Current water challenges need a stronger focus on research

Dr Jennifer Molwantwa
Achieving National Development Plan (NDP) goals and Vision 2030

The newly appointed Water Research Commission (WRC) Research Manager and water quality management specialist, Dr Jennifer Balatedi Molwantwa, believes research is key to understanding current and future water challenges in order to attain the NDP goals and Vision 2030 in South Africa.

Dr Molwantwa was born and bred in Kagiso, a township located on the outskirts of the mining-intensive area of the Western Basin gold mines. Growing up on the West Rand where there were always environmental issues associated with the mines inspired her to pursue a career in the field of environmental impacts of mining, in particular, the water aspects, as these were more pertinent while she was growing up. Consequently, Dr Molwantwa qualified with a degree in Biotechnology from Rhodes University in 2008 in the field of mine water treatment.

While studying at Rhodes University Molwantwa met Professor Rose of the Environmental Biotechnology Research Unit (EBRU), who made her realise that while environmental issues were vast, water-related environmental issues were being intensely studied and solutions were being developed.

Since this realisation she has never looked back. According to Molwantwa, not only are there many water challenges, but the challenges are constantly changing. “When we think we understand one issue such as mine water, another crops up such as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC), making this an endless cycle”.

Therefore, “research is at the core of understanding the current and future challenges”, says Molwantwa. Also, “our actions today will have direct and unintended consequences on the environment in the future and these may be exacerbated by the impacts associated with climate change and undertaking research will always prepare us to be in a position to deal these challenges and prepare either mitigation measures and/or adaptation strategies.

Dr Molwantwa further comments, “The research products can also contribute to the improvement of our country’s socio-economic status which is at the core of the NDP that is the long-term development plan for South Africa. For example, how it is that mostly poor and marginalised rural people are subjected to drinking poor quality water from polluted rivers (taking into account the exorbitant cost of accessing groundwater privately) and not us urbanised city people who have access to services (to a large extent)”.

At the WRC Dr Molwantwa will be responsible for, among others, managing and coordinating a portfolio on the quality of water resources within institutional, technical, social as well as economic-related research programmes, projects and affiliated activities.

Molwantwa brings a wealth of experience from various water-related organisations. She currently serves as a Commissioner on the National Planning Commission (NPC) chaired by Minister Trevor Manuel (for the period 2010 to 2015) and tasked with the development of the National Development Plan (NDP) and Vision 2030. “We are currently developing the implementation and monitoring framework with the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME)”. Dr Molwantwa is also a member of Council of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and serves as a Council representative on Senate.

Her involvement with the WRC is not new. In April 2002 she was appointed as a research assistant on two WRC projects at Pulles Howard and de Lange, one of which led to her PhD which she completed in 2007. In 2006, she was awarded the WRC/WISA/CSIR Excellence in Research Award.

Dr Molwantwa’s work has been published in the WRC’s scientific journal Water SA and she is also featured in the EBRU Flamingo Series of research reports published by the WRC.

“I am excited by the fact that without water nothing (not humans or plants and even animals) can survive. Water is life and our work therefore contributes directly to ensuring that life goes on!” concludes Dr Molwantwa.

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