It was double celebration for sisters Sihawukelwe and Mpumelelo Luthuli who graduated with their postgraduate degrees at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Sihawukelwe was awarded her Masters in Development Studies while Mpumelelo achieved her Bachelor of Science Honours in Geography and Environmental Management.

Sihawukelwe said she was extremely excited to graduate alongside her sister.  ‘We have surely made our parents proud since everything we do is for them.’

Mpumelelo is confident they have developed intellectually. ‘We have the ability to plan and implement a project, pay specific attention to detail, possess good writing skills and have the ability to meet deadlines and work independently. Those are important qualities for the workplace.’

In her study Sihawukelwe looked at the role of stokvel groups in the poverty reduction process in rural communities. ‘Stokvel groups are a widely known social phenomenon more especially in the Black African community. The stokvels are a self-help initiative designed to respond to the problems of poverty and income insecurity in poor communities. As a result, they are deemed a form of informal social security,’ she said.

Sihawukelwe found that stokvels have both economic and social functions. The economic function relates to the use of stokvels to promote income security amongst poor communities while the social function speaks to social capital, which often results in the strong formulation of friendships, partnership and social networks, seen as human capital.

‘The presence of strong positive social networks helps to address problems of poverty and inequality from the community level to broader levels. This means that through social relationships formed amongst members of the community there is social reciprocity wherein members help each other to rise above the poverty line.’

Sihawukelwe hopes her research will benefit society by educating them that stokvel groups should not only be centred on the exchange of money but also focus on the important relationships and networks that are formed with other members. ‘I want to encourage youth participation in stokvels as it was found that in rural communities stokvel groups are dominated by the elders.’

On the other hand, Mpumelelo’s research set out to establish the factors that affect household food security in eVuma in Eshowe, in northern KwaZulu-Natal.  She documented current coping strategies employed during prevalence of food insecurity and recommended alternative coping strategies.

‘Food insecurity remains a persistent challenge prevalent at household level in most rural parts of the country despite numerous mediation initiatives. There is a dire need for establishing area-specific factors that affect household food security to inform various development structures. Establishing the above factors was relevant and timely as there are increasing debates around the likelihood of rural households being able to meet their food security,’ she explained.

Her study findings indicate that high food prices, drought and the lack of agricultural inputs are the major factors affecting household food security at eVuma. ‘To cope with food deficits, households employ different coping strategies such as reducing meal size, taking loans and purchasing less preferred foods.’

Both sisters struggled financially to complete their degrees but are thrilled to be UKZN graduates and are hopeful for the future. They also expressed gratitude to their family, friends and supervisors.

‘My older sister Nomkhosi, a UKZN lecturer motivated Mpumelelo and I to study further. It is through her resilience over the years that we both believed we could attain our postgraduate qualifications,’ said Sihawukelwe.

Mpumelelo’s advice to fellow researchers: ‘Time lost can never be regained. Procrastination is definitely the thief of time. Do not delay in doing things but rather work in advance to meet the set deadlines.’

Both Sihawukelwe and Mpumelelo plan to pursue their studies further.

Words: Melissa Mungroo