UKZN Supercomputing Whizz at NASA and Dell

UKZN Supercomputing Whizz at NASA and Dell
Honours student, Ms Kalreen Govender at NASA.

Ms Kalreen Govender, an Honours student in Computer Engineering at UKZN, was the only representative from KwaZulu-Natal in a seven-strong supercomputing team that spent two weeks at NASA and Dell headquarters in the United States (US) in January as part of an internship resulting from her participation in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) Student Cluster Competition in 2019.

Govender is from Durban where she attended Wingen Heights Secondary School, and is currently also an embedded software engineer with netVendor, who funded her studies and with whom she will work full-time after completion. At netVendor, Govender works on smart metering solutions by programming and customising software. She said that previous vacation work at the company during her studies contributed insight and exposure that made engineering management and software development modules less intimidating.

Passionate about robotics, building and creating, and driven to understand the inner workings of things, she chose to study Computer Engineering at UKZN as it is renowned for its Engineering programmes and is also close to home. She said that studying at the University has honed her problem-solving capabilities, and that she has been exposed to numerous experts who positively influenced her academic development.

Participating in the June 2019 competition with three teammates took Govender to Pretoria where they competed against other teams to design, build and run benchmark tests in a quest to develop the best-performing cluster, or supercomputer, that could perform at the highest optimal computing rate to handle large applications or datasets.

Govender’s group was selected to progress to the national round of the Student Cluster Competition in December 2019 in Ekurhuleni, and was allocated a budget to build a supercomputer. Using Dell parts to achieve the best hardware setup and programming the 60 cores of central processing units using Linux, the team worked round the clock at the five-day competition to run benchmarks.

Despite the top prize being taken by the University of the Witwatersrand team, Govender was among the three next best students selected to represent South Africa’s student supercomputing team in the US, and at the International Supercomputing Conference scheduled to take place in Germany in June, but now due to take place remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Govender’s visit to the US took place in Texas, where the group spent time at Dell’s various offices with supercomputing teams, and at NASA. Entering NASA’s robotics laboratory made her feel instantly at home in the agency, where she dreams of working one day.

‘Working with the calibre of engineers there was phenomenal,’ said Govender. ‘Being in the room with them reinforced why I had chosen Computer Engineering. Technology and electronics provide us with limitless capabilities, and seeing those supercomputers and considering their potential solidified my urge to be an engineer to create, innovate and improve life.’

Govender has considered pursuing a master’s in the future, but for the moment is developing her expertise in robotics, and hopes to make her childhood dream of building and owning a personal household robot a reality.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


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Medical Student Selected for London World Health Organization Organising Committee

Medical Student Selected for London World Health Organization Organising Committee
Second-year Medical student, Mr Mohamed Hoosen Suleman.Click here for isiZulu version

Second-year Medical student, Mr Mohamed Hoosen Suleman, has been appointed to serve as Theme Officer on the Organising Committee for the London World Health Organization (LonWHO) Simulation, an event held in the first week of November each year.

The WHO Simulations, which were launched at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2017, aim to raise awareness of global health issues and offer students and young professionals the opportunity to develop skills in health policy and diplomacy.

Suleman’s skills, commitment and passion for research impressed the UKWHO Central Committee, resulting in him being part of the team that will plan this year’s LonWHO Conference, alongside medical and public health students from the United Kingdom and other countries. As Theme Officer, he will conduct research on current global health topics in line with the World Health Assembly agenda for 2020. These will be discussed with the rest of the organising committee and a theme guide will be compiled for participants and delegates. 

The LonWHO event is an educational simulation where participants recreate the process of the annual World Health Assembly (WHA) held at the (WHO) Headquarters in Geneva. The WHA is the decision-making organ of the WHO.

Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine said: ‘The LonWHO conference is a unique opportunity for the future generation to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes, to challenge personal viewpoints and, importantly, to develop essential skills in building alliances, making concessions where needed and fostering collaboration. This is how we make progress.’

‘It is an honour to be working with colleagues abroad in creating a simulation of the WHA. We have decided that the theme for this year’s event will be Pandemics: Preparedness, Response and Recovery. I look forward to working with the team and building mutually beneficial relationships with passionate and committed young professionals,’ said Suleman.

