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Women behind water and sanitation service delivery in South Africa 

There is so much work still to be done to empower and encourage women and poor communities to be active participants in the development process.”

Growing up in a rural community in UMzimkhulu, in the Eastern Cape, has given Dr Nozi Mjoli first-hand knowledge of the challenges associated with lack of access to basic services. She has dedicated her life to the improvement of the lives of those less fortunate in South Africa.

When Nozi completed her B.Sc Degree and a University Education Diploma at the University of Fort Hare in 1977, she opted to teach Biology at high school level. But, she found that she was stagnating and teaching was not her proverbial cup of tea. She decided to return to university where she completed a BSc (Hons) in Zoology with the support of a CSIR bursary. After serving a short stint at the newly-established University of Bophuthatswana, Nozi studied towards her MSc (Microbiology) at the University of Notre Dame, USA, which was funded by a Fullbright Scholarship. After the completion of her Masters degree the university offered to fund her PhD studies, which she completed in 1987.

Upon her return to South Africa she worked as a researcher at the University of Cape Town and the CSIR. She was also a senior lecturer in Microbiology at the University of Durban Westville. Here she introduced a Seminar programme for final-year Microbiology students, which motivated many students to obtain their PhD degrees in Microbiology.

In 1995, Nozi became the first African woman to be appointed in a managerial position at the WRC. Although the environment was initially less than enabling, Nozi took the decision that she was going to make a success of her career in the water sector. As the research manager responsible for research projects relating to the provision of water and sanitation for unserved communities she was committed to improving the lives of all those millions of South Africans who lacked access to water and sanitation services prior to the country’s democratisation. Among others, she introduced a theme on gender and water and sanitation as she believes that women have an important role to play in sustainable water management as mothers, managers of their households and citizens.

The international recognition of Nozi’s contribution to the water sector has seen her represent women – and the country – on a number of bodies and fora, such as the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Global Water Partnership. She was instrumental in incubating and catalysing research and development in the subject area of water supply and sanitation for marginalised and poor communities. This was achieved in a very difficult environment dominated by years of First World science. Her research output resulted in policy change in this area. Nozi was later appointed Director of Water Resource Management at the WRC and she was responsible for the development of the first strategic plan for this key strategic area.

In 1999, Nozi was appointed by former Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Kader Asmal, as chairperson of the National Water Advisory Council. In 2003, she formed her own consultancy, Hlathi Development Services, where she continues to campaign for the improvement of the living conditions of South Africa’s most vulnerable communities.

According to Nozi, her job is far from done. “I believe there is so much work still to be done to empower and encourage women and poor communities to be active participants in the development process rather than continue to be treated as passive recipients of charity.”

The WRC is honoured to have Dr Mjoli as the chairperson of the board.

Read our special publication entitled "Amakhosazana Amanzi", SP 89/15; download for free from our Knowledge Hub www.wrc.org.za

Dr Nozi Mjoli, WRC Chairperson of the Board  
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