School of Applied Human Sciences hosts Community Engagement Symposium

School of Applied Human Sciences representatives at their Town and Gown Symposium.
School of Applied Human Sciences representatives at their Town and Gown Symposium.
School of Applied Human Sciences representatives at their Town and Gown Symposium.
School of Applied Human Sciences representatives at their Town and Gown Symposium.

External stakeholders from industry and NGOs who are associated with the School’s disciplines of Communication and Media at the Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS); Criminology and Forensics; Psychology and Social Work joined 60 staff members, and postdoctorate and doctoral students.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, addressed the symposium before a session of further short addresses chaired by Professor Donal McCracken of the CCMS.

Speakers included Uzalo executive producer Ms Mmamitse Thibedi, Mr Sabelo Gumedze of the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority, Mr Bheki Zondo of the Department of Health, and Mr Eric Apelgren of the eThekwini Municipality. The common recommendation from industry is that graduates’ soft skills need to be sufficient if they are to make a positive impact on South African society. The idea of thought leadership is imperative for graduates to move into the different sectors and be committed to transformation.

Professor Ruth Teer-Tomaselli of the CCMS chaired a round table discussion relating to community initiatives with NGO/NPO representatives. Speakers included Public Health communication consultant Ms Chalone Savant; Ms Mary Lange and Mr Bheki Dlamini of ARROWSA, Ms Siyanda Biyela of Youth Crime Prevention KZN, Mr Monty Thomas of Zoe-Life, and Ms Mzwakie Mosery of MATCH.

‘As tempting (and important) as it is to focus outward on social and structural constraints and opportunities, the discussion here reminded us of the more immediate layers of influence in society,’ said McCracken. ‘For example, research and community engagement initiatives should seek to support family structures and creative school programmes.

The issue of mental health was a hot topic, and a number of the presenters impressed upon the group that mental health is the single most important factor for adherence to HIV treatment.

The afternoon session involved a lively panel discussion chaired by CCMS PhD candidate Mr Sanele Gamede under the theme of community engagement and the role of the University. PhD presenters included Mr Thomas Gumbo, Mr Mkhonzeni Gumede, Ms Shannon Landers, Ms Nosipho Makhakhe, Ms Nstika Mlamla, Mr Tigere Muringa, Mr Patrick Nyamruze and Mr Sanele Shabane.

Group members felt there was a need to avoid the often-criticised ‘smash and grab’ approach of researchers entering a community and extracting information with no reciprocity or feedback to the people who participated in the research. The need for research relationships to be sustained and ways in which this could be done were discussed.

Another issue raised was that as most research is problem-based, engagement with community partners needed to foreground their resilience and solutions found within the community. ‘The role of research in SAHS,’ Landers said, ‘goes hand-in-hand with community engagement and it is necessary that efforts be made to bridge the gap in South Africa’s dual economy and ensure a smooth transition towards the 4th industrial revolution.’

UKZN senior lecturer Dr Ruwayda Petrus said ‘as people committed to community engagement we need to hold the door open and allow multiple views, sectors, communities and paradigms to positively influence our prosocial engagement with South African society’.

The event, held to break down barriers between scholarship and communities, marked the first major activity of the recently established discipline stakeholder committees.

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