Words: Ndabaonline

Photograph: Supplied


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Humanities Academic Appointed Executive Editor for Teaching and Teacher Education Journal

Humanities Academic Appointed Executive Editor for <em>Teaching and Teacher Education</em> Journal
Professor Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan has been appointed executive editor of the Teaching and Teacher Education journal.Click here for isiZulu version

Professor Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan of the School of Education has been appointed as an executive editor of the international multidisciplinary journal, Teaching and Teacher Education (TATE).

She is the first academic from an African university to serve in this position.

Teaching and Teacher Education, which aims to enhance theory, research, and practice in teaching and teacher education, is one of the most prestigious educational research journals globally and receives over 2 000 manuscript submissions annually.

Pithouse-Morgan will work with the journal’s two editors-in-chief and a team of executive editors from around the world to manage the peer review process for submitted manuscripts. She will also contribute to strategic discussions on the journal’s development and growth.

‘I am honoured to have been invited to take on this responsibility. I expect that this role will allow me to make an important contribution to educational research globally, while also working to cultivate a research environment that is supportive of the achievements of early career academics and academics from the Global South. I also anticipate gaining new insights that I can share with colleagues and students at UKZN,’ said Pithouse-Morgan.

Pithouse-Morgan is a South African National Research Foundation (NRF) B-rated researcher. Her scholarship is in the field of professional learning, with a specific focus on better understanding and supporting teachers as self-directed and self-developing learners. Her academic work has given rise to poetic professional learning as a literary arts-based mode for researching and enriching professional learning.

Another noteworthy research outcome has been the innovative conceptualisation of polyvocal professional learning, developed through an eight-year international research partnership with Professor Anastasia P Samaras (George Mason University, USA). Their book that introduced this work, Polyvocal professional learning through self-study research (Pithouse-Morgan & Samaras, 2015), was nominated for the 2016 American Educational Research Association Qualitative Research Special Interest Group Outstanding Book Award. Pithouse-Morgan also led a research team that received the South African Education Research Association award for the Outstanding Peer Reviewed Chapter/Article Published by a South African Researcher in 2015.

In 2018, Pithouse-Morgan received UKZN’s Distinguished Teachers’ Award, and in 2019, was awarded the National Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) and the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA)

Recent book publications include Memory Mosaics: Researching teacher professional learning through artful memory-work (Pithouse-Morgan, Pillay, & Mitchell, 2019). She is the Chair of the Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and Convenor of the Self-Reflexive Methodologies Special Interest Group of the South African Education Research Association (SAERA).

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


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Geological Scientist Appointed to Prestigious Science Committee

Geological Scientist Appointed to Prestigious Science Committee
Professor Tesfaye Birke in front of folded rocks at the Stanhope Gold Mine on the Mhlathuze River in Nkandla.Click here for isiZulu version

Professor Tesfaye Birke from the Discipline of Geological Sciences in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science has been appointed to serve as a member of the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Honors and Recognition Committee.

The AGU is an international association of more than 60 000 advocates and experts in earth and space science. Through initiatives such as mentoringprofessional development and awards, AGU members uphold and foster an inclusive and diverse scientific community.

The AGU also hosts numerous conferences, including the largest international earth and space science meeting as well as publishing high quality earth and space journals.

The Honors and Recognition Committee provides oversight and guidance to the AGU’s Honors and Recognition programmes at all levels including Union-level awards, prizes, and medals; AGU Fellows programme; and all Section-level awards. It promotes excellence and transparency to ensure that all awards are consistent with the organisation’s diversity and inclusion policy. Birke will meet twice a year with the committee in the United States.

‘I am privileged to serve on the AGU’s Honors and Recognition Committee. This is proof that I have achieved a high level of repute and respect in my career. Serving on the committee will also boost UKZN’s profile. I will use this opportunity to advocate for and evaluate strategies to increase the diversity of nominees,’ said Birke.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Supplied


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South Africa, SOLIDARITY and COVID-19: Law and Ethics in Clinical Trials

South Africa, SOLIDARITY and COVID-19: Law and Ethics in Clinical Trials
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On 3 April 2020, it was reported in Nature that African nations were largely not involved in clinical trials for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for increased participation by African states in its SOLIDARITY trial, a global study of four potential COVID-19 treatments. Researchers are pushing for faster action on clinical research in countries with weaker health systems such as those in Africa and South America, where the number of infected persons may burden limited state resources. The WHO has also offered to help co-ordinate the process so that researchers from Africa can more easily join the COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition project, which was launched on 2 April and comprises universities and research organisations around the world, as well as philanthropic research-funding bodies such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, and the Wellcome Trust in London.

