and dissemination … [and] has the potential to contribute to and foster local research and development”. Essentially, accessibility to local research is crucial for accumulating and developing a corpus of local knowledge for the growth and development of society – African society.

Collyer (2018) underscores the need for the growth of library publishing service when it is stated that “creating new African knowledge is challenging, as the market concentration of the dominant, for-profit publishing houses is skewed toward the global north, which includes the location of the headquarters, publication practices, sale and distribution”. The ‘library as a publisher’ service provides an alternative model that can co-contribute to the production and dissemination of African knowledge. This alternative model has the potential to accelerate diversity, equity and inclusivity in the publication of research.

Diversity, equity and inclusivity practices: The UCT publishing exemplar

All the prerequisites for a social justice-driven library publishing service were apparent and needed to be harvested to set in motion the necessary change reactions for the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusivity.

UCT Libraries was a late bloomer to the open access movement in South Africa which presented it with opportunities to cherry pick positives from successful roll outs of OA processes at other universities in the country. It leapfrogged the teething stages and the attachment to practices that weighed down progress. After two publications or so, with little investment, UCT Libraries ended up in the envious position of being able to take stock and reinvent its services and reinforce its commitment to open access: to harvest the prerequisites for the advancement of a ‘library as publisher service’ to meet diversity, equity and inclusivity imperatives.

UCT Libraries’ ‘library as publisher service’ is envisaged to be a social justice service which can give voice to the marginalised and provide space for the active and equitable participation of global south researchers in knowledge production and dissemination.

Change in purpose

UCT Libraries started its publishing programme at the end of 2016 as part of its open access service. The golden thread of social justice was weaved soon after the service commenced. There was now the deliberate goal to dismantle structures that perpetuated information poverty; there was now a deliberate goal to transform access and distribution of scholarship for the growth and development of Africa’s research agenda. As one of the leading universities on the continent, it became imperative that the social justice principles underscore the need for equitable dissemination of marginalised research and to improve access to content in support of liberating repressed African scholarly content.

UCT Libraries publishes both journals (https://journals.uct.ac.za) and monographs (https://openbooks.uct.ac.za/uct/catalog). In keeping with the principle of improving the dissemination and accessibility of African content, there is a very strong commitment to ‘diamond open access’ publishing, that is, neither the authors nor their institutions pay publication fees, article processing charges or other fees associated with getting scholarship published. The content is published open access, making it freely accessible.

UCT’s publishing programme

In delivering a social justice-driven publishing service, several innovations had to be investigated, tested and rolled out. African challenges such as the exorbitant cost of bandwidth and connectivity interruptions, together with frequent blackouts, had to be factored in to deliver an ‘access for all’ service. This publishing service includes five journals and 18 monographs with one being in Sesotho, one of South Africa’s indigenous languages.

The new features were investigated and implemented for the monograph publishing programme. These features were developed in response to perceived needs of an African scholarly community. There are three publications that showcase these new features. The first book is the Atlas of paediatric HIV infection: An illustrated guide for health care professionals. The authors of this atlas are from five institutions and three countries, namely University of Ibadan (Nigeria), University of Nigeria (Nigeria), University of Ilorin/Teaching Hospital (Nigeria), Egerton University (Kenya) and University of Cape Town (South Africa). This atlas includes photographs of varying skin and systemic conditions and opportunistic infections in HIV-infected paediatric patients. The aim of the atlas is to illustrate conditions recorded in paediatric patients presenting to HIV clinics and wards in an African setting. The photographs have the capacity to be magnified to support the examination of the skin condition.

The second book is Open access atlas of otolaryngology, head and neck operative surgery: Volume 1 – Head and neck. In this book under discussion, Lukama, Kalinda, and Aldous (2019) point out that there is a dire shortage of otolaryngologists in Africa. They found that 64% of African countries had less than one otolaryngologist per million people which is exacerbated by the lack of facilities, while developed nations have up to 13,325 otolaryngologists per 100,000 people. This textbook aspires to deliver an enhanced learning experience through the inclusion of audio and video clips to simulate research and training environments for new doctors.

