Building advanced leadership capacity in water security in South Africa

Mlungisi Shabalala

As we get to grips with water insecurity in South Africa so do we realise the need for increased capacity in the sector, particularly in leadership positions. We need plenty of smart, competent and young professionals and academics making significant contributions. During the first five years of the International Water Security Network there was a significant investment in capacity development in southern Africa but we recognised that there could be a greater focus on professional leadership.

With that in mind a partnership of the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and Institute of Natural Resources has established and launched an advanced academic and professional development programme. In essence it has two streams. The first is a four year programme which combines PhD level study, professional work experience, and specifically tailored courses and exchanges. The second stream targets mid-career professionals who already have significant work experience and are pursuing their PhDs. They need some financial support so they can focus on their research and its completion.

Michelle Browne

We have made rapid progress in implementing the programme:

  • Mlu Shabalala, who was previously an intern at the INR, is now registered for his PhD through the Centre for Water Resources Research at UKZN. The subject of his research is the hydrological and water security implications of converting commercial timber stands to macadamia orchards in a water stressed catchment. He is currently obtaining work experience lecturing at the University of Zululand. In autumn 2019, he spent two months in the UK (mostly at UWE Bristol) securing invaluable experience, including participating in the Lloyd’s Register Foundation International Conference 2019.
  • Brigid Letty, a staff member at the INR, will submit her PhD for examination this year. Her research is on water use of agroforestry systems. She received a bursary through the programme and additional support from the Water Research Commission.
  • Carla Higgs, a mid-career professional, has commenced her PhD on equitable water allocation under the supervision of Professor Trevor Hill. Her bursary is from the Umgeni Water Chair of Water Resource Management located at UKZN.
  • Kate Pringle, a former staff member of the INR and currently an associate, is busy with her PhD on how water governance might be configured to better support social cohesion. She is supervised by Professor Oonsie Biggs at Stellenbosch University (SU). She has received a bursary from this programme and additional support from SU.
  • Michelle Browne will shortly complete her PhD which develops a framework for the economic evaluation of wetland rehabilitation. She has received a bursary from this programme and additional support from Greenmatter and the Water Research Commission. She is supervised by Professor Gavin Fraser at Rhodes University.

In future articles we will profile the research of these and other PhD students in greater detail.

What we are learning in embarking on this journey is that with a modest investment in coordination and development we can secure financial resources and high-end supervisory and mentoring skills in support of these PhD student leaders.

Duncan Hay is the Executive Director of the Institute of Natural Resources.