SOLIDARITY

The SOLIDARITY clinical trial aims to compare the effectiveness of four drugs and drug combinations in treating COVID-19. By combining the results from many separate studies that are adhering to the same protocol, the WHO hopes that the trial will yield strong evidence due to a large sample of several thousand participants. South Africa was one of 10 countries (Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand) to confirm its participation in the trial, but so far, it is the only country in Africa to do so. It has been reported that Senegal and Burkina Faso are in the process of being enrolled. To encourage wider participation, the WHO has offered to assist countries that lack funds.

The trial is described as relatively simple and can be administered by existing hospital staff treating patients with COVID-19. The four therapies being tested are remdesivir; chloroquine; a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir; and this combination plus interferon beta. Remdesivir was tested in 2019 during the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and has been shown to inhibit the coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS in test tube and animal studies. Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are used to treat malaria and rheumatology conditions. The combination drug ritonavir/lopinavir is used in South Africa for to treat HIV in some people, and has shown efficacy in marmosets infected with the MERS virus.

A combination of lopinavir/ ritonavir and interferon-beta, which is used to treat multiple sclerosis, is also part of the trial. These four drugs were recommended following a meeting of infectious disease experts called by the WHO in February. A WHO global data and safety monitoring committee will monitor safety results and treatment outcomes, and make recommendations on when results are sufficiently conclusive to be communicated, as well as whether changes are needed. The idea is that enrolling patients in a single randomised trial will facilitate rapid global comparison of unproven treatments. This will overcome the risk of multiple small trials and failure to generate the strong evidence required to determine the relative effectiveness of potential treatments. However, the WHO has also noted that it may be possible to add treatments and clinical procedures that are not included in SOLIDARITY but are being tested in separate clinical trials.

The clinical trials

Fourteen hospitals across South Africa are enrolling COVID-19 positive patients in the SOLIDARITY clinical trial. The protocol involves the following steps:

(i) A Principal Investigator in each hospital must determine whether patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are eligible for enrolment in the study. Patients must be 18 years or older, and currently in or recently admitted to hospital.

(ii) Each trial participant must sign an informed consent form that is scanned and sent to the WHO electronically. If eligible, the patient’s data will be entered into a WHO website, and disclosure of any underlying condition which may change the course of the disease, such as diabetes or HIV infection, must be disclosed.

(iii) The Principal Investigator will then inform the WHO which drugs are available at the hospital, and the trial randomisation centre at the WHO will indicate which of five treatment groups the patient is randomly allocated to; one of the four treatment arms or the usual standard of care for COVID-19 in the country.

(iv) Physicians must then record the day the patient left the hospital or died, the duration of the hospital stay, and whether the patient required oxygen or ventilation.

This information will indicate which treatments reduce mortality, affect time spent in hospital and reduce the need for ventilation or intensive care.

Informed consent

While stakeholders are under pressure to develop effective therapeutics and vaccines, it is important that the standards for clinical trials be maintained. In South Africa, the National Health Research Ethics Committee sets the norms and standards for clinical trials and there is also guidance from the national Department of Health. The Health Act 61 of 2003 contains a number of provisions relating to such trials. Section 7 states that the recipient of treatment must provide written consent unless they are unable to, in which case consent may be provided by next of kin such as a spouse, parent, adult child, etc. A healthcare provider must take all reasonable steps to obtain the user’s informed consent. It is important that informed consent documentation be thorough, descriptive and clear, without being unreasonably long. The form being used in the SOLIDARITY trial is three pages long, and has been translated into all local languages. In this trial, patients are required to sign the form themselves.

Section 11 of the Health Act states that before a health service for experimental or research purposes is provided, the recipient must be informed in the prescribed manner that the health service is for experimental or research purposes or part of an experimental or research project. Similarly, authorisation for the provision of the healthcare service must be provided at the outset.

