A project that examined indigenous knowledge and the value of freshwater eels in relation to livelihoods and river management in KwaZulu-Natal earned Mr Mxolisi Nkomo his Master of Science degree in Ecological Sciences.
Focusing on the uMngeni and uThukela catchment areas, Nkomo’s research interrogated if human activity in connection with rivers impacted the declining number of freshwater eels observed in these areas.
He was supervised by Professor Colleen Downs, South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
‘As a Natural Scientist, I am fascinated by nature and its changes,’ said Nkomo. ‘Through modules, projects and research, I came to understand the impact human beings have on our ecosystems.
‘This research afforded me a great opportunity to interact with ground phenomena where humans might influence changes to the freshwater ecosystem. My aim was to understand the importance of eels and rivers to the local people who use this ecosystem regularly. I also collated indigenous knowledge, all in pursuit of human and science interactions and the conservation of our rivers and their fauna, especially eels.’
Nkomo said his research aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals 2 and 14, which talk to “Zero Hunger” and “Life Below Water”, respectively. ‘My project focused on a freshwater species (eels) as well as how people support themselves in small-scale fishing (those that target eels),’ he explained. ‘In seeking to understand the dependence of livelihoods on fishing, my research demonstrated the significance of eels and rivers to local people.’
Nkomo paid tribute to his ‘mother and father in academia’, Professors Downs and Pardon Muchaonyerwa; his co-supervisors Drs Celine Hanzen and Matthew Burnett; and his honours supervisor Dr Nkosinomusa Buthelezi-Dube. He also thanked his friends Dr Mfundo Maseko, Dr Pertunia Mkhonza, Mr Lehlohonolo Adams and Ms Najadi Mashaphu, and his cousins Mr Sibulele Tyathula, Mr Nkululeko Conco and Mr Mxolisi Zuma.
Nkomo now has his sights set on a PhD. His short-term goal is to gain as much experience as possible in the field of Natural Science through research and problem-solving, whilst long-term he hopes to make a meaningful contribution to scientific knowledge and care of the environment.
‘I am a firm believer in knowledge being the most powerful tool in development,’ he said.
Nkomo’s hobbies include tennis, composing choral music and assisting with his church’s administration. He also enjoys history and expanding his knowledge in fields such as law, morality and ethics. ‘I am a huge fan of Harry Potter, so if I had not been admitted to UKZN (the University I always wanted to attend), Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was my second option,’ he quipped.
‘It has been a wonderful and difficult journey to navigate from undergraduate to master’s studies. Through it all, I bless the Lord Almighty for all His forms of support. I respect and am delighted with the family I have made at this Institution and will forever hold UKZN in my heart.’
Words: Sally Frost
Photograph: Sethu Dlamini