15 August 2023 | Story Anthony Mthembu | Photo Supplied
Ndumiso Mbuthuma
Ndumiso Mbuthuma is currently pursuing a PhD in Development Studies with a focus on floods and disasters.

Ndumiso Mbuthuma, a PhD student at the University of the Free State (UFS), was part of a team that won the Durban leg of the Students Reinventing Cities competition. “It was a beautiful experience and an opportunity to not only be a student again but to contribute to the greater good,” Mbuthuma said.

The Students Reinventing Cities competition is coordinated by C40, a global network of nearly 100 mayors of the world’s leading cities who are united in action to confront the climate crisis.

The Umgeni Interchange Team, which consisted of Mbuthuma, who is a student in the UFS Centre for Development Support, three students from the University of Cape Town, and one from an institution in France, participated in the Durban leg of the competition, which began in April 2023. 

After deliberations by C40 and city representatives, the team was informed on 13 July 2023 that they had been selected as the winners of the regional Durban competition.

The Students Reinventing Cities competition provides a platform for students and academics to work with cities around the world to formulate plans to combat climate change. This year the competition took place in 12 cities, including Barcelona, Durban, Rome, Melbourne, and Milan, among others. “The aim of the competition is to find ways in which we can begin to build cities that are climate change-friendly,” Mbuthuma said. 

The winning presentation

The Umgeni Interchange Team was allocated four hectares of land by the eThekwini municipality to come up with a development idea. The team members, who specialise in various fields, had to rely on each other to create a winning project. Their proposal entailed the development of a mixed-use, commercial, retail, and affordable-housing block. 

“We wanted to ensure affordable housing not just for the rich but even for those who aren’t,” Mbuthuma explained. His PhD, which focuses on floods and disasters, provided guidance on ensuring that the housing block was resistant to floods and other disasters. The proposal also suggested sustainable resource use, including the use of solar panels to generate energy in order to reduce the impact of loadshedding. 

Even though a victory in the competition is a great feeling, Mbuthuma is more appreciative of the opportunity to have been active in the battle for a more sustainable future. “To hear that policymakers are interested in hearing what I have to say is a big deal to me.”

Future endeavours

Although there has been a concerted effort globally to combat climate change, Mbuthuma believes that in countries such as South Africa there hasn’t been adequate discourse around how development will take place in a future defined by climate change and the resulting disasters expected. As such, he is committed to working towards normalising these conversations.

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