School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Dr Amanda Gumede with supervisor, Professor Urmilla Bob (left) and grandmother, Ms Joesephine Zwane.

Lecturer’s PhD Research Expands Knowledge of Durban Community’s Waste Management

An interest in climate change mitigation and engaging with communities motivated Dr Amanda Gumede, a Geography lecturer at UKZN, to conduct a comprehensive audit of household waste management practices within the Bluff area in Durban for her PhD, in order to assess sustainability considerations and inform future intervention strategies.

Gumede, who grew up in Empangeni, moved to Durban to complete her schooling career at Mowat Park High School, living with an aunt. During her studies on UKZN’s Westville campus, Gumede considered moving on from academia during an honours year that was beset with struggles for her due in part to severe endometriosis.

While working as a research assistant in UKZN’s Research Office, Professor Urmilla Bob recognised Gumede’s potential and encouraged her to pursue a master’s degree. This decision triggered a realisation of her aptitude for research and boosted her confidence in her capability. She also did research method software training with the University Capacity Development Programme.

A short stint as a graduate environmental engineer affirmed Gumede’s preference for an academic career. She developed her interest by working as a research and student assistant with the Research Office, as a supplemental instruction leader, co-ordinator and research assistant in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, and by advancing her research, writing, and teaching and learning skills. These roles also provided consultancy experience as Gumede worked on government-commissioned research projects.

After completing her master’s studies under the supervision of Bob and Dr Suveshnee Munien, in which Gumede focused on renewable energy in low-income areas and the perceived impact of introducing alternative energy sources, she began her PhD in July 2020. Broadly interested in pressing issues of all aspects of waste management practices and streams, including water and energy, she wanted to explore the lived realities of people as they dealt with these issues.

The area she studied comprises a diverse, urban community where the legacy of apartheid lingers through challenges such as air pollution from the nearby industrial areas people were attracted to for employment. Gumede was interested in comparing those with heterogeneous socio-economic standing and how they dealt with the challenges of multiple environmental issues.

Waste management issues were under-researched, so Gumede conducted quantitative surveys with 400 households representing the wider community and engaged with key informants in government and municipal offices, non-governmental organisations conducting environmental justice work, and academics who had done related work in the area.

Gumede explored the impacts of waste management strategies including how communities navigated these in terms of sustainability concerns, and what resources they had at their disposal. She considered demographics, educational background, household decision-makers, levels of awareness and understanding, current waste management habits and practices, constraints, willingness to adopt and pay for solutions, and intent.

This resulted in the development of a new conceptual framework.

‘It’s vital for researchers to look at what impacts society and people and be in touch with people’s realities to have a real effect, even if that’s just a discussion that makes a difference in people’s perception of littering, composting, etc,’ said Gumede.

Gumede worked throughout her PhD studies to provide for her grandmother, who raised her after her mother passed away when she was six years old. Completing her PhD, which Gumede achieved in just three years, fulfilled a promise she made to her grandmother.

She worked as a lecturer at the Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley for just over a year, during which time she conducted her fieldwork, then took up a post at UKZN’s Howard College campus in 2022.

Gumede relied on her relationship with God, mental health therapy, physical activity at the gym, and her community of friends and family for strength. She also credited Bob and Munien for providing relief when required during her studies and encouraging her to persevere, serving as more than just supervisors but rather mentors and friends. She expressed gratitude to her grandmother, supervisors, friends, family and community for their belief in her and the space they provided for her to complete her research.

Coming from humble beginnings where she benefited from the sacrifices of her grandmother, especially for her education, Gumede is driven to be an example for other young Black girls who do not see a way out of their circumstances, advising them that anything and everything is possible.

Words: Christine Cuenod

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini