As a University that is leading in engaged scholarship, the University of Venda (UNIVEN)’s Community Engagement Directorate has recently played a leadership role during the 1st International Conference on Community Engagement and Service held from 28-30 June 2023. This was a partnership in which the University of Zululand(UNIZULU), UNIVEN, Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), Botho University (Botswana) and Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund put together a conference to promote contextual, scholarly engagements for social impact to Communities in Southern Africa. The venue of this hybrid conference was Umfolozi Hotel Resort, Empangeni hosted by the University of Zululand (UNIZULU). The theme of the conference was ‘We are because you are: community engagement and the scholarship of engaged interface.’

Some of conference participants posing for a photo with Prof Netshandama

The conference offered participants an opportunity to connect, collaborate and communicate best practices for engaging with communities.

Dr Mammusa Lekoa

“This was our inaugural conference at UNIZULU, and we are proud to be the host. This conference was an academic activity that allowed the scholars to engage with each other, share ideas, showcase their work and network,” explained Dr Mammusa Lekoa who is the Manager: Community Engagement at UNIZULU. The official opening remarks were delivered by Professor Nokuthula Kunene who is the DVC Research and Innovation at UNIZULU.

UNIVEN team, largely from Professor Joseph Franci’s engaged scholarhsip Community of Practice (CoP) delivered 15 papers. Other participating universities included Catholic University of Zimbabwe, University of South Africa, Central University of Technology, North-West University, Rhodes University, University of Free State and they contributed up to 65 presented papers. The topics that were covered are an array of themes that were crafted to also relate to strategic responsibilities across the partnering universities amongst others:

▪ Understanding the praxis of the integrated community engagement.
▪ Africanisation of community engagement and service learning.
▪ Monitoring and evaluation of community engagement in higher education.
▪ Societal and social impact self-review, evidence collection and measurement.
▪ Critical post-humanist, adaptive systems, and change theories.
▪ Community engagement in the digital era.
▪ Application of the quintuple partnership helix in community engagement and social enterprise development.
▪ The role of community engagement in addressing the SDGs.
▪ Social innovation and social entrepreneurship development through community engagement.
▪ The ethics of engagement and community engagement in higher education.
▪ Development approaches and models to community engagement
▪ Social partnerships in communities for change.
▪ Integrated community engagement ecosystems.
▪ Decolonising communities and methodologies for community-engaged research.
▪ The politics of community and engagement – ethics, economics, traditions, etc.
▪ Models of social innovation /social entrepreneurship as community engagement.
▪ Responsible citizenship development and community engagement.
▪ Citizenship education-student initiatives and CE projects- (student track).

Various keynote speakers from international organisations addressed attendees on various topics. Prof Azwihangwisi Helen Mavhandu-Mudzusi from the University of South Africa addressed attendees on the first day of the conference under the topic ‘Higher Education and Engaged Scholarship’. She was followed by Prof Wilson Majee from the University of Masouri (Columbia). Ms Noni Mumba who is the Head of Engagement KEMRI (Kenya) spoke about Welcome Trust Research Programme. Prof Alecia Nichole Blackwood from Longwood University (USA) spoke largely about Ubuntu Pedagogy. She mentioned that academics should teach learners in the spirit of Ubuntu, in her presentation she raised the following questions: how do we use ubuntu as community engagement philosophy? How to be an Ubuntu Responsive Educator (URE). She said teachers should be ‘Ubuntu Responsive.’ In her conclusion she borrowed from a book by Omiunota Nelly Ukpokodu who mentioned that “You Can’t Teach Us if You Don’t Know Us and Care About Us: Becoming an Ubuntu, Responsive and Responsible Urban Teacher” (Black Studies and Critical Thinking). The final keynote was delivered by Titus Pacho from Kisii University in Kenya.

Chief Programmes Officer at Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Dr Stanley Maphosa

As one of the keynote speakers during the gala dinner that was held on the evening of 29 June 2023, Chief Programmes Officer at Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Dr Stanley Maphosa said we are living in a country where many people find themselves being struck by poverty and unemployment. “Struggling communities are only being visited by politicians during election times.” Dr Maphosa said the late Nelson Mandela formed this organisation to bridge this gap. “Nelson Mandela formed this organisation with the realisation that the government alone couldn’t bridge this gap. He was contributing third portion of his salary to this centre. Let us continue to assist these communities through organisations such as the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund,” said Dr Maphosa.
The conference also had three workshop sessions. Two of the workshops were facilitated by Professor Netshandama (University of Venda) and colleagues Professor Nkonki – Mandleni (MUT) and Dr Lekoa (UNIZULU). The first workshop was on the “nexus of work-based integrated learning, social entrepreneurship training and development, and the scholarship of community engagement in higher education: Peeling the back the layers, examining the intersection, and the second “

The second workshop was about “How to monitor and evaluate performance towards social impact in higher education? A qualitative, transformation and indigenous paradigm.”

The third workshop was by Professor Zuwarinwe Jethro, Dr Agnes Mathaulula and Mr Rudzani Mamphweli (UNIVEN Scholarship of engagement CoP) was on “Strengthening the capacity for engaged scholarship and community engagement: Reflections from the University of Venda. The following was the leading question asked during the workshop: How do we strengthen the capacity of engaged scholarship within our institutions?

Professor Vhonani Netshandama

Professor Vhonani Netshandama spoke about the impact of colleagues working within communities. She advised them to define for themselves what communities are and stop waiting for someone to define communities for them.
Undergraduate students from UNIVEN also presented a paper titled “Experience and lessons in facilitating the skills for future programme for Grade 12 learners in selected schools of Vhembe East”.

A group of students from UNIVEN who participated and presented their paper on the 1st International Conference on Community Engagement and Services. L-R: Pfunzo Netshivhulana, middle is Lusani Netshilapala and Tshinakaho Tshilamulela.


Their presentation emanated from their current project (Skills for the future programme (SFFP) for grade 12 leaners) which aims to introduce learners from rural based schools careers of the future. The trio were sharing their experience and lessons in facilitating the program. The key contribution of their paper was building confidence amongst grade 12 learners before their final examination, and the fact that learners obtained the marks that they were anticipating through the program “Indeed we are the A-Team Girls” – exactly what their mentor will always say to them.

Director Community Engagement and Development at Mangosuthu University of Technology, Prof Busisiwe Nkoki-Mandleni

In her welcome address on day three of the conference, Director Community Engagement and Development at Mangosuthu University of Technology, Prof Busisiwe Nkoki-Mandleni indicated that this was a perfect opportunity to deliberate on issues of social justice and redress. Prof Nkoki-Mandleni reminded attendees that without communities, we are nothing because we also come from the same communities where we collect our research data, and our aim is to solve challenges faced by these community members.

UNIZULU Choir entertaining participants

Some of the conference participants during the conference


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