School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Dr Simphiwe Hlatshwayo.

PhD and Publications a Triumph for Orphaned Food Security Researcher

Dr Simphiwe Hlatshwayo’s PhD research on the impact of crop productivity and market participation on household food and nutrition security resulted in an impressive 12 publications for the young graduate, whose mentorship of other students and research have set her on an academic career track.

Hlatshwayo was born and bred in Dundonald (Shabalala Village) in Mpumalanga province. She lost her father when she was 15 years old and her mother during her master’s studies, leaving her with her grandparents and uncle. Hlatshwayo enrolled at UKZN for her undergraduate and postgraduate studies, continuing to PhD level where she considered her research topic as a way of giving back to the deep rural area where she grew up.

Her study demonstrated the high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition faced by rural households.

‘My results also showed that improvements in crop productivity and market participation have the potential to improve household food and nutrition security, and ultimately rural livelihoods.’

During her studies, the 28-year-old produced 12 publications, some co-authored with the students she was mentoring through their own research.

Completing her studies and crossing the stage to be capped was an emotional process for Hlatshwayo, whose studies were inspired by her late mother’s words, ‘Mtanami ngifuna ufunde uze ugqoke ijazi elibovu’ (My child, I want you to learn until you wear a red coat).

Not having her mother present at her graduation was difficult, but she was determined to set an example to other orphans, motivating them to persevere despite their losses.

‘No matter what, do not give up,’ she said. ‘Know that your parents are watching down on you from heaven.’

Hlatshwayo is passionate about being a lecturer and is now completing a postdoctoral fellowship funded by the National Research Foundation under the supervision of her PhD supervisor Dr Mjabuliseni Ngidi.

She thanked Ngidi for his belief in her, for providing a platform for her to demonstrate her research skills and for entrusting her with the opportunity to mentor other students, which contributed to the growth of her own research skills.

Hlatshwayo also thanked her co-supervisors Dr Temitope Ojo of Obafemi Awolowo University for his guidance and constructive criticism and Professors Albert Modi and Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi for their guidance and support, as well as Professor Rob Slotow and the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) team at UKZN for supporting her studies. She credited her friends and family for their unconditional love, support, and belief that enabled her to complete her studies.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied