Dramatic Rise in COVID-19 Infections Expected in SA Later this Year – Top Scientist

Dramatic Rise in COVID-19 Infections Expected in SA Later this Year – Top Scientist
World renowned UKZN Epidemiologist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim.

It is improbable South Africa will be able to prevent the exponential spread of COVID-19 with the full impact of the disease likely to hit the country only later this year, says renowned UKZN Epidemiologist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim.

Speaking during a data@breakfast Zoom presentation, Abdool Karim - also Director of CAPRISA and Chair of the 51-person SA Ministerial Advisory Committee on the virus - said although South Africa had acted quicker than most other countries in identifying the virus and implementing measures to halt its spread, the early interventions had only bought the country time to prepare for what scientists are calling an “almost inevitable” dramatic rise in infections.

Abdool Karim, affectionately known as “Slim”, explained that the country had managed to delay an exponential curve. ‘It is a difficult truth, but can we avoid the exponential spread? No… unless we have a mojo that other countries don’t have. As soon as the opportunity arises for this virus to spread, it will go back to the exponential curve.’

While concern existed over whether testing was adequate in poorer communities and that many cases were undetected in those areas, it was far more likely that early and decisive interventions had curbed the spread of the virus.

‘We expected to see an exponential growth in our epidemic but this didn’t happen,’ he said. ‘Testing capacity had increased and as such dispelled these concerns for the most part.’

The co-head of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ (NICD) Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis, Professor Cheryl Cohen, had earlier said the country’s initial cases had been largely imported - referring to travellers who were infected abroad, returned home and then passed the virus on to those they came into contact with.

Abdool Karim explained that these two groups – the travellers on the one side and the people they infected on the other – were expected to pass the virus on to their communities.

‘When it enters a community, it spreads like wildfire. For some reason, those two groups did not lead to this. We still have community transmissions, but it’s at a low level.’ 

As the local epidemic curve flattened and plateaued to a lower average number of daily new cases, testing capacity for the 80% of the population who do not have medical aid had been ramped up.

According to Abdool Karim, government’s response was informed by eight key strategic responses planned and executed from early on.

The first four stages had unfolded in the past weeks, while the next four stages would be informed by the data received over the coming two weeks.

The next stages were:

•    Stage 5: Identifying hotspots to enable intervention quickly was key, and massive teams of health workers on the ground were essential to achieve this;

•    Stage 6: This involved preparing the availability of medical care for the time when peak infection arrived, which had started some weeks ago. This included finding and building field hospitals where patients could be triaged before flooding hospitals. Abdool Karim said there were major concerns over the readiness and availability of the healthcare system to deal with the number of patients who would require care;

•    Stage 7: This was a situation Abdool Karim said he understood people did not want to speak about - ensuring burial capacities could meet demand and preparing citizens for the psychological and social impact of large numbers of casualties; and

•    Stage 8: Ongoing vigilance and surveillance, including testing campaigns at mines, schools and large companies to ensure a second epidemic wave did not occur after the initial outbreak was contained.

Abdool Karim has achieved worldwide acclaim in a career spanning more than 35 years, straddling science and activism in his professional career.

His presentation was based on what he told the country on national television on Easter Monday when he appeared beside Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, to present the facts and figures behind the government’s COVID-19 response.

He said he started out studying measles and epidemics before he chaired the government’s expert committee on polio. He then focused on immunisation, with Hepatitis-B and HIV/AIDS as his main areas of research.

‘I’ve spent most of my life studying viruses. So, in a way, this was an obvious challenge to take up,’ he added.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


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Webinar on Psychosocial Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown

Webinar on Psychosocial Effects of COVID-19 Lockdown
From left: Professor Relebohile Moletsane, Professor Nirmala Gopal, Dr Angeline Stephens, Ms Kerry Frizelle, and Ms Janine Hicks.

A webinar on the psychosocial effects of the current COVID-19 lockdown was hosted by UKZN’s Corporate Relations Division, the first in a series of online presentations which will use the Zoom meeting platform.

In the webinar, the John Langalibalele Dube Chair in Rural Education at UKZN, Professor Relebohile Moletsane, focused on the plight of victims of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) during the lockdown period, saying that the police received over 2 300 calls from the public reporting incidences of GBV in just the first week. ‘The lockdown spells doom for the victims of GBV in various homes across the country,’ said Moletsane, adding that many more sufferers - including girls, women and gender non-conforming people - would have been unable to file reports with the authorities.

She said strategies have been put in place by the Department of Social Development’s GBV Command Centre including a call centre emergency line 0800 428 428, alternately the word Help could be sent by sms to 31531 or a “Please Call Me” could be sent to *120*7867# Moletsane added that the deaf community could use the Skype facility: @helpmegbv to call for help.

She warned that the lockdown responses left a large section of the population uncatered for, as the responses were only helpful to victims with access to technology, the internet and data.

Moletsane said more creative strategies were needed and she suggested using code words in times of danger, suggesting that the police and army be trained to listen and respond to cries for help while on patrol.

Acting Dean and Head of the School of Applied Human Sciences Professor Nirmala Gopal said while a “medical lens” was often used to look at the effects of COVID-19, it was important to remember the ‘huge impact on the psychological and social well-being of our citizens, and, in particular, the more vulnerable groups such as children and women in informal settlements.’

Highlighting that more than seven million South Africans lived in informal settlements, Gopal asked whether social distancing was practical for women living in these conditions, which included challenges such as shared toilet facilities and a lack of running water.

Gopal emphasised that civil society and academics needed to start doing impactful research that would inform intervention strategies for women living in informal settlements.

Manager of Student Support Services in the College of Humanities, Dr Angeline Stephens, examined the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on mental health, with particular focus on gendered issues. ‘Thus far the COVID-19 pandemic and the current lockdown have revealed how structural and systemic inequalities determine how individuals and communities respond to this particular crisis,’ said Stephens.

She said the pandemic had revealed how ‘access to material resources impact different groups differently’, and focused on gendered roles during the pandemic. She said that it was likely that ‘more female students than men may need to negotiate and balance caregiving and domestic work with remote work and studying.’

Stephens, who has a PhD degree in Psychology from the University of Cape Town, said there may be feelings of frustration, anger, and isolation linked not just to the ‘psychological impact that has been flagged in the media, but really related to the gendered roles that some students may have to fulfil.’

She said the university environment provided a protective element for students as it allowed them the space be able to focus on their academic careers. ‘Students have to adjust to new ways of learning.’

She said urban areas were generally considered “safer” than rural areas for gender non-conforming and non-binary people. She said some of the students she had worked with said that they were ‘freer to be themselves at UKZN than at home.’ She added that circumstances under lockdown could lead to students being ‘forced to conform to socially acceptable masculine/feminine behaviours that might not be aligned to their own identities.’

Counselling Psychologist and UKZN lecturer, Ms Kerry Frizelle advocated for an ‘ecological way of looking at mental health’ right now. She said healthcare workers were currently experiencing “pre-emptive trauma” as they were being traumatised in anticipation of what might happen. Frizelle is currently collaborating with a group of psychologists who are offering their crisis counselling services pro bono to healthcare workers during lockdown.

She highlighted stark inequalities in the way some transgressors of South Africa’s lockdown laws were treated. ‘Some of us know that if we live in a certain community and we don’t abide by the laws then we get beaten, whereas if we don’t abide and we live in Sea Point in Cape Town, we get politely escorted into the back of a police van.’

Frizelle said psychologists were currently seeing a lot of anxiety, depression, levels of denial, and people “coming off” alcohol and cigarettes.

Acting Executive Director of Corporate Relations, Ms Normah Zondo said the webinar had been the first in a series of public engagements hosted by CRD. ‘We need to change the “usual” way of doing things in order to curb the spread of the virus,’ said Zondo.

Facilitated by UKZN lecturer and Gender-Based Violence activist, Ms Janine Hicks, the Zoom webinar attracted over 200 participants.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photographs: Supplied


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Economic Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on SA SMEs

Economic Impact of COVID-19 Lockdown on SA SMEs
Professor Stephen Mutula, UKZN’s Dean and Head of the School of Management, IT and Governance.

- By Professor Stephen Mutula

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) account for the majority of businesses worldwide and contribute immensely to job creation and economic development.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that SMEs represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment globally, while they also provide the main source of employment in sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 89.2% of all employment with the majority of economic units being informal (92.4%). Most of the workers in this sector are self-employed and work every day to earn a living and pay for their basic household necessities. Overall, SMEs are therefore important drivers of the growth of economies throughout the world, including in South Africa.

SMEs however, face significant challenges because of their character – smallness, overwhelming competition from large businesses, low savings, limited capacity to work from home, limited access to technology (eg high cost of data), lack of access to credit, poor skills base, unsupportive policy and legal frameworks, limited access to external markets, and limited access to infrastructure such as space, electricity, and more.

SMEs will find it extremely difficult to cope and survive the lockdown. COVID-19, an epidemic of the acute respiratory tract, has exacerbated the challenges faced by SMEs and made their survival during the lockdown and thereafter increasingly uncertain. The Bureau of Economic Research (2016) estimates there are more than two million SMEs in South Africa of which only 33% are in the formal sector, the remainder being in informal sectors.

Stats SA (March 2020) estimates that more than nine million people are employed by SMEs in South Africa out of a total of 10.2 million employees in the country, excluding the non-agricultural sector. Since COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and quickly spread to largely all countries and jurisdictions around the world, the SMEs sector in South Africa has probably been the worst hit in the country.The actual scale and economic impact of COVID-19 will need a comprehensive national study across the country, however - in view of the importance of the sector - it is imperative to provide a preliminary opinion of the impact of the lockdown on small business enterprises in South Africa.

SMEs in this country are diverse, heterogeneous and exist in all sectors of the economy. They are defined in terms of the number of people employed or the rand annual turnover. In this regard, SMEs are firms with an annual turnover of up to R220 million or employing a maximum of 250 people full time (* Department of Small Business Development 2019).

The rand annual turnover classification also varies across the spectrum of different economic sectors such as agriculture (R35 million, mining R210 million, manufacturing R170 million), etc. 

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown initially for 21 days, then extended it further for another two weeks, most businesses, the majority of which are SMEs, had to close as they are not classified as a providers of essential services. As the lockdown has continued, SMEs have suffered irreparable damage and will most likely never be the same as jobs have been lost, some of the businesses have gone under, and the livelihood of millions of South Africans destroyed. This is reflected in the increasing number of businesses, estimated at over 50 000, reported to have applied for the new coronavirus benefit from Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) with employees working for businesses running the risk of being declared redundant already. This number keeps rising by the day. Though the government of President Ramaphosa has announced a raft of measures to assist SMEs, such as the safety net initiative, the situation remains that most SMEs will not benefit because they are not even registered and will not meet the criteria to access this funding.

Additionally, most financial institutions with whom government can partner to provide relief to SMEs, are wary of providing the enterprises with credit because often the SMEs lack collateral and many are in arrears on the repayment of their loans, while others will disappear as their survival rate is low. Furthermore, though government has moved to cut base lending rates, and provide other forms of support, this will not benefit SMEs to a large extent since the majority of them are largely labour intensive. It is also anticipated that the cut in base lending rates will likely not be sustained for a long time into the future as government looks to recoup quickly and restore the fiscus amid the growing and unsustainable public debt. This is exacerbated by the contraction of the economy and downgrading of the country by the rating agencies making borrowing for government and businesses more expensive.

The consequence of the downgrade will also be felt in the reduction of direct foreign investments into the country, which will further reduce job creation both in the formal and informal sectors. The government must work towards a coherent industrial policy to foster indigenous private-sector firms through comprehensive and sustainable stimulus packages directed at SMEs and the entire economy to save millions of South Africans from losing their jobs, and businesses closing down.

The situation has been made even bleaker following the recent Reserve Bank estimate that the South African economy could shrink by between 2% and 4% this year as a result of the coronavirus and that there will be limited scope for an economic rebound next year, with growth unlikely to exceed 1%. Consulting firm McKinsey & Company has also warned about far-reaching economic ramifications of the pandemic, which is already disrupting millions of people’s livelihoods, with disproportionate impact on poor households and small and informal businesses.

The government must therefore expand and deploy emergency measures and review policy responses to help mitigate the negative ramifications of the pandemic on SMEs and the whole economy. The measures should include mobilising resources from the private sector, especially partnering with financial institutions to assist SMEs by providing financial relief and access to credit after the lockdown to enable them to restart their livelihoods. Strategic measures should also be taken to lift the lockdown for SMEs in the less risky sectors so the subsistence of most households which depend on them is not jeopardised and put at risk.

A national wide assessment of the economic impact of COVID-19, especially on small and medium scale businesses, must be undertaken to assist government in organising and galvanising response that optimises time and resources.

Professor Stephen Mutula is UKZN’s Dean and Head of the School of Management, IT and Governance.

Sources:

Bureau for Economic Research (2016). The Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise Sector of South Africa Research Note 2016 | No 1. Commissioned by SEDA.

ILO (2018). World Employment Social Outlook Trends 2018. Available at: https://www.ilo.org/moscow/news/WCMS_615590/lang--en/index.htm [Accessed 14 April 2020).

The consulting firm McKinsey & Company (April 2020). Coronavirus: Leading through the crisis. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/coronavirus-leading-through-the-crisis

[Accessed 14 April 2020].

SARB (6 April, 2020). Economy may shrink by up to 4% due to COVID-19 - SA.

World Bank Group (April 13, 2020). World Bank Applauds Tanzania on Anti Corona Policy Response. Available at: https://www.redpepper.co.ug/2020/04/world-bank-applauds-tanzania-on-anti-corona-policy-response/ [Accessed 14 April 2020].


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Crafting New Pedagogical Pathways in the Face of COVID-19

Crafting New Pedagogical Pathways in the Face of COVID-19
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COVID-19 crept upon us surreptitiously. There were simply no warnings, no signs. Our brilliant political, medical and educational minds had no time to think about what lay ahead and to prepare the ideal response to the virus. Nor did we realise the extent of the death and destruction it would cause.

The effects are so enormous that countries with weak economies and poor leadership are in danger of becoming indebted to everyone, with high levels of unemployment and overwhelmed medical and educational departments. COVID-19 must feel like World War III to them.

There have been many predictions about how education will be affected and none has been very encouraging. Had we lost a week or two, the effects could have been overcome by extra work by teachers and learners. But five weeks or more create nightmares for leaders in education. Our overcrowded school curriculum, with its voluminous content and the lack of vertical demarcation, will certainly present curriculum-for-change planners with insurmountable complications.

Yes, we have technology and distance learning. But our country is not completely technologically literate. And the postal service is on lockdown too. While lessons are being prepared daily for learners using Zoom or Skype, most learners do not have access to computers or data on cellphones. Teachers themselves may not be sufficiently trained to enter into the realms of remote teaching. All educators must begin to worry, because COVID-19 will reveal that having a teacher in every class is a luxury and this could be a glimpse into future classrooms.

So, where do we go to from here? The suggestion made by Professor Jonathan Jansen of Stellenbosch University and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, that all learners from Grades 1 to 11 be promoted to the next grade should apply only if our learners do not return to school in 2020. They would have completed part of the syllabus and could continue once the COVID-19 dust (or droplets!) has settled. If learners return to school then they could, with support, engage in formative and summative assessment tasks. Final examinations form only a fraction of summative assessment under normal conditions, and education managers could decide on the suitability of these examinations within the context of 2020.

In the meantime, and if the lockdown is prolonged, support can be leveraged from our State-run media broadcasters. SABC could dedicate one television channel and selected national radio stations to broadcast lessons daily. While all homes may not have televisions, one can assume that a larger percentage have televisions rather than computers. Therefore the medium of television for teaching and learning is doable. Although completion of the syllabi is unlikely, a significant portion could be covered and it must be agreed that COVID-19 took away the opportunity of engaging fully with the curriculum.

This is where the input of Professional Learning Committees could make a difference. Select those aspects of the curriculum deemed essential and devise a changed curriculum around those selections.

Parents need to play a crucial role in this scenario. They should encourage their children to be constructively engaged. This can be via television, radio, the internet and books. Parents could co-create rosters with their children to plan periods of schoolwork, leisure, chores, and exercise. We need to tap into the generosity of big businesses to support the production of learning materials which should be made freely available and developed based on learning as an enjoyable, mentally stimulating, relevant experience.

Parents could try to understand the child before embarking on tutoring. Children in higher grades may need parental supervision, and material and psychological support. Parents could enable the establishment of networks with tutors, teachers and other learners to support children in higher grades. But we do sympathise with parents with more than two children as their situation could become quite difficult.

Materials which are developed (by teachers and subject advisors, where possible) should comprise short, unambiguous tasks. Progression from simple to complex, and concrete to abstract concepts, should be central to the planning of tasks. Consideration for multiple intelligences and linguistically diverse learners is crucial in the development of materials. The use of exemplars with memoranda, to enable self-assessment and learning in a stepwise fashion, would be useful while it would be wise to steer clear of long-winded activities which could be cognitively inaccessible for some learners and could bore others, creating an aversion for work. Feedback in the form of marking memos should be provided with detailed solutions or explanations. Learners must be able to grasp this easily.

The establishment of a call centre or hotline, staffed by experienced teachers who can take calls from learners and respond via email to questions and queries raised by both the learners and parents, would be a key support measure.

YouTube videos from Khan Academy and other reputable sources, are powerful online teaching resources. 

Class and subject teachers could form WhatsApp groups with their learners and have weekly interaction. This will ensure that learners feel psychologically connected to the school.

The time has arrived for a pedagogy which is adaptable and can accommodate and assimilate the fluctuating contextual circumstances we are in. Teachers could seize this opportunity to recast their roles as innovators of curriculum ideas that suit a remote teaching and learning context, while learners should be encouraged and supported to adjust to these innovations.

Several freely available courses are available for teacher training using online media, and teachers could re-learn how to teach by tapping into these resources.

The world is changing and so must our ability to adapt. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) movement is, to some extent, seen as an artificial response to the changing times. The response to COVID-19 unleashes the realities that exist at grassroots level. Our expansive research has not considered the fact that while certain sectors of this world have moved on to technology beyond the ken of most people the vast majority of citizens have been left behind.

COVID-19 has rendered our pedagogic inadequacies visible. But the pandemic has also generated spaces for education institutions and learners to think and work differently.

It is time to flex our pedagogic muscle and tackle challenges until we finally cross that winning line. And we will.

Professor Vimolan Mudaly and Professor Ronicka Mudaly are Associate Professors at UKZN’s School of Education.


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Two UKZN Students Wait Out COVID-19 Pandemic in Algeria

Two UKZN Students Wait Out COVID-19 Pandemic in Algeria
Mr Nicholas Rono and Ms Latifa Bashar Hamed Abdalla at the University of Tlemcen in Algeria.Click here for isiZulu version

PhD student, Mr Nicholas Rono, and MSc candidate, Ms Latifa Bashar Hamed Abdalla - who had been studying in Algeria when the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent - have opted to sit tight in that country.

As part of UKZN’s efforts to give students a well-rounded education, the University provides opportunities for them and staff to travel abroad to study or do research at other universities for a limited time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many students have returned to South Africa, while some – including Rono and Abdalla - have elected to stay where they have been based.

Rono - at the University of Abou Bekr Belkaïd, commonly known as the University of Tlemcen, in Algeria - says the risk of contracting the coronavirus while travelling is his greatest concern so he decided to wait out the pandemic in Algeria, which is also on lockdown.

The challenges the Chemistry student specialising in optoelectronic nanomaterials (for solar energy conversions) is facing includes; lack of internet connection, limited access to services and items from the shops, and a lack of physical consultation with his supervisor.

He derives strength and hope by praying to God, and the fact that the government is putting measures in place to control the spread of the disease. Rono is also relieved that statistics show that some COVID-19 patients recover.

He keeps in touch with his family in Kenya via Whatsapp calls or video calls, but says the internet connection is sometimes not that good. He is looking forward to continuing with his research once the crisis is under control.

