‘Sight-seeing’ trip to Mtubatuba for Development Studies Students
School of Built Environment and Development Studies (BEDS) students were taken on a field trip to Mtubatuba in northern KwaZulu-Natal so, according to their lecturer, Dr Mvu Ngcoya, they could ‘see, smell and taste things covered in lectures’.
The adventure was part of the Agriculture and Rural Development module, headed by Ngcoya.
Students got to visit various places in the town and surrounding areas including the informal market, a cooperative agricultural project, the local health services, a community living near a coal mine and the local Department of Agriculture offices.
Masters Student in Development Studies, Mr Mzimkhulu Sithetho, was in the group of students who saw the harsh realities that market traders face such as the costs of production, transport, and a lack of buying power.
He also heard the story of an elderly woman with 12 grandchildren who uses her pension to care for her family while maintaining her small business.
‘The visit provided great insight on farming in rural areas and how the informal market is the efficient system in which to sell crops that are harvested,’ said Sithetho. ‘However, the informal markert showed gender disparities as more women were found selling vegetables. This provides an interesting picture of the gendered roles in society where women have been assigned the role of securing food which is reflected in the informal market.’
The students were also introduced to entrepreneur, Mr Thomas Khanyile, who told them about challenges farmers often faced such as drought and lack of adequate infrastructure, while also seeing first-hand the challenges of an organised formal structure that practises permaculture.
They were also given the opportunity to visit the Somkhele coal mine in the Machibini area to meet a group of women who are suffering because of the mining activities and then viewed the new cemetery with exposed graves.
‘We visited these “graves of development” and what we saw was appalling as some of them have caved in due to flooding,’ said Sithetho. ‘Substantial social responsibility by the mine owners is not evident.
‘While we were standing opposite the road to the mine, we counted over 50 trucks line up outside ready to transport the coal from the village to financial capitals of the world, leaving a trail of soot, dust, and sickness behind,’ said Sithetho.
Students also visited the local clinic in the village, where they were told it faces challenges of non-availability of medication for patients, with nurses sometimes paying from their own pockets to support patients.
A final stop for the students was at the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs where senior officials explained the department’s functions to them, specifically the agricultural and environmental aspects.
‘It was good to hear government’s perspective on the issues. We hope Development Studies will continue organising this field trip and that more of these opportunities will be offered,’ said Sithetho.
Ngcoya added: ‘These visits are extremely important for me as a teacher and researcher as I learn from the students and the people we interview. It is challenging to pull off a programme like this but I think that students gain a lot more from discussing deep conceptual stuff in the real world.
‘Our serious reflections and discussions were very informal and often continued late into the night. Surely this is superior to pontificating about things in some dry, detached and air-conditioned seminar room?’
Interim Dean for the School, Professor Betty Mubangizi, said: ‘The severity of poverty in South Africa is far worse in rural areas than in urban areas. Sadly rural areas are often out of sight and out of the minds of researchers and policy-makers. Trips of this nature are thus significant as they conscientise our students to the harsh realities of the rural/urban divide. I commend Dr Ngcoya and look forward to seeing more of these trips taking place in future.’
Melissa Mungroo and Mzimkhulu Sithetho