In the global discourse, southern African mountains remain some of the most poorly considered in terms of understanding them and their ‘Wicked Problems’ within the framework of social-ecological systems thinking. Accordingly, growing a community of practice of excellence is necessary to fill this gap and provide sound input into policy and practice for future mountain sustainability. Of particular concern is the challenge of compromised water production from rangeland degradation, invasive species, afforestation, mining and climate change. The Afromontane Research Unit (ARU) based on the QwaQwa Campus of the University of the Free State seeks to become a continental leader in African mountain research. With an immediate focus on its ‘back garden’, the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains, the ARU is driving a high-intensity research portfolio; is attracting high-quality students and postgrads; and forming strong partnerships with other academic players and industry in southern Africa and beyond. Research is being channelled into transdisciplinary themes that provide input into highly relevant and complex local situations that have global implications. The ARU has four objectives: To contribute intellectually and practically to the sustainable development discourse of the Maloti-Drakensberg transfrontier conservation area as a unique social-ecological system; To place the poorly studied southern African montane systems (i.e. those south of the Congo rainforest and Tanzania) onto the continental and global mountain research, policy and governance arena; To facilitate the development of a mountain research ‘community of practice’ within Africa that leads African mountain research from within Africa; To inform mountain hypotheses, theories and impacts of global significance from an African perspective, and thus contribute to strengthening the role of the south in the global mountain research agenda. The ARU welcomes productive, collaborative partnerships with those seeking to understand southern African mountains as social-ecological entities, and actively encourages visits and exchanges with the ARU.