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Women leadership in water resource management 
“The biggest task of women in the water sector is to capacitate and empower other women who are not as fortunate.”

Dr Jennifer Molwantwa was born and bred in Kagiso Township, in the west of Johannesburg. It was her home environment that prompted her career in the water sector. “There are mine dumps around Kagiso, and the water quality was always said to be bad in the area, while in the rural areas we could swim in the streams when visiting my grandmothers. The two did not add up,” explains Jennifer.

She received her tertiary education in the Eastern Cape where she obtained a PhD degree in Biotechnology, majoring in mine-water treatment. She got into a discussion with her supervisor, Prof Peter Rose, about sulphate reducing bacteria and water treatment. This got her hooked on the subject. “While my current work is not focused on mine-water treatment per se, the quality of water resources is an important aspect and one that I am passionate about.”

Jennifer is a registered professional natural scientist with the South African National Council for Scientific Professions. She has been an active member of WISA since 2004. She is the recipient of the WISA Mine Water Division Best Paper Presented by a Student (2004) and Excellence in Research Award for a young scientist from in 2006. Jennifer was also instrumental in the establishment of the WISA YWP network in 2006.

She got her big break in the water sector when, in 2002, after completing her MSc Degree, she joined consulting firm, Pulles Howard De Lange as a research assistant in mine-water treatment for two years after which she pursued a PhD dealing with one of the projects. “In July 2006 when the company merged with Golder and Associates, I started as a water resource manager, where I remained until 2008,” she explains. She then joined Digby Wells and Associates.

Today, she is a Research Manager at the WRC. Here she is responsible for the portfolio of Water Resource Quality. She is trusted with funding institutions and small, medium and micro enterprises to undertake research on the subject that can be either in the area of monitoring, modelling or even looking at the impact of water.

“I am passionate about the fact that capacity building is one of the key pillars at the WRC,” notes Jennifer. “This is ensured by including especially previously disadvantaged individuals on our projects as post-graduate students and by expanding the Commission’s footprint to the length and breadth of South Africa, in particular to historically disadvantaged institutions.”

The greatest challenge in any job is to manage relationships with others. “I am the type of woman who wants to empower and capacitate fellow women, but some are not readily open for such blatant and forceful efforts,” she says. “I worry that I have not managed to get to all historically disadvantaged institutions and the number of South African students [on WRC projects] is not what it could be.”

One of her biggest career highlights happened in 2010 when she was selected as one of the 26 commissioners to serve on the National Planning Commission headed by former Minister Trevor Manual in the Office of the Presidency. This part-time position entailed planning for the future of South Africa for the next 15 to 20 years, where a vision for the country and a plan of how to get there was developed.

The resultant National Development Plan looks at key issues such as food security, water security, energy choices, economic development, poverty and inequality, structure of the economy, human resources development, social cohesion, defence capabilities and scientific progress.

Since then she has also been appointed to serve on the Council of the University of KwaZulu-Natal where Jennifer also represented Council on Senate. A third appointment has been to the Governing Board of the Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency. Jennifer does not mince her words when it comes to her thoughts on the role women can play in the water sector. “Mothers nurture their families and therefore have a role to play in ensuring that children have good quality water. If there are issues they need to be proactive and report these. They also need to stand up and be active citizens in water-related forums.”

The road is open for women to participate at all levels in the water sector, from being engineers, scientists, consultants, municipal managers, mayors, directors, and even, of course, ministers. “The biggest task of women in the water sector is to capacitate and empower other women who are not as fortunate,” adds Jennifer.  “We have to have empathy to be able to at least fight for their cause along with them. An educated woman can educate the nation.”

Read more about women achievements from our special publication entitled “Amakhosazana Amanzi”, WRC Report No. SP 89/15, a free download from the WRC knowledge Hub.



Dr Jennifer Molwantwa – WRC Research Manager
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