Rono’s travel was made possible by an ACADEMY project scholarship, which facilitates academic mobility of staff and postgraduate students between participating universities.

Abdalla is reading for an MSc in Applied Mathematics (Biomathematics) also at the University of Tlemcen as part of the ACADEMY programme.

Echoing Rono’s worries, she said travelling was a real concern and she had decided to stay in Algeria even though she would rather be at home with her family. ‘It is a real challenge so far because we don’t know exactly what to do - many things are out of our control.’

Abdalla said she is worried about her health and there are many unanswered questions. Her meetings with her supervisor have been suspended and the internet connection is a problem. She is placated by the measures the Algerian government has put in place to control the spread of the virus and gets strength from her faith. ‘I believe in prayer to God to protect and help all of us,’ she added.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photographs: Supplied


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Link Between COVID-19 and Obesity Explained

Link Between COVID-19 and Obesity Explained
Professor Suna Kassier discusses the link between COVID-19 and obesity, and makes suggestions for keeping weight levels down.Click here for isiZulu version

Professor Suna Kassier of the Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at UKZN has offered insight into the role obesity plays in the current COVID-19 pandemic, offering advice to everyone in lockdown about how to keep spirits up and weight down.

South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases confirmed the first positive case of COVID-19 in the country on 5 March, one day after World Obesity Day. Kassier remarked that the advent of the pandemic and obesity had more in common than was generally known.

‘Both obesity and COVID-19 are classified as diseases, in addition to being declared global pandemics, and obesity is starting to emerge as a significant risk factor for contracting the virus; this is even more applicable to those younger than 60,' she said.

Kassier explained that obesity was associated with an increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases including Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, a stroke and asthma. Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure weaken the immune system, and this viral infection could send blood pressure levels soaring, making it fatal in patients with existing hypertension.

Contracting a respiratory illness such as COVID-19 would also put the respiratory systems of obese patients under significant strain. Such individuals often had a low respiratory reserve, and were already more likely to suffer obstructive sleep apnea, asthma and lung disease.

Kassier noted that, after Egypt, South Africa was ranked as the second most obese country on the continent with an obesity rate of 28.3%, making it a significant public health concern.

‘Although obesity is often associated with a privileged, affluent lifestyle, it is increasingly linked to food insecurity and a diet containing a limited variety of foods, the latter of which is the stark reality for millions of South Africans,’ she said.

‘As the country becomes increasingly urbanised and people change to consuming highly processed foods with high levels of fat, salt and sugar but low in vitamins, minerals and fibre, obesity is on the rise.’

With the national lockdown curbing the opportunity for physical activity, which is beneficial in warding off depression and high stress levels and in keeping blood pressure and weight in check, Kassier suggested several activities.

‘Dance with your children and loved ones instead of heading for the snacks, recruit an in-house exercise buddy to do sit-ups with, or follow a workout routine on an app or YouTube,’ she said.

‘If you have a garden, weed the flower beds and mow the lawn, and lift homemade weights such as milk bottles or water bottles - one litre of liquid weighs one kilogram.

‘Do push-ups, using a chair for support if you cannot do them on the floor. Bench press your children, and when out shopping park your car at the furthest end of the lot and walk briskly,’ she suggested. ‘If you use public transport, use every opportunity you get to walk briskly.’

Kassier also pointed to potentially positive developments that signal hope for South Africans, such as an indication that the Bacillus Calmette Guerin vaccination against tuberculosis, given routinely to South African children at birth, could protect the immune system against COVID-19 by reducing the severity of lung infections.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


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Edgewood Football Club Supports Struggle Against COVID-19

Edgewood Football Club Supports Struggle Against COVID-19
Lesotho Eagles Football Club members. Click here for isiZulu version

Education students who are part of the Edgewood campus Football Club, the Lesotho Eagles, have taken a stand against the spread of the coronavirus by reaching out to the UKZN community with a message of support and encouragement.

Former team captain, Mr Leko Klate Ngema advised students to continue studying, saying: ‘It’s understandable to be frustrated and concerned about our studies that are on hold due to COVID-19. However, we must thank the President of South Africa and our Vice-Chancellor Professor Nana Poku for saving lives. Most students come from difficult backgrounds but you should use whatever means you have to study. Remember that you will make it and succeed.’

Senior player, Mr Teboho Hlao, added: ‘These are hard times but after this pandemic, we as students will have reflected and be recharged, to lead positive change in our communities.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Sabelo Shwabede


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Are SA Higher Education Institutions Ready to Teach Entrepreneurship Online?

Are SA Higher Education Institutions Ready to Teach Entrepreneurship Online?
Dr Thea van der Westhuizen and Mr Wise Sambo.Click here for isiZulu version

- By Thea van der Westhuizen and Wise Sambo

COVID-19 poses a challenge to the higher education landscape at a magnitude similar to the emergence of technology-supported online instruction. It is thus no coincidence that the solution to this poser lies - in part, at least - in Higher Education’s commitment to foster online teaching and learning.

Indications are that all universities in South Africa need to move away from traditional teaching methods to online instruction in an attempt to see the 2020 cohort through the current academic year. However, several factors including the cost of data, the technical unfamiliarity of interacting with virtual content, and socio-economic issues, make it problematic for many academics and students to switch completely.

