School of Applied Human Sciences

Dean and Head of School

Prof. Nene Ernest Khalema

Acting Dean & Head of School


Professor Ernest Nene Khalema (PhD) is the acting interim Dean and Head of School of Applied Human Sciences and current substantive Dean and Head of the School of Built Environment & Development Studies (SoBEDS). Before joining UKZN, he was a Senior Research Specialist and was then promoted to Chief Research Scientist at the Human Sciences Research Council (2011-2015). Professor Khalema’s academic career began in Canada where he was an Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Calgary in Canada (2007-2011), a lecturer/senior lecturer in various Canadian universities and liberal arts colleges since 2001 (i.e. Athabasca University, University of Alberta, MacEwan University, and Concordia University College), just to name a few. Professor Khalema also served as Adjunct Professor of Public Health from 2012 to 2017 at the University of Alberta’s Centre for Health Promotion Studies (Canada), specializing in African migrant epidemiology, health equity for vulnerable populations, and chronic disease prevention.

Professor Khalema is a recipient of a number of teaching, research, and leadership awards. In 2010, he received the Centre for Community Engaged Learning Teaching Innovation Award for Service Learning and Student Engagement from the University of Calgary, Canada. In 2011, he was awarded the John Humphrey Centre for Peace & Human Rights’ Individual Human Rights Award; and in 2012 Centre for Race & Culture honoured him with the prestigious community leader Antiracism Award, recognizing his efforts in antiracism/anti-oppression research and scholarship.

His area of research specialization include participatory action methodologies (quantitative and qualitative), medical humanities, social epidemiology, health of vulnerable populations (including trauma studies and mental health), child and youth care, global migration studies, community crime prevention, and sustainable development. Professor Khalema has led and co-led numerous national and international research projects and his areas of research interest in numerous countries including seminal work in Canada, Mozambique, Brazil, and currently South Africa. His projects have tackled interventionist work for community empowerment/engagement; the demography of global migrations and its consequences; and the social epidemiology of vulnerable populations (including migrants and refugees, those experiencing homelessness, people diagnosed with mental health illness, and survivors of racial/gender/sexual violence). Professor Khalema’s research particularly focuses on the impacts of racialization, modernity, development dynamics, culture on individual and community experiences as well as understandings and perceptions of health and wellbeing. Professor Khalema takes a community-based participatory approach to both quantitative and qualitative research, often partnering with community members, government departments, and practitioners in order to identify critical issues, appropriate methodologies, and relevant recommendations for future research, policy development, programme implementations, and interventions.  This focus aims to holistically unpack socio-political, cultural, and economic determinants of wellbeing in responding to underserved and marginalised communities. The aim of this approach is to refine service delivery, monitor and evaluate formal and informal intervention programs, and advance knowledge that will equip communities with the necessary skills and approaches for socio-economic emancipation. This approach is grounded and rooted in the belief that documenting and exploring lived experiences and foregrounding contextual challenges and opportunities will encourage structural change to facilitate impact.

Professor Khalema’s publication record include self and co-authored books, book chapters, technical research reports, conference proceedings, referred journal articles, and policy/research briefs. He is a co-editor of two forthcoming books in 2018 entitled: “Affirming their Resilient Lives: African Migrant Youth in Africa and Diaspora” (2018-Sense Publishers) and “Studying While Black: Race, Education, and Emancipation in South African Universities” (2018- HSRC Press).

His recent co-edited books: “Crisis, Identity, and Migration in Post-Colonial Southern Africa” (2018- Springer); “Children in South African Families: Lives and Times” (2016), “Millennium Development Goals in Retrospect: Africa’s Development Beyond 2015” (2015), and “Africa Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Exploring the Multidimensional Discourses on Development” (2013) unpacked development dynamics in the global south around the political economy of difference where hegemonic prescriptions about modernity, identity, and difference are critically examined and rethought to open up the possibilities of a de-colonial analysis of family systems, social inclusion, and development dynamics borne of struggle.