Mandela Day: Helping communities sustain their livelihoods

The University of Johannesburg’s Community Engagement Unit recently hosted a webinar as part of the Nelson Mandela International Day initiatives.

In the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed communities to numerous challenges such as hunger, poverty and deprivation, often in the face of joblessness and poor governance. This also brought into focus the deep structural inequalities in South Africa.

Despite the challenges, South Africans demonstrated resilience which resonates with the values the late icon Nelson Mandela stood for.

To advance this value, UJCE embarked on a variety of activities focused on the UN Global Sustainable Goals, namely; Food and Nutrition. The UN’s third goal is to reduce hunger in families through the provision of nutritious meals and its fourth goal is to eliminate malnutrition and stunting in young children.

The webinar, which took place on 26 July 2022 under the theme ‘Where the economy fails: What can communities do to sustain their livelihoods?’ saw a number of guests discuss a variety of ways to help with sustainability.

Director for the UJ Centre for Ecological Intelligence (CEI), Professor Michael Rudolph presented on revitalising an Afrocentric ecosystem approach by unlocking innovative agroecology value chains to optimise stakeholder relations.

Their vision is to promote healthy communities in urban, peri urban and rural South Africa by growing knowledge, capacity and leadership  to enable communities to establish and have access to good food and healthy environments.

Prof Rudolph added that there was a need to transform current ecological environments (water, air, soil, energy) using innovative methods and technology, to teach and use  research to explore and understand systems in all their complexity and the interplay and convergence between the natural and man-made worlds. He also said that there was a vast store of knowledge and expertise available.

“When Madiba was in Pollsmoor prison he loved planting, tending, cultivating and harvesting the produce he grew in a small plot allocated to him. He took responsibility for it and was a custodian for his vegetable patch. So too, we, South Africans, need to demonstrate our responsibility and leadership by sowing seeds in our physical and spiritual gardens, cultivating care and concern for others and propagating potential in the communities in which we live and work. Only then can we be assured that we’ll be planting for the future and promoting a better life for all.”

Statistically, 54% of the South African population are food insecure and 71% of poor urban households are food insecure. Poor diet impacts on HIV/AIDS, TB, Diabetes and stunting.

The UJ CEI has several initiatives including the APB Training and Research Hub, the UJ Gardens at the DFC Campus, and the APB Aquaponics Hub.

Prof Rudolph reiterated that everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated and passionate about what they do.

“On your shoulders rests the challenge of giving science a face that inspires our youth to seek out science, engineering and technology.”

He also stressed that women, who make up half the population in Africa, provide 40% of labour in crop production in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We need to uplift women from just being labourers to become the managers, leaders, scientists we need. Any way you look at it, more women and youth have a lot to offer in terms of producing food, fibre and everything around that.  We need to play a key role in all of these endeavours,” he concluded.

*During the activation week, staff, students and alumni were encouraged to donate books, blankets, clothing and other necessities for Nelson Mandela International Day.

Watch here:

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