The question at a recent workshop was: Are we ready to teach entrepreneurship online?

The Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) - a body under Universities South Africa’s (USAf) Community of Practice (CoP) Entrepreneurship Development in Academia - hosted the nation-wide Zoom workshop under the theme: Sharing Practice to Move Online with Entrepreneurship Teaching Methods and Student Experiences.

The debate involved 108 participants representing 17 South African universities with those involved getting the opportunity to share experiences and brainstorm the new socioeconomic realities of our current situation.

National convener for the CoP, Dr Thea van der Westhuizen said that the online workshop was a first-of-a-kind, initiated and hosted to a large audience of entrepreneurship academia and university operational staff from different incubators, accelerators and entrepreneurship service-desks.

UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Professor Sandile Songca, and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, discussed the “bigger picture” of re-mobilising an institute to online platforms.

Songca and Ramjugernath outlined three possible scenarios facing UKZN in the wake of COVID-19:

1. Students will be able to return to normality (contact on campuses) after the lockdown period of 35 days (i.e. on or around 30 April 2020).

2. Students are not able to return on the 30 April (or any time before 4 May 2020), and that it may be June, July or August before contact lectures resume.

3. Students are only able to return to campus after 3 August 2020, or not at all in 2020.

Ramjugernath said going online was a must, and that sustainability of universities nation-wide depended on this happening. He highlighted key barriers to this being poor internet reception and students both in South Africa and in many other countries throughout the world, not being sufficiently techno-savvy.

Ramjugernath further highlighted that many students came from socio-economic backgrounds, which were not conducive to learning from home and many did not even have electricity. He proposed the following:

1. An immediate investigation to determine cellular coverage throughout South Africa;

2. A survey on the access students have to electronic devices; and

3. An investigation to reveal the percentage of students that could be catered for when a tertiary institute moved fully online.

Ramjugernath said he believed that institutes like UKZN had the technology to move fully online, but that student internet access and municipal infrastructure were big barriers. He said the only way to salvage the 2020 academic year — should Scenarios two or three (mentioned above) come into play - was by moving online.

Campus Co-ordinator for Doornfontein in the Department of Business Management at the University of Johannesburg, Professor Shepherd Dhilwayo gave a perspective from a campus-co-ordinator viewpoint on co-ordinating a cluster of lecturers to teach entrepreneurship online. Dhilwayo’s approach is to embed entrepreneurship elements into a wide variety of non-business service subjects, such as engineering and health sciences. He pointed out that following the outbreak of COVID-19, the Department of Business Management managed to continue with teaching and learning processes through online methods. An initial concern was whether modules could immediately be transitioned from a blended learning to a fully online approach, but it seems that in this case lecturers had not faced serious barriers in placing content online. He concluded that there might be need to revise the practical component of entrepreneurship modules where students are required to interact socially, to a more theoretical and hypothetical scenario-based method of teaching delivery.

Professor Richard Shambare of the University of the Western Cape said there were various barriers and opportunities to consider for tertiary undergraduate teaching of entrepreneurship. Now was a good time for entrepreneurship teachers to re-invent their curriculum to embrace a future technology-orientated world. Such a curriculum, said Shambare, would provide business solutions to socio-economic problems and contribute to value creation of current social problems following COVID-19.

He sees the new social order as a good opportunity for entrepreneurship students to re-develop their entrepreneurial mindset and sharply assess how they can creatively innovate new business opportunities, especially online business.

Shambare emphasised that entrepreneurship educators could no longer pretend to be “all-wise-and-all-knowing”, but should co-create knowledge with various scholars from different disciplines and institutes, especially working closer with the private sector and practitioners.

‘The challenge for entrepreneurship lecturers now is about identifying the needs, determining how these needs may be quantified, and what value it can add to South Africa’s socio-economic development. Yesterday’s competitive business advantage is not applicable today.’ 

Van der Westhuizen concluded the discussion by proposing that tertiary institutes, the private sector and various levels of government need to strengthen their systemic integration to share resources and expertise. Re-building communities would require a strong integrative approach where different sectors and industries strongly supported one another.

•    The discussion can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/xyGe8uiZ4OA.

Dr Thea van der Westhuizen is a senior lecturer at the UKZN School of Management, IT and Governance. She is also the national convener for the EDHE’s Community of Practice: Entrepreneurship development in academia.

Mr Wise Sambo is a senior lecturer at UNISA. He is also the national co-convener for the EDHE’s Community of Practice: Entrepreneurship development in academia.

Photographs: Supplied


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Computer Science Academic Addresses International Virtual Cybersecurity Conference

Computer Science Academic Addresses International Virtual Cybersecurity Conference
UKZN’s Dr Brett van Niekerk presenting at an online event.

Senior UKZN lecturer in Computer Science, Dr Brett van Niekerk presented at an international online event, hosted by Cyber in Africa, on subjects of evolving cyber security incidents and threats faced by South Africa, and security cases related to the COVID-19 pandemic and associate lockdowns.

Due to restrictions imposed because of the pandemic, the original gala dinner event to announce the Top 50 Women in Cyber in Africa was postponed and a Zoom virtual conference replaced it.