To bridge these inadequacies, this textbook has embedded audio and video clips to simulate research and learning environments by helping students understand surgical procedures outside the classroom and assisting practising doctors in Africa with the latest advances in the field. The book’s content can be downloaded and viewed offline or streamed when connectivity is available. This option offers doctors the opportunity to download the book on their cell phones to access when they are in rural areas.

Cover for Constitutional Law for Students TextbookThe third book is Constitutional law for students and was submitted with UCT’s application for this award as exemplifying the values in its publishing practices. This is a textbook for students, written by students, to help navigate the complex world of constitutional law, one of the most challenging subjects in a South African law degree. This book aims to clarify concepts and increase understanding around the various aspects of constitutional law. A large cohort of the student body is second or later English-speaking students who have challenges navigating dense legal content. To address this, the book has an audio format which allows students to listen to the book before reading it: this format also supports different learning styles. Embedded in the textbook are mini workbooks to help students prepare for the constitutional law examination. Testimony to the success of the book is the number of downloads from across the country – 6,701 for the month of May 2021 (see graphic below).

As smartphones are more accessible than computers, content can be viewed in HTML or ePUB format, ensuring wider accessibility on the African continent. Although initially the text-to-voice features were not part of the rationale for creating dual formats, the corresponding feature in the latest version of Microsoft Edge facilitates the read-aloud to the reader.

African Continental Platform (http://www.openaccess.lib.uct.ac.za/oa/continental-platform)

The success of UCT’s publishing programme set the basis for the development of a continental platform for the publication of African open access journals and books. There was proof of concept for the functioning of an aggregated institutional platform which has been extended into a national platform, a South African platform. This South African platform is available to any academic institution in the country to publish their local journals and/or monographs. The next phase (currently in process) is to extend this platform to other African countries. Currently, the University of Namibia publishes five journals on the platform and Bindura University of Science Education (Zimbabwe) has one journal. There are discussions and training for several universities in countries such as Botswana, Malawi and Cameroon. The Association of African Universities, acting on behalf of nearly 400 universities, is in discussion with UCT about lending its weight to the use of the platform.


UCT Libraries has made every attempt to advance a social justice driven library publishing programme. The loud cries from the student bodies via protest action and from African researchers for equity and inclusion in the publishing landscape have been heard and responded to by UCT Libraries. As an apartheid advantaged institution, it has taken on the challenge of advancing a publishing landscape that is moulded around the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.


BBC News. (2016, October). Why are South African students protesting? Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34615004

Collyer, F. (2018). Global patterns in the publishing of academic knowledge: Global North, Global South. Current sociology, Vol. 66, No.1, pp. 56–73. DOI: 10.1177/0011392116680020

Linden, M. M. (2017). Narrating the 2015 fees Must fall movement: Explanations, contestations, and forms of meaning-making in the public sphere. (Masters dissertation). University of Pretoria, Pretoria. Available at: https://repository.up.ac.za/handle/2263/65570

Lukama, L., Kalinda, C., & Aldous, C. (2019). Africa’s challenged ENT services: Highlighting challenges in Zambia. BMC health services research, 19(1), 443. DOI: 10.1186/s12913-019-4267-y

Raju, R., Claassen, J., Madini, N., & Suliaman, T. (2020). Social justice and inclusivity: Drivers for the dissemination of African scholarship. In M. Eve & J. Gray (Eds.), Old traditions and new technologies: The pasts, presents, and futures of open scholarly communications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Schöpfel, J. (2017). Open access to scientific information in emerging countries. D-Lib Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 3/4. DOI: 10.1045/march2017-schopfel

[1] Social justice is the act of being fair and equitable and breaking down barriers to unfair practices and inequalities. It is generally equated with the notion of equality or equal opportunity in society

[2] For more information on the Uprising, see https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/june-16-soweto-youth-uprising

Updated 20210809 to add blog post author names.