The idea of establishing a South African Paulo Freire Institute (PFI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal was suggested in 2002 by world-renowned Freirian scholar and Director of the Paulo Freire Institute in Brazil, Moacir Gadotti, based on the historic role and philosophy of the Centre for Adult Education. In November 2004, the PFI-SA was established as the Paulo Freire Project within the CAE, joining 50 other institutions around the world which work to stimulate, promote and strengthen Freirian thought and pedagogy.
The work of the project includes attracting eminent academics from South Africa, Africa, and beyond to present seminars and lectures; facilitating engagement between local social movements, civil society organisations, and the academy; undertaking research on the current use of Freirian political praxis and methodology in South Africa; arranging and running film festivals and other cultural events to foster discussion, and facilitate a deeper and wider understanding of Paulo Freire’s work and thinking, and that of other emancipatory thinkers and writers from the global South such as Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, etc. Since 2004, the Paulo Freire Project has thus been involved in a number of activities, including:
- Hosting a number of internationally acclaimed writers, thinkers and academics, including Peter McLaren, Carlos Torres, Raj Patel, Salim Vally, Derek Mulenga, , Jacques Zeelen, Nigel Gibson, Lewis Gordon, Richard Pithouse, Michael Neocosmos, Richa Nagar, John Holloway, Silvia Federici, Aziz Choudry, Firoze Manji, and Jon Langdon.
- Setting up and running a series of seminars by postgraduate students based at other universities: Nisha Thapliyal from the University of Maryland, USA, ran a seminar on her research with the Movimento Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST, Landless Workers Movement) in Brazil; Anna Selmeczi, a then PhD candidate in the Department of International Relations and European Studies of the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, and a Doctoral Research Fellow of the European Commission, on her work on Foucault; Josh Platzky Miller, a PhD candidate at Cambridge University, U.K., on his research on the #feesmustfall campaign in SA.
- Setting up and running two conventions, viz. the Youth for Social Change convention and the Teachers for Social Change convention. These involved a number of academics from the adult education and social justice disciplines in the Faculty of Education. The Youth Convention involved 100 students from 10 secondary schools in the Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas, whilst the Teachers Convention brought together a number of teachers from schools in the region;
- Running community workshops on issues related to educational rights, including, inter alia, school fees, when invited to do so by communities and/or social movements;
- Running political theatre, cultural events and film festivals;
- Running a wide variety of events on the Pietermaritzburg campus, broadly related to Freire’s call to read the world, including film screenings, Trade Schools, and five day Food Festival.
In 2009, Ivor Baatjes, the member of the Centre who had been most active in establishing and running the work of the Paulo Freire Project, left UKZN, and the work of the project is now largely undertaken by Anne Harley, usually in collaboration with other academics, students, and local NGOs who espouse Freire’s philosophy, in particular the Church Land Programme.