The event, which featured about 10 presenters from seven countries, covered a range of topics including industrial control systems security, women in cybersecurity, cloud computing security, financial fraud, and the impact of the pandemic on cybersecurity.

According to an industry report, the number of cyber-attacks against South Africa had increased tenfold since the lockdown began on 15 March.

South Africa, like other countries, had also seen disinformation or “fake news” being spread through social media and messaging applications such as WhatsApp, which were inciting panic buying.

Van Niekerk joined UKZN’s Computer Science division in a permanent capacity in December 2017 after being an honorary research fellow at UKZN since July 2014 while still working in the security industry.

He currently lectures the honours network security module as well as first and second-year modules. His research interests include national and international cybersecurity and privacy and cybersecurity in Higher Education.

He also serves as co-editor-in-chief for the International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism and associate editor for the International Journal of Information Security and Privacy.

Words: Ndabaonline

Photograph: Supplied


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Centre for Jazz and Popular Music Offers Online Concerts

Centre for Jazz and Popular Music Offers Online Concerts
Tsholofelo who performed at the Jazz Centre’s online concert.

UKZN’s Centre for Jazz and Popular Music (CJPM), in conjunction with iSupport Creative Business, is screening a weekly concert featuring three artists who each present a 20-minute set.

The cost to get the shows is R30 - on proof of payment viewers receive a link to the performance. Revenue goes directly to the artists to help support and sustain them through these difficult times.

‘We take great pride in our curation of these concerts to ensure the broad range of music on offer is of a consistently high standard,’ said Jazz lecturer and CJPM Manager Mr Neil Gonsalves. ‘We prioritise good quality with regard to audio, video and, of course, performance.’

Gonsalves noted that like many other performance venues in the world, the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music and iSupport Creative Business had to suspend their live weekly concerts due to the COVID-19 outbreak and measures put in place to contain the virus.

‘One of the consequences of the social distancing measures in place is that it effectively paralyzes the entertainment industry, both locally and abroad,’ said Gonsalves. ‘Artists and various players in the sector are looking to technology and social media as a potential stopgap measure that could offer practitioners some financial recourse in the face of months of work that evaporated in a matter of days.’ 

Their second and most recent concert in the series featured well-known double bassist Lex Futshane who presented original compositions and arrangements of some local and international standards.

The concert also featured Bandless, a performance art collective whose members are from various parts of South Africa. Bandless is not a band per se, rather identifying themselves as an artistic comradery, which encompasses fine art, drama and live music. Their craft is a sonically mirrored reflection of society’s past, present and future.

Vocalist and guitarist Tsholofelo was also on the bill, performing originals from her debut album titled: Becoming, which ‘explores the notion of home as a feeling recognised within self and within others, as opposed to home as a physical structure.’

Her music explores her identity as a woman and individual learning about life and love while reflecting on who she was, her upbringing and home environment. In no particular genre, she articulates her journey through a blend of different styles while remaining sonically cohesive.

Musicians who want to perform in the shows should submit a video created especially for the concert, preferably a solo performance or small ensemble in this time of social distancing. Artists may also submit previously recorded videos not widely available on the internet, and part of a personal archive.

Videos should be sent to marlyn@isupportdoyou.com.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


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No Need to be a Lockdown Student Loser!

No Need to be a Lockdown Student Loser!
UKZN postgraduate student, Ms Romaana Muhammad.

- Summa cum laude graduate and Bachelor of Social Sciences Honours in Psychology student, Ms Romaana Muhammad shares her tips on surviving lockdown as a student.

With the Easter holidays behind us and the COVID-19 lockdown extended, many students are feeling downcast and overwhelmed by the additional amount of time they will have to spend confined to their homes.

It is understandable to be afraid, worried and anxious during this time. Apart from being concerned about friends and family members whom we are not permitted to visit, there is so much uncertainty about our education and now we suddenly face a situation few of us could ever have anticipated – online studying and lectures!

However, we all need to remember that as much as we miss our friends and families and it feels like our world is crumbling down around us, this thing will pass, life will carry on and we as students will be required to successfully complete our courses at the end of the semester.

In order to do this we need to carry on with some of the routine we were in before lockdown, including waking up early, taking a bath or shower, getting dressed for the day and having a healthy breakfast etc. As much as we may want to stay in our pyjamas the entire day, mental health professionals suggest we should more or less maintain our usual routines as this will help us feel more confident and ready for the tasks ahead.

Says New York psychotherapist Elizabeth Beecroft: ‘Getting dressed in the morning can play a role in your mood throughout the day and lead to further productivity, optimism, motivation and an overall improved mood.’ Researchers have found that following our normal routines gives us comfort and creates a feeling of security. Routines also establish a sense of structure and control over our environment, something we need to balance the recent loss of control we have been experiencing in the lockdown.

We also need to pay extra attention to our health during this time. As a student, one’s main priority, even before our education, is our health - and more so during this COVID-19 pandemic. It is important for us to have a healthy body and mind and for that we need to make sure that we have balanced meals three times a day, drink enough water, get enough sunlight (even if this means sitting next to a window for at least half an hour a day) and doing as much exercise as we can in our own homes.

