Vanessa Watson Tribute letter on behalf of MCRP class of 2017


Dear Staff and Students of the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at UCT. With aspecial address to the teaching staff in the Planning School: Dr Nancy Odendaal, Tania Katzschner, Associate Professor Tanja Winkler and Nobukhosi Ngwenya.


It is with great sadness that we, the MCRP Class of 2017, write this tribute letter. Many of us are still coming to terms with the news of Professor Vanessa Watson’s passing, where it feels truly premature that such an amazing soul is no longer with us.

We feel blessed and truly favoured to have had the privilege of being in such close affinity to someone so influential. Her humility spoke volumes, so much so, that you’d never have guessed it was the same Vanessa Watson who co-founded important organisations such as the Development Action Group (DAG) in the 1980s and the African Centre for Cities (ACC)in the mid 2000s; The same Vanessa Watson who was so influential in her contributions to planning theory and practice in South Africa and the Global South; And of course that very same Vanessa Watson who would critique and supervise our work as planning students. What an incredible honour and privilege!

Vanessa was the type of individual that you encounter once in a lifetime. Her work transcended the boundaries of academia. She demonstrated the courage to not only critique but also to create a vision for more just and equitable South African cities. This fervour encouraged all of us to want to do the same, where she constantly pushed us to redefine our identity as urban planners and challenged us to contribute to the making of more just urban settlements.

We are forever indebted to Vanessa and her contributions to urban scholarship and practice. Her untimely passing leaves a hole in our hearts, as well as in the academic, civil, and professional spaces she influenced. We will miss her dearly and our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends, loved ones and the lives Vanessa touched through her professional and personal endeavours.

Thank you, Vanessa, for sharing your light with us, for enthusing us to think more critically, more meticulously, more courageously. May your soul rest in eternal peace.


We have collected a few words from past students from the MCRP Class of 2017:

“Vanessa was such a powerful and positive presence both for our class and for the many other circles her life touched. I feel incredibly lucky to have studied under and worked with her. Thank you Vanessa.”–Christian Alexander

“Vanessa, thank you deeply for teaching us a very important lesson: to critique conventional urban planning wisdom and look to our local context for ideas for pro-poor and sustainable planning.”–Jens Horber

“It was an honour to have Vanessa as a supervisor and teacher. She had a way of making very complex ideas and projects seem simple and within your reach. She was reassuring and motivating in such a pragmatic, no-nonsense way. In addition to the loss of one of Planning’s greatest minds, I will miss her little smile and raised eyebrow -a look that said “Come now, it’s not that difficult, is it?”–Megan Weber

“I’ve always said that planning is spiritual, it gave me a language with which to understand and grapple with the tensions I was experiencing in my inner and outer worlds. Vanessa, contributed to that lexicon. I used to call Vanessa: The Planning Guru of the Global South. She contributed to that spiritual experience of learning, unlearning, understanding, and applying. And for that I am forever grateful.” –Alicia Fortuin