Dr Hangwelani Hope Magidimisha.

UKZN’s College of Humanities celebrated the graduation of Dr Hangwelani Hope Magidimisha – the first Black woman to be awarded a doctorate in the Discipline of Town Planning at the University.

Magidimisha urged Black women to embrace the Town Planning Discipline. ‘I have mixed feelings about all this. I am excited in the sense that it is an achievement for me, something I have always wanted to do. However, there is a need for a lot more Black women in town planning to represent the sector in the built environment.

‘I am happy I am at UKZN where I can nurture young women to become academics,’ said Magidimisha.

She encouraged students to closely examine Town Planning, saying it was not only about designing. ‘Many people, especially women, think Town Planning is very technical and involves a lot of designing. This is true to some degree, however, it also about implementing policies.

‘There are others again who think Planning is overly sophisticated and a masculine profession, which is wrong. We need more people with PhDs in the field to enrich our knowledge and help to form academic networks to improve the profession and engage with critical issues,’ she said.

Her PhD interrogates the persistence of spatial inequities of service delivery in contemporary South Africa despite concerted efforts by the government to eliminate them. Specific reference is given to Vhembe District Municipality in Limpopo Province, which rates among the most deprived areas in the country. In a bid to unravel this reality in living environment domains, the study employed a multi-pronged approach by using empirical evidence from the case study supported by data from the South African Multiple Deprivation Index and South Africa Social Attitude Survey.

Emerging findings indicate that structural defects that underline prevailing spatial inequalities are a function of a myriad of factors. It concludes by providing recommendations in the form of a Sphere of Spatial Equality Model that sets in motion dynamic responses in households and bureaucrats in a bid to eliminate spatial inequality.

Magidimisha, like every married woman, faced challenges during her years of study but persevered and completed her doctorate.

‘It is important to manage your time when you are enrolled for a PhD. I became pregnant during my three years of study, but I managed to complete my studies. I told myself that I had to drive and push myself. Many people think that the moment a woman falls pregnant, she has to give up her studies. However, pregnancy is not a disability. It does not change a person’s career if it is well managed,’ she said.

‘I had to play my part as a married woman and my husband was very supportive, taking care of our children and I did not feel the pressure. My husband helped me a lot and my drive for success brought me this far. There is need to personalise and fall in love with your studies and be passionate in the process. I chose to research on my home area and this helped me a lot because I am attached to it,’ she said. 

Magidimisha thanked her doctoral supervisor, Dr Rosemary Awuorh- Hayangah, and the Human Sciences Research Council for creating a good learning environment. ‘I also thank my dad, mum, children and especially my husband – he is the best man in the world and I am really grateful and thankful for his support.’

Dean and Head of the School of Built Environment and Development Studies Professor Betty Mubangizi believes that Dr Magidimisha has brought a youthful and vibrant attitude not only to the Discipline but to the School. She acknowledges that coming from the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) – a research institution, Dr Magidimisha’s interest for research and publications is already shining through.

According to Mubangizi, Town Planning focuses on improving the living, leisure and working environments and conditions of people. It does so by estimating future needs of settlements including housing, business, industrial sites, public facilities and open spaces so as to meet the needs of growing populations of our towns and cities. ‘Women are most affected by poor town planning decisions and it is significant that Dr Magidimisha, a woman, has graduated with a PhD in Town Planning. She now brings a much needed female view to the town and regional planning profession.’

‘It is also significant that Dr Magidimisha has been with UKZN since her undergraduate years. That she has graduated with a PhD and that she is, in addition, a member of our staff just serves to show UKZN’s commitment to transformation and to growing our own timber,’ said Mubangizi.

Sibongile H Moyo