Section 71 of the Act speaks to research on or experimentation with human subjects, and provides that this is only legally permissible where:

(i) Such research is conducted in the prescribed manner; and

(ii) The written consent of the person is obtained after he or she has been informed of the objectives of the research or experimentation and any possible positive or negative consequences for his or her health.

It is important for healthcare practitioners to provide full information about the risks and potential benefits of the study that the patient is considering participating in, and it must be clearly explained that their treatment may or may not involve one of the study treatments. Neither the patient nor the medical staff choose which of the study options a patient will receive, as a computer makes this allocation at random. The nature of a pandemic is that it creates urgency to develop treatment, which may justify not performing rigorous preclinical testing on animals. This must be clearly explained to volunteers, so that they understand that they may not necessarily be successfully treated for COVID-19, but their participation has the potential to benefit the human population as a whole.

Conclusion

The nature of a pandemic is that it is a global healthcare emergency. There is pressure on researchers to develop safe and effective therapies to treat the sick, and vaccines to immunise populations against infection. The SOLIDARITY clinical trial is a global call to countries to assist in this research by initiating local clinical trials, so that the results can be collated and an effective therapy identified. However, the legal requirement for informed consent and standards for clinical trials will continue to apply despite the speed at which the trials are progressing. While we need to act together in the fight against COVID-19, this should not be at the expense of ethical and legal standards.

Ms Sheetal Soni (PhD) is the Deputy Academic Leader for Teaching and Learning in the School of Law, Pietermaritzburg campus. She is a lecturer in the field of Bioethics, International Law, Security and Insolvency and Intellectual Property Law.


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Professor Appointed to National Health Research Committee

Professor Appointed to National Health Research Committee
Professor Vassie Naidoo from UKZN’s Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

‘I am very excited and look forward to making a positive contribution,’ said Associate Professor in UKZN’s Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Professor Vassie Naidoo who has been appointed to the National Health Research Committee (NHRC).

‘It couldn’t have come at a better time with all that is happening globally regarding SARS CoV-2 and COVID-19,’ she added.

Naidoo said that the role of the NHRC is to identify and advise the Minister of Health on health research priorities, and develop and advise the Minister on the application and implementation of an integrated national strategy for health research. ‘The NHRC has a further mandate to determine the health research to be carried out by public health authorities, co-ordinate the research activities of public health authorities; and ensure that research resources and agendas focus on priority health problems.’

Naidoo said she was grateful to UKZN’s Professor Sabiha Essack, South African Research Chair in Antibiotic Resistance and One Health, who served on the National Health Research Ethics Committee for four years and informed Naidoo of the advert to serve on the NHRC. UKZN’s Professor Tricia Naicker also encouraged her to apply.

‘Professors Essack and Naicker nominated me and I sent my nomination form to the National Department of Health. I had forgotten about the application, until I received the email informing me that I was successful,’ she said.

Naidoo’s main activities in the Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences are teaching and learning, and research. She also serves on UKZN’s Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee.

‘This position will enhance my research activities and interests and allow me to further develop myself and my students. It will also help me in doing more collaborative research with my colleagues within and outside the University,’ she said.

‘However, my greatest satisfaction will be derived from knowing that I can and will make a valuable contribution to the Committee, the Department of Health, the entire health research system and the South African public.’

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


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Medical Students Respond to COVID-19

Medical Students Respond to COVID-19
A stock image of the coronavirus.

In response to the COVID-19/SARS-Cov-2 pandemic, the final-year Medical class at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine formed an Anti-COVID-19 student group.

This was initially a small group of 40 people, spearheaded by a committee of seven that discussed the issues contributing to the high and fast rate of transmission and brainstormed initiatives to help control the spread of the virus.

The group identified lack of awareness and knowledge deficits, particularly in rural areas; myths associated with the disease; resource limitations preventing basic hygiene measures; incorrect use of masks and gloves; and vulnerable groups at high risk, particularly the elderly, young and HIV infected, as critical challenges in fighting the pandemic.

Recommendations were made around community education and raising awareness. Some group members also expressed willingness to be part of ward-based caregiver teams to help explain the concepts of hygiene and social distancing to communities using pictures, illustrations, art and media.

This proposal was communicated to UKZN Professors; Mosa Moshabela (head of the UKZN COVID-19 War Room) and Andrew Ross (Family Medicine specialist and co-ordinator of the Family Medicine programme at the Medical School). The two professors expressed willingness to engage with the group and permission was sought from management and the Department to do so.

