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Nomfundo Mthembu: Who I am and what becoming a planner means to me

Nomfundo Mthembu is an RTPI Trust Bursary Recipient

I am a South African student from Howick, KZN province, with a deep interest in the power of place. I am passionate about my country South Africa and addressing redress, social, ecological, spatial, and restorative justice. For black students like me, South Africa currently faces many structural and personal obstacles experienced in the university. I am, what in our country we refer to as a ‘historically disadvantaged’ student where many structural and social factors can still hinder success. I also don’t fit into a predominant Western conception of a nuclear family. I draw on extended family for support and am responsible to an extended family whom I need to support.

Thus, I come from a family with limited financial resources and limited intergenerational capital. I have overcome numerous obstacles in my life to continue and earn my two degrees in the hope that they will allow me to follow my dreams and contribute. My current attention is on completing my Masters in City and Regional Planning, which has so far been hampered by a number of challenges, with tuition costs being the most significant of them. Despite all those challenges, I have not been deterred from my goal of completing my degree and becoming a qualified planner. I am more driven to finish my studies and not give up on my dreams.

A profession in planning seemed to be the ideal choice for me since it would help me visualise the kind of communities I want to contribute to, developing and providing basic services in underserved areas. These are zones that have been greatly neglected from development plans and I believe they need an ethic of care and repair to unlock unnoticeable opportunities the land possesses. I am extremely passionate about development and infrastructure provision. Since this profession provides one with a wide range of competencies and knowledge, I am certain that it will enable me to work toward meeting the needs of people, which in our context mostly relate to housing and infrastructure, and to direct how these may be accomplished in ways that are sustainable and establish livable neighborhoods.

This is why the development and transformation of rural areas will be the primary focus of my dissertation. It considers approaches to improve infrastructure development and provision in rural locations. There has been a significant split in South Africa on the function that traditional and municipal structures should fulfill. This misconception causes issues that impede development and undermine the goals and ambitions of the spatial development framework. Therefore, we must bridge the gap and establish an environment where all parties concerned may collaborate on the development of livable communities. This will build a stronger base for development plans on land that is under the stewardship of chiefs. Particularly since these places have already begun to implement land use and spatial optimisation techniques and to some degree, urban aesthetics of design. I want to be part of the development of better futures, by helping to re-create, reappropriate, and reconfigure space.

How the RTPI Bursary helped me:

I had a really tough first half of the year and was quite anxious and concerned about whether I would ever be able to complete my Master's in City and Regional Planning.

I did not have the necessary finances to complete my studies and I had accumulated some debt from my last year which prevented me from re-registering despite having successfully completed all my courses. This was particularly distressing and sad for me as I had been granted sufficient funds for tuition/fees for 2023. I was anxious I might lose those fees if I didn’t register and use them. 

I pursued many avenues and connections without much success. Eventually, I was successful with one firm who provided some aid. Unfortunately, this meant that I still required a sizable sum of money to pay off my remaining fee debt. Hope was restored when I got the news from the RTPI Trust that I had been granted a bursary towards my university fees. This wonderful news could not have come at a better moment!

My desire to finish my master's degree and become a certified planner was severely impeded, but this bursary helped me get it back.

Not only did this help me personally, but it also helped to strengthen the trust, relationship, and connection between us (UCT students and lecturers), and the RTPI.

For your interest, feel free to follow this link for a short film highlighting some of the realities South African students are faced with:

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