Exercise can mean a walk around your apartment, home or garden, a quick morning stretching session or a full-on workout. During physical exercise, your skeletal muscle cells secrete proteins into the blood which have a regenerative effect on the brain. This can help improve your memory and supercharge your cognitive performance! Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin – chemicals which naturally boost our mental state so necessary during this tough time. Exercise sessions should be worked into action plans which students need to have with specific times set aside for activities such as meal prepping, video-calling sessions or even snack breaks. Don’t forget to schedule alone-time reading a book or watching a movie or anything that takes you away from your immediate family and your study space.

You need a dedicated study space. I know it’s tempting to spend the entire day in bed or on the couch with your laptop, but this isn’t very healthy for your body and can lead to fatigue and eventually pain in the neck and upper back. Your spine needs a stable backrest to lean on - try to keep your back straight against the backrest and keep your arms and shoulders relaxed. Always remember to pay attention to your posture while you are completing your tasks.

Your space should ideally be in a quiet room like a spare bedroom or a garage to avoid distractions. You can turn any table into a study-station by placing all your essentials such as pens, highlighters, textbooks, notebooks, laptop and a large bottle of water on it. Add a comfortable chair that offers back support and you have your mini study-station! Using this space shows people who live with you that you’re “at campus”. It is also important that you create boundaries within your home and that your family members know when you are busy completing university (or school) tasks and do not want to be interrupted or distracted.

Additionally, be mindful not to let social media be a distraction. This can be done by logging out of your social media accounts for the day or only allowing yourself to go online during your breaks. 

It is important to schedule breaks and not to spend too much time in front of a screen. Try to alternate between studying and taking lectures on your laptop and reading physical printed textbooks or printed or handwritten notes. Looking at a screen for extended periods can cause strained, dry eyes, blurred vision, and headaches. It also causes sleep issues as the blue light emitted from screens suppress melatonin – the sleep-promoting hormone – keeping us from having a restful night. Spending significant time with screens also lowers your cardiovascular health and increases your mortality risk. A good idea to reduce screen time would be to step away from your desk and study or read a printed novel in your garden for a few minutes a day this could serve as a study or break session, depending on what you choose to do during this time. 

According to The Attention Restoration Theory by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, being outside can calm our minds and improve our ability to concentrate - it re-energises us and reduces fatigue. In addition, being outdoors lowers the stress hormone – cortisol – and immunises us against associated problems such as hypertension and tachycardia. Spending time outside could be a good habit to implement just before the end of your campus day.

End your campus day as you usually would at around 16h00 and spend the rest of the evening relaxing as you usually would. Watching TV, browsing through social media, etc, but be conscious of your mental health whilst engaging in these activities. Being constantly exposed to news and COVID-19 statistics can increase our feelings of fear and anxiety. We can curb this by managing our exposure to media coverage, being mindful of where our information comes from and ensuring we are accessing accurate information. It is also wise to limit news intake to brief periods such as half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening.

Lastly, keep to your bedtime and make sure you get those eight hours of sleep every night! Healthy sleep is important for emotion regulation, which is why we may find a good sleep beneficial during this time. Try to limit your time in bed to your regular night-time activities such as listening to music or calling a friend.

Be mindful of checking up on your friends during this time. If you suspect that someone you know may be struggling through social distancing, it is important to reach out to them and let them know you care. Social distancing can be difficult, especially if someone is a sociable individual. However, social distancing does not mean social isolation. We are still allowed to virtually communicate with people and with modern technology, video-calling friends can be just as entertaining and satisfying as being with them face-to-face. Schedule online lunch dates or send a friend a video message – it may just make their day! 

If we want to make a difference in the lives of more people during this difficult time, we should also pay special attention to those we know who have mental illnesses.

Being isolated may cause individuals prone to depression to focus all their attention onto the aspects of their lives that upsets them. In addition, constantly being updated about the COVID-19 pandemic may increase their sense of negativity about their circumstances.

We should encourage these individuals to contact their psychologists or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) when they feel the need arise and we should try to be a beacon of hope and support for them, as mental health professional resources are currently strained and these individuals may not get the ideal amount of therapy they need.

While lockdown is a difficult concept to deal with, we will get used to it. Most important is to stay positive, follow the lockdown rules and remember that this will all be over soon. 

My best wishes to all students and a reminder to keep studying, stay safe and STAY HOME!

For those in need of mental health support, SADAG is providing the following support:

1. Online Toolkit on the SADAG website (www.sadag.org) with free and reliable resources, online videos, coping skills, online tools and info on social distancing, self-isolation, etc.

2. Chat online with a counsellor seven days a week from 09h00 to 16h00 via the Cipla WhatsApp Chat Line 076 882 2775.

3. SMS 31393 or 32312 and a counsellor will call you back – available seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

4. SADAG Helplines provide free telephonic counselling, information, referrals and resources seven days a week, 24 hours a day – call 0800 21 22 23, 0800 70 80 90 or 0800 456 789 or the Suicide Helpline 0800 567 567.

Also available are:

 

Photograph: Supplied


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