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The Criminologist: The young academic telling untold stories of the criminal justice system

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The Criminologist: The young academic telling untold stories of the criminal justice system

Daniel Lifuka Izukanji Sichinga is a criminologist, policing scholar and LGBTQI+ hate crime researcher. He is currently studying towards a PhD at the University of Cape Town.

Published 5 October 2023

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Izu was born in Chingola, Zambia, where he lived until he was 22. In Zambia, homosexuality is criminalised, and queer people live in a constant state of fear and vigilance. When Izu left Zambia, first to study in Mauritius and then in South Africa, he became interested in how his lived experience as a queer black man shifted, depending on the political and social context he was in.

“Being in the MRF space has taught me to fully embrace who I am, to accept the different challenges that I encounter, but also to reflect deeply on reconciling what it means as an individual who is Zambian and is crossing different borders. What does it mean to be a black man, to be a foreigner, to be queer in South Africa, where you may not know if this is your last day?” This personal experience lends an urgency to Izu’s engagement with his academic work.

At the African Leadership University, he studied social sciences and discovered criminology. A formative experience inflamed his interest in the field: the Mauritian police intervened in a queer pride march, warning the marchers that they were at risk of violence from conservative counter-protesters. In this instance, the police had intervened constructively, which is unusual in African contexts. “When LGBTQI+ people experience hate crimes, and they go to the police, they tend to experience re-victimisation at the hands of the criminal justice system. Not only the police, but also the courts and other key actors,” he explains.

Izu aspired to pursue a Masters in Criminology, Law and Society in South Africa, and began looking for funding. “Something that really drew me to the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship was the ‘Aspire to Be’ video, where they outlined the qualities that they look for. It spoke to me.” The combination of funding combined with personal development appealed to him, and he was selected in 2020. Today, Izu’s PhD explores how LGBTQI+ police officers navigate their identity within the South African Police Service. His work goes beyond existing victimisation studies and breaks new ground by talking directly to police officers about their experiences and identities. Ultimately, Izu aims to utilise decolonial and queer perspectives to improve understanding of how queer people access justice. This contributes to developing a multisectoral approach that can aid criminal justice actors in best serving the victim. “I don’t want my research to gather dust on a library shelf somewhere,” he says. Izu aims to make the outcomes of his research useful and has presented at criminology conferences at the University of Edinburgh as well as the Evidence-Based Policing in South Africa Conference.

Izu is passionate about higher education and training the next generation of critical social scientists in Africa. He says that the MRF helped him to grow holistically as a leader, and has been an important source of connection: “I’ve been able to create this wonderful family of friends, people that I can depend on, that I see still being part of my life in the long run, and part of the grand vision of the MRF of being lifelong scholars.”

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