Youth Month 2022: Nokuphila Ndimande

Youth Month 2022: Nokuphila Ndimande

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the youth of the NRF who are working towards achieving the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young NRF-affiliated researchers who are helping to ensure a sustainable planet for all.

Nokuphila Ndimande is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Zululand. She has received funding from the NRF for her Honours and Master’s degrees and is currently funded for her PhD studies.

This is her story…

I was born in 1996 in the rural area of Somsoek, Ladysmith which is part of the Alfred Duma Local Municipality in the uThukela District Municipality. I am from a family of five siblings. I started primary school at Thobezweni Primary School and finished high school at Sicelukukhanya High School. After high school, I went to the University of Zululand where I studied Environmental Planning and Development.

I am the only one in my family who has pursued her education to the postgraduate level. I always tell myself that one day I will wear a red gown and serve as the first doctor in my community. I am a driven, focused, and diligent individual that is constantly eager to learn and make a difference in my community. My mother always encourages me to study hard and get good grades so that I can improve my family’s situation and inspire others in my neighbourhood by using education as a route to success.

I also started a chicken business at home using the food allowance money I received from my funding – it helped me to earn some money while I continue studying.

Tell us about your academic journey

In high school I was always interested in geography and environmental protection. I applied for Environmental Management courses at both the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Zululand. I first received an offer from UNIZULU and I was excited to begin a career in Environmental Planning and Development. During my final year of studies, I averaged 63% instead of the Department of Environmental Studies’ required 65% for postgraduate entry. I was so disappointed that I would not be able to complete my Honours in Environmental studies.

I then went to the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies; fortunately, they required an average of 60% and I was able to register. I began my Development Studies career path and became very interested in it. I achieved outstanding results, where I passed with a distinction and graduated as the top student in my Honours class. I told myself that I should pursue a Master’s degree in Development Studies because I want my research to assist communities in overcoming challenges. So, having contributed to a book chapter, I see myself progressing in the field of Development Studies and I look forward to writing as many articles as possible.

NRF funding aided me in achieving exceptional academic accomplishments as I graduated cum laude and was the top student in the Honours class of 2018. I also completed my Master’s degree with merit. I used NRF funds to attend conferences and seminars, which helped me to expand my research expertise in terms of research techniques, literature reviews, theoretical frameworks, and data analysis tools.

I am also a Young Water Professional and a Women in Water member of the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA).

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

As we grow older, we face a plethora of problems that make us want to give up. When I was in my first year of university, I came across so many barriers that I almost gave up and returned home. I had some difficulties studying because I didn’t have any books and I came from a rural location where I had no experience using a computer. My family was always supportive of me and the NRF funding aided me in succeeding and overcoming obstacles at home since I was able to assist them as well as myself.

As a human, I believe you should know what you want out of life and what has led you to where you are now. Life is never easy; we must all go through trials and tribulations before achieving our goals. I believe that having self-assurance and an understanding of what I want in life has aided me in getting to where I am now.

What is your research focus/area of expertise?

My research focuses on water resource management and equitable access to water for rural communities. Equitable access to water is all about closing gaps of disparities in water access by treating vulnerable and marginalised groups differently to ensure an equitable outcome. Equitable access to water aims at satisfying the needs and rights of people, and people must be at the centre of water management to ensure social equity goals of access to water. Therefore, water access will be understood to be equitable when it contributes to making change within the society.

My research contends that the human right to water must be universally recognised in order to address equitable access to water while also taking gender and rural-urban disparities into account. If our citizens do not have access to clean water, it has a direct impact on their daily lives and survival. Water access provides social power, healthy bodies, viable livelihoods, transformed landscapes, energy generation, wealth, and life itself. Water resource management is a critical component in the global fight to eradicate extreme poverty and build secure and prosperous lives for the world’s people.

According to the study, water is a basic human right and the backbone of the economy and it is critical to consider local experiences, involve communities in decision making, and make practical arrangements for water supply. This study also aims to promote women’s empowerment in decision-making and participation in water resource management.

The United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure “…a better and more sustainable future for all…” by 2030. Which of these goals are you addressing through your research, or in your personal life?

My research focuses on Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation. I believe my research will be useful in determining the challenges of water and sanitation in South Africa in order to make an innovative contribution to the 2030 SGDs. This goal is measured by an indicator of the proportion of the population using safely managed drinking water. More than one-third of the world’s population does not have sufficient water and the situation is getting worse.

I also believe that this study will be beneficial to rural communities and local municipalities in determining the challenges of water access in South Africa. I also come from a rural area within the Alfred Duma Local Municipality where there are difficulties with equitable access to water and sanitation – many communities in the area do not have access to water which makes our daily lives difficult. Poverty and unemployment are also main issues in rural communities as the communities lack access to essential amenities and households are unable to pay for water services. In rural areas, the water we receive is frequently of poor quality and difficult to obtain. I feel that this study will help rural areas deal with water problems.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

Apart from being a PhD candidate, my proudest achievement was contributing to a chapter in a book titled, Handbook of Research on Water Resource Management and the Struggle for Water Sustainability in Africa, which was published by IGI Global Timely Publisher earlier this year. My chapter focuses on equitable access to water.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

My career aspiration is to publish more journal articles in the field of water resource management and to become an NRF-rated researcher one day.

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