A review of stakeholder engagement in the Tshwane University of Technology's evaluation of home-based water treatment devices at Makwane: a community perspective
Green, Mateboho Lipuo Henrietta
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Community engagement is widely accepted as one of the three core functions of universities alongside research and teaching. Initially mooted as a social responsiveness programme for higher education, community engagement was in 1997 incorporated into government policy through the White Paper 3 on Transformation of Higher Education. The policy required the higher education sector to correct the social inequalities created by the apartheid system while creating a learning society that would propel itself towards its own reconstruction and development. South Africa’s public universities practise community engagement in numerous models, one of which is community based research, also known as community based participative research (CBPR). This is the model that the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) researchers adopted in 2014/2015, in evaluating two home-based water treatment devices in a village called Makwane, just outside Roossenekal, south east of the Limpopo province. Like many rural communities with no access to piped bulk water services, the Makwane community, located in an isolated rural part of Limpopo, depends on untreated, contaminated river water for all their domestic needs. This exposes them to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, and death, especially among young children. In an attempt to save rural communities from drinking contaminated water, water scientists from TUT chose the Makwane community to evaluate the effectiveness of two TUT-invented home based water treatment devices in ridding raw river water of disease-causing pathogens. After testing the devices in laboratories, the scientists needed to test them in a community setting to ascertain their efficacy before deploying them widely among needy other communities in South Africa. They distributed such devices among 88 households and conducted this research in three phases, one in 2014 and two others in 2015. The purpose of this study was to review stakeholder engagement practices of the TUT researchers in the community-based research project referred to above. Utilising the qualitative research technique, the researcher administered semi-structured questions in one-on-one interviews with two Makwane community leaders and three focus group sessions with community participants drawn from three of four sections of the Makwane village. The review sought to identify the engagement role players in the TUT-community relationship, to determine the engagement process followed and its frequency, content and quality. The review also identified stakeholder engagement gaps with regard to knowledge sharing, community empowerment and social transformation, with the intention to draw insights for sharing with the TUT researchers and others within the public university sector who are involved in CBPR. The qualitative study yielded numerous findings, the most noteworthy of which was that the TUT-Makwane community relationship was not the partnership that the researcher had previously assumed it to be. Secondly, TUT’s stakeholder engagement was found to have been somewhat self-serving. Engagement appeared to have taken place mainly to get the TUT study off the ground and to see it to completion – but not to sustainably benefit the community. Thirdly, even though the home-based water treatment devices did yield clean drinking water for the Makwane households participating in the TUT research, the benefits were short-lived and unsustainable. Fourthly, TUT was found to have deployed pre-dominantly transactional engagement behaviour, typically carried out in philanthropic interventions characterised by short-term giving – and the least desired engagement behaviour for people-centred, sustainable development. The fifth finding was that even though the TUT researchers did prove beyond doubt that the Makwane community was drinking contaminated water, the decision to prioritise water treatment was outsider-imposed and not arrived at in consensus with the community. These findings led to numerous recommendations for further research and other remedial measures intended for future benefit to communities participating in CBPR, and the universities leading in that research.
- Humanities