A formal and far-reaching Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed between the KZN Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).  An official ceremony marking this milestone was held at the University’s Pietermaritzburg Campus on 30 November. 

One of the key objectives for Cogta is the formulation of strategic partnerships between the public and private sectors with the purpose of creating job opportunities, stimulating economic growth, improving evidence-based service delivery, skills transfer, knowledge sharing and capacity development within local government.

As part of partnership engagements, a technical partner – namely UKZN – was identified, that could significantly benefit both the department and the university. The objective of this agreement is to establish a relationship between the department and the UKZN in order to:

– Coordinate activities that will enable dual benefit in information sharing and expertise;

– Monitor and evaluate the process of conducting research and generating knowledge;

– Optimise capacity building and improve efficacy in knowledge management and delivery of training;

– Reach an amicable and mutual achievement of the common goal of information generation and management;

– Agree on and stipulate areas within which information sharing, research and evaluation will be undertaken and improved in the future; and

– Define the context and systems through which information will be shared and research results will be circulated.

The overarching aim of the MOU is to improve the services that Cogta delivers to its client – local government – by conducting research, determining best practices and ensuring collaboration on key issues affecting local government.

The duration of the Agreement is for three years, starting from 1 August 2021 until 31 March 2024. It provides the umbrella under which both parties will share information, and contribute to and provide research and policy expertise on key areas, such as climate change resilience; sustainable natural resource use, including ecotourism; food security, water security, and the water-energy-food-nexus;  land access, rights, reform, and redistribution; water access, rights, reform, and redistribution; localisation of Sustainable Development Goals; support of spatial planning processes; vulnerability assessments, especially drought; disaster early warning systems; evaluation; local governance; and any other areas of mutual interest.

The MOU also allows the UKZN to improve the learning experience of UKZN staff and students through opportunities to work on real-world projects; and opportunities to share expertise, enhance learning opportunities, and assist students to prepare for the transition from university to the work environment.

Furthermore the MOU creates a platform for both parties to learn from each other and build capacity by sharing processes and methods; collaborating on publications and conferences; undertaking research and pursuing further studies; and upskilling department staff through skills transfer.

The Agreement was signed by Funi Makhanya who is the Deputy Director General for Local Government within Cogta and Professor Albert Modi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science on behalf of the UKZN.

Professor Rob Slotow, UKZN Pro-Vice Chancellor for the African Cities of the Future Research Flagship, is the UKZN lead on the relationship. He emphasised: ‘The UKZN strategic plan 2017-2022 calls for improved impact of the work of the university on broader society. In order to achieve this, close partnership with government is required, which provides avenues for aligning our teaching and learning, and capacity of our graduates to align more closely with the practical needs of society. Importantly, MOUs such as this allow for the co-development, implementation and mainstreaming of results of research jointly with government. UKZN’s strong academic credentials can, thus, be deployed into key areas of need in South Africa, identified at the local government level, and be quickly translated into practical solutions to improve the wellbeing of our people.’

Makhanya believes that the signing of the MOU marks a turning point in the departments efforts to support the Local Economic Development mandate of municipalities. “Through this partnership, we are sharpening our ability to provide specialised support to our municipalities through improved capacity which will assist to find practical solutions in the quest to grow the economy of our municipalities” said Makhanya.