On the 6th of December 2023, representatives of villages under the Mphaphuli Dynasty and University of Venda (UNIVEN), witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between UNIVEN and the Mphaphuli Development Trust (MDT). This took place at the Mphaphuli Traditional Council Offices in Mbilwi village, Sibasa. Prof Bernard Nthambeleni, the UNIVEN Vice-Chancellor and Principal and Prof Desmond Musetsho, Chairperson of the MDT, signed the MoU. Adv Eric Nemukula, the UNIVEN Director of Legal Services, facilitated the signing ceremony.

This event solidified a partnership for citizen-driven community development across the Mphaphuli Dynasty’s 76 constituent villages. Signing the agreement is a critical milestone because it will make it easier for the partners to share knowledge, experiences and resources to enhance socio-economic development. At the centre of this agreement will be co-designing solutions to societal challenges and co-creation of knowledge, underpinned by active involvement of children, youth, adults and local leadership institutions found in all the villages constituting the Mphaphuli community. Recognising the importance of education, skills and mentorship, the MDT looks forward to UNIVEN offering relevant need-based training to strengthen the capacities of citizens to self-drive development. Moreover, UNIVEN will provide leadership in community-based action research to accelerate improvement in citizens’ quality of life. The MDT will help mobilize the Mphaphuli community for active involvement in its own development.
In his remarks, the UNIVEN Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Nthambeleni revealed that most people view universities as “big, towering institutions that are so divorced from the communities, divorced from people they are supposed to serve … that are just independent.” He went on to point out that, “as the University of Venda staff and management, we believe that the role of the university is different because we do not exist to just conduct research but rather to carry out work that touches the lives of people – empowers communities and having
impact in society”. He indicated that this was the reason the UNIVEN mission related to positioning the university such that it would be relevant and have impact in society.
Prof Nthambeleni argued that UNIVEN was on the right track. To amplify this view, he revealed that recently the university launched the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Rapid Incubation. Explaining the significance of this Centre, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, indicated that through this Centre, informal business people such as men and women operating on the streets of Thohoyandou and small medium microenterprises would be expected to benefit immensely.
Prof Nthambeleni noted that the University would only enhance its chances of success if it worked with the communities it served, highlighting that, “we are not just interested in signing this memorandum of understanding. Rather, we are more interested in the progress that must be made after signing this document.” He concluded his address by expressing the University’s commitment to making sure that the principles and terms of agreement of the memorandum are realised.
The Chairperson of the Mphaphuli Development Trust, Prof Khangwelo Musetsho stated that “This momentous day is not just a formal ceremony but a culmination of years of diligent discussions and shared visions. It marks the beginning of an exciting, collaborative journey, intertwining the paths of the Mphaphuli Development Trust and the University of Venda. We are excited that our partnership is a testament to the university’s commitment to engaged scholarship and its vital role in driving local and global impact, particularly in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.” Continuing with his address, Prof Musetsho drew the audience’s attention to the key imperatives of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act of 2003, which places considerable responsibilities on the shoulders of Traditional Leaders. Among the key roles are land management, cultural preservation and practices, and environmental stewardship.
Prof Musetsho highlighted that the MDT was already involved in numerous community-centric initiatives that are poised to benefit significantly from the collaboration and research expertise resident in the University. He said, “As we embark on this partnership, we recognise the uniqueness of our programmes and respectfully urge the University to ensure non-duplication in implementing similar projects with other local leadership institutions. Our community eagerly anticipates tangible outcomes from this memorandum, yearning for direct and positive impacts on their lives.” He concluded by assuring both the local community and UNIVEN that the MDT was committed serving the people to the best of its ability.
In his words of appreciation, Thovhele Gole Mphaphuli expressed his gratitude and reaffirmed his commitment to this bilateral agreement. He said he was pleased for MDT and UNIVEN to have reached this important milestone, which made him look forward to hard work that would result in achievement of common shared objectives.
Thovhele Mphaphuli commended UNIVEN for being an institution committed to community engagement and social responsibility, working to address local and regional challenges through various outreach programmes. He went on to say that UNIVEN was also engaged in research activities across multiple fields, contributing to the body of knowledge in South Africa and beyond. He emphasised the need to fast track the development of action plans and their implementation.
Earlier in the day’s proceedings, Advocate Matodzi Ratshimbilani outlined the purpose of the event as a time to confirm to the local community and beyond, the birth of the partnership. Soon after, Prof Joseph Francis who is the Director of the Institute for Rural Development, gave an overview of the genesis of the MoU, which culminated in the signing ceremony.

He described the event as an incredibly significant milestone that put a seal to a series of prior engagements involving the two parties to the agreement. Proceeding with his talk, he said that he was overly excited because UNIVEN was proving to be a ’People’s University.’ Prof Francis said, “If what we do does not touch society positively or try to find solutions to the problems that society faces, we cannot claim to be a people’s university. We are here to confirm that we are committing to what we put in the MoU that we co-generated through a very rigorous, consultative process. As foot soldiers we will be expected to champion the fight against poverty and underdevelopment in the Mphaphuli community, which the MoU is all about.” Prof Francis announced that one of the key deliverables of the MoU is a comprehensive Mphaphuli Development Plan, informed by what young and old people of all genders in each and every village regard as the development they want to consume.
Giving a response after the MoU had been signed, Professor Vhonani Netshandama who is the UNIVEN Director of Community Engagement challenged all Traditional Leaders present to work together with the university to come up with plans that would make their projects unique and sustainable. She encouraged that everyone should be involved in a project, for example, each village should have a village plan. In addition, she encouraged the Tshigombela women dance group to have a project to deal with gender-based violence and mental health, among others. Prof Netshandama also raised her concerns regarding the high anxiety levels of Grade 12 learners due to long periods of waiting for results. She indicated that the University was interested in Grade 12 learners because they should be exposed to tertiary education readiness and extra-curricula skills for the future programmes. In this regard, Prof Neetshandama announced that the university was running a holiday programme that focuses on developing an entrepreneurial mindset. This, she emphasised, was an opportunity discovery process that makes the learners equipped to be excited about collaborative learning and frugal innovation. Selected high schools under the Mphaphuli dynasty will be expected to participate. She concluded by revealing that UNIVEN had donated some laptops to some communities under Traditional Authority to support this and other related projects.
Mr Maraganedzha, the Headman of Tshikhudini village welcomed the audience. Mr Tshabuse, a member of the Royal Council, delivered the vote of thanks, before proceedings of the signing ceremony ended.

Issued by:
Department of Marketing, Branding and Communication
University of Venda
Tel: 015 962 8525 /8710
Date: 07 December 2023

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