NWU Vaal research: Bekkersdal under the magnifying glass
“Integrative Multidisciplinary-focused research on the health and well-being status of mining communities” – this mouthful represents a research project originating on the Vaal Triangle Campus of North-West University which seeks to understand the reality the Bekkersdal mining community faces.
Though many studies have been undertaken in the past to study mining communities, most only focus on a single aspect. This particular study is aimed at studying all the various aspects that impact upon health and well-being of residents in a community such as Bekkersdal – be it historical, governance, ecological, psychological or sociological.
Recently the project team, led by Prof Elize van Eeden, had a consultative meeting at the Westonaria Municipality Hall. The format of this very successful meeting was a discussion forum where the research findings about the living conditions, well-being and quality of life were shared with Bekkersdal community members and leaders.
The meeting was divided into two sessions: during the first session, presentations were made relating to the baseline survey results on health and well-being of the community, while the second session focused on public management, environment and history/politics. Each session was followed up with discussion groups during which the residents and leaders from Bekkersdal discussed their point of view on the findings with the project researchers and highlighted matters they believe to be either underrepresented or lacking in this evolving research project.
Based on the project’s baseline survey of house hold functioning and life conditions, Prof Tumi Khumalo, one of the researchers of the project gave a talk entitled “Community well-being and life conditions: An analysis of household level”. Matters addressed included questions such as whether Bekkersdal residents functioned as community or a network of individuals, and whether cooperative community functioning was a good thing for family individual well-being.
The Bekkersdal survey data offered some interesting observations, such as a strong sense of community identification, belonging, and cooperation, which created patterns of social capital that buffered the effects of experienced poverty and helped in promoting well-being. Another observation of the Bekkersdal residents is the dynamic spirit of enterprise that exists and relates to one of the primary ways they earn money.
This research project epitomizes harmonious research collaboration and teamwork across a diversity of fields of study. Its active community engagement mission and commitment also renders it optimally positioned for positive social transformation. The project is set to conclude by the end of 2015.
Prof Van Eeden concludes: “Since 2013 a team of 19 researchers and 11 disciplines has done some independent as well as integrative research to progressively work towards a consolidated report on the Bekkersdal mining township. The report will probably be released by December 2015 along with 16 articles and additional in-depth research done by three post graduate students. A very busy year lies ahead for the team. Not only must several research disseminations be finalised, but will the team also engage extensively in research outstanding and in research workshops to compliment the Integrative multidisciplinary research model. To express its commitment to the NRF-project focus of “community engagement” the research team also aims to meet with the local community and local authority during at least three organised opportunities. A book publication on Bekkersdal, covering its Eco-health and Wellbeing status by 2015 from diverse angles, will be the next aim, which may only be realised in 2016.”
*Researchers on this project hail from the Vaal Triangle Campus and Potchefstroom Campus, with a few research collaborators from other academic or research institutions.