06 February 2023 | Story Kekeletso Takang | Photo UFS Photo Archive
Qwaqwa Campus Afromontane Research
The Afromontane Research Unit strides in adapting and being innovative in Qwaqwa.

The Afromontane Research Unit’s (ARU) team on the Qwaqwa Campus  of the University of the Free State has made great strides in collaborating with the community, municipality, and the Royal House, changing Phuthaditjhaba’s trajectory of hopelessness, despair, and relying on a higher power to do something and bringing together citizens to create a sustainable future.

This is what Dr Ralph Clark, Director of the ARU and Chair of the Scientific Committee of the Grassland Society of Southern Africa, told delegates at the Fifth Global Change Conference, which was hosted on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus from 30 January to 2 February 2023. 

Dr Clark delivered a presentation on the ARU's strides in adapting and being innovative in the region. 

The Afromontane Research Unit is a flagship research group of the UFS and a leader in African mountain research. It facilitates the development of high-excellence African-based mountain research. Through its vision, the ARU seeks to become a continental leader in African mountain research, focusing on the sustainable development of the Maloti-Drakensberg. 

Research conducted to date highlights unique challenges faced by the community around the Qwaqwa Campus, including chronic water pollution from failed sewerage plants, continuous planned protests, and macropolitical-economic challenges that include up to three weeks of load shedding at a time. Notably, the projections for Qwaqwa as a result of climate change are increased rainfall, and while this is a challenge, it can also provide an opportunity for rainwater harvesting and decreased flood potential. 

“While we can’t solve all our problems directly, we can adapt and innovate. Through our Risk and Vulnerability Science Centre (RVSC), we are looking at solution-oriented programmes that can provide societal value and societal impact,” said Dr Clark. The theme of the RVSC is The Sustainable Development of Phuthaditjhaba as an African Mountain City. Some of the potential responses to the challenges include:
• Renewable energy 
• Rainwater harvesting on a mass scale
• Establishing very strong water, energy, and civil contingencies 
• Partnering with local practitioners to support the youth through mentoring
• Nurturing the strongly visible entrepreneurship drive in the area

“Looking at the SDGs, we are challenged to answer questions on how we can achieve those goals in terms of our context and where we are in terms of the SDGs,” said Dr Clark.

“The funding we have received so far from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) has been helpful in supporting research.”    

Guided by the sustainability goal of the UFS, the ARU aspires to create an environment where the Qwaqwa Campus can live in harmony with its environment and make Qwaqwa resilient and sustainable. 

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