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She chooses the road less travelled

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For Melinda Labuschagne obtaining of her PhD degree from the University of Pretoria recently was a life-long dream fulfilled.
Her research was in a field not regularly chosen for research purposes and chosen specifically for that reason. At the 2015 Graduation Ceremony, Melinda was the only student to obtain a PhD in Rural Development Planning.
Labuschagne is General Manager: Strategic Planning at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and performance monitoring and evaluation (PME) is one of her main tasks. What she has learned through the years with her involvement in PME is that institutionalising and sustaining monitoring and evaluation takes time and effort and that no approach is perfect as there are many different approaches, but the journey is worth the effort and the rewards can be many.
“Given the rural dimension of Limpopo, service delivery takes place in the rural areas. It is thus important to monitor and evaluate the service to ensure that the quality of life of the rural population is improved,” she said.
Her research aimed at developing a new model for the integrated and transversal monitoring and evaluating of rural development programmes to be implemented in government, especially in Limpopo.
The research was conducted in six phases, starting with the theoretical research framework, followed by comparative cases studies in Canada, Chile and Uganda. A single case study of South Africa in the national context as well as a single cases study in the provincial context followed. Key informants were then interviewed and a model for the integrated and transversal monitoring and evaluation at provincial level was developed.
She collected qualitative data through documentation analysis and semi-structured interviews with key informants. She developed supportive documentation as well as an information technology element, which adds depth to the application of the model. The software allows for a user-friendly web page, which is more visual, transparent and accessible than the text –based models.
Labuschagne believes the lessons and recommendations emerging from the study will enrich the efforts of the province in entrenching a culture of monitoring and evaluating to support service delivery programme implementation, leading to growth and development in the province.
She obtained an honours degree in Social Sciences from the University of Johannesburg and then a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the University of Limpopo. She started her career as a social worker at the Department of Health and Social Development in Johannesburg and in 1998 became the Communication Officer at the provincial office of the Limpopo Department of Health and Social Development. In 1999 Labuschagne joined the Department of Land Affairs as Chief Planner and later Manager responsible for managing land reform in the Capricorn district of Limpopo. During 2004 she joined the Office of the Premier as Director responsible for Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact Analysis. She was a main driver in the development of a manual province-wide monitoring and evaluation system (PWMES) for the Office of the Premier against the responsibility to monitor performance and accomplishment of cross-cutting and high level government priorities in the province, including rural development.
She hopes to become much more involved in projects in rural areas in future so as to share the skills and knowledge gained as she believes much difference could be made at community level.
Now that her studies are finalised, she is relieved that she has her life back and intends spending more time with her family.
“I am grateful to my husband and daughter, Sakkie and Mariska, for their love and giving me the space and freedom to do what I believed I should do. Over the past few years, during good and bad times, their encouragement was unconditional.”

NELIE ERASMUS
>>nelie.observer@gmail.com