The student group was also approached by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) to participate in national public surveys in relation to COVID-19. Seventy-seven UKZN student volunteers were trained and conducted telephonic interviews in partnership with students from other South African universities.

‘This has been a great opportunity and a learning curve for all involved. It has been wonderful working with the HSRC on this project and engaging with community members. We are proud of our contribution to a more inclusive, community-centred response to this pandemic. We are grateful to Professors Moshabela, and Reddy, Drs Nadesan-Reddy, and Ngidi and the entire HSRC team for providing us with this opportunity,’ said Miss Cheshni Jeena, member of the student group and sixth-year Medical student at UKZN.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Image: Shutterstock


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Remote Justice and COVID-19: South Africa Lags Behind

Remote Justice and COVID-19: South Africa Lags Behind
Ms Nicci Whitear-Nel, senior lecturer in the fields of Evidence and Labour Law at UKZN’s School of Law.

- By Ms Nicci Whitear-Nel

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a catastrophic effect on so many aspects of our lives, including access to justice.

The contradictory directives that have been issued, amended and replaced on a regular basis show that the courts and the justice ministry were completely blindsided by this national emergency. In the United States (US), a task team published Guidelines for Pandemic: Emergency Preparedness and Planning: A Roadmap for the Courts as far back as 2007.

While South Africa’s Chief Justice, the Honourable Mogoeng Mogoeng, has shown some support for e-justice, it has not gone far enough. Effectively, the courts have shut their doors and ground to a halt except for limited, exceptional, urgent cases.

Professor Omphemetse S Sibanda, of the University of Limpopo, stated that the ‘courts must remain accessible – even [through] e-courts.’ The Chief Justice initially said that it would be “myopic” to shut the courts down. When he later effectively did so, he added that the heads of individual courts had the discretion to authorise the hearing of matters through teleconferencing, videoconferencing or other electronic means, which would obviate physical attendance at court. Sadly, none of the courts have done this.

This is somewhat surprising since there are a number of cases where videoconferencing has been successfully used in South Africa in the recent past.

Other notable jurisdictions have continued hearing cases remotely. In the United Kingdom (UK), the Chief Justice announced that facilities had been installed to enable cases to proceed by videoconference or similar electronic means. In line with the general requirement that court proceedings be public, provision has also been made for the public to view such proceedings. The Coronavirus Bill, soon to become law, expands on remote conducting of judicial processes in the UK. In the US, more than a dozen Federal Courts have authorised the use of video and teleconferencing technology to continue hearing cases.

The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Security Act supports this. In Dubai, courts are proceeding remotely. Likewise in India where evidence by videoconferencing is well established as a means to promote efficiency and access to justice. The Indian courts developed principles to govern remote hearings over a period of about 15 years. In Australia, the Federal Court is putting technology in place to enable all hearings to proceed remotely. It is promoting the use of “Microsoft Teams” as the platform for such proceedings, and has published a “dummies” guide to virtual hearings and the use of such teams. At the same time, the Court has acknowledged than an obstacle to the 100% roll out of virtual hearings will be that not all people have access to online facilities. This would obviously be a significant problem in South Africa, especially as regards unrepresented litigants.

Despite the country’s somewhat dubious human rights record, it must be acknowledged that China is the international leader in the use of virtual courts. The use of online virtual facilities is encouraged in all courts, and regulations govern the conduct of virtual trials, including matters like identity authentication. Parties and witnesses appearing remotely must show their national identity document and face recognition software is used to confirm their identity. China also has three specialist “internet courts” which deal with internet-related disputes, such as those arising from online shopping transactions, personality rights in cyberspace, cyber-crime and so on. Their mantra is “online disputes tried online.” These courts use big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and block-chain technology to streamline court processes.

The initiative, a global first, has been a big success, showing remarkable efficiency. An indicator of such success is the low number of appeals against judgements compared to cases in the ordinary courts. Everything is overseen by human judges, but virtual judges process routine, repetitive administrative tasks. For example, a virtual judge will simply record whether or not there is an objection to the admission of a certain piece of evidence, while a real judge will decide the question of admissibility, if it is disputed. The majority of the evidence placed before the internet courts is block-chain authenticated documentary evidence. A big data system collects, collates and analyses information from millions of cases across China. It is updated every five minutes. By the end of 2019, 193 million cases had been collected, and 700 thematic analyses conducted. Block-chain technology has been formally recognised by the Supreme People’s Court of China as reliably authenticating evidence. This is because it generates immutable, time stamped data that can be verified by audit. China has published a White Paper on internet justice, which includes exemplar judgements from the internet courts.

In one of the recent South African cases where the High Court allowed witnesses to testify via video-link, the judge remarked that South Africa lags behind the rest of the world in not having a legislative framework for remote court proceedings. Sibanda criticised the courts for not going “full blast” on e-justice at this time of the COVID-19 crisis, and remarked that only “tortoise-steps” are being taken towards this end. We have never needed such a framework, and buy-in to the concept of remote hearings, more badly than we do now.

While the COVID-19 global disaster is unprecedented and novel, and is causing incalculable suffering, it offers a valuable opportunity for the justice system to fully embrace and support the use of technology to continue delivering essential services to the people of South Africa. The right to have disputes fairly adjudicated by the courts is a fundamental constitutional right that can only be limited when there is no other reasonable means of achieving the objective behind the limitation. The health and safety of the court participants could have been achieved through conducting remote hearings. It is unfortunate that this is not being done in as many cases as possible, challenging though might be.

Ms Nicci Whitear-Nel is a senior lecturer in the fields of Evidence and Labour Law at UKZN’s School of Law. Her research interests are in evidence, labour law, legal ethics and legal education.

Photograph: Supplied


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Challenges, Possibilities and Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Postgraduate Student’s Self-Study

Challenges, Possibilities and Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Postgraduate Student’s Self-Study
Mr Luthando Molefe, postgraduate student at UKZN’s School of Education.

- By Mr Luthando Molefe

This self-reflection on my journey presents the challenges, possibilities and coping as a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic as a postgraduate student at UKZN’s School of Education. I also offer some recommendations on how postgraduate students can cope with the anxiety, stress and confusion caused by the pandemic and the uncertainties surrounding it.

When South Africa reported its first case of COVID-19, I was spending my last two days at the four-week Young African Leaders Initiative Regional Leadership Centre Southern Africa’s Leadership Development Programme for the Education Sector at UNISA’s Graduate School of Business Leadership in Gauteng.

When President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa announced that schools would close on 18 March, I was sure Higher Education Institutions would follow. As much as I was happy with the precautions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 my heart was filled with sadness, confusion and pain because my plans for the 2020 academic year were going down the drain. The thing that worried me the most was that, while I knew that I had potential to lead myself and continue with my studies in selected modules, network and internet connectivity were going to be my biggest enemies as a deep rural student.

After the 21-day lockdown was announced, I felt like I was losing hope. I felt empty, depressed and vulnerable as a result of having my everyday academic and community engagement work disrupted.

However, I was able to achieve a paradigm shift from these uncertainties to re-gaining my “normal” life by searching for sites that would help me to cope. Among others, sites and organisations such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, the World Health Organization, Department of Health and Psychology Today helped me to deal with the dilemmas of COVID-19.

I argue that self-study/self-reflection and accepting that one is battling with a particular problem or that one has shifted from every day “normal” life/routines, are the key to finding possible solutions. I therefore recommend that students and people in general examine themselves and seek help, where necessary to enable them to cope in these uncertain times.

Mr Luthando Molefe is a postgraduate student (Teacher Development Studies) at UKZN’s School of Education.

Photograph: Supplied


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Internship Accreditation for CAES Student Support Services

Internship Accreditation for CAES Student Support Services
Clockwise from top left are Ms Shelley Barnsley, Ms Rossella Meusel, Ms Prashna Singh, Mr Mzamo Zondi, Ms Janet George and Ms Lala Domleo from the CAES SSS team.

The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) Student Support Services (SSS) Division is celebrating the accreditation of its Counselling Psychology internship programme by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

It is the only College at the University to have achieved this distinction.

The accreditation enables the Division to host student interns who are completing a one-year internship as part of the requirements to become qualified psychologists. After being provisionally accredited in 2016, the internship programme has now been formally accredited for five years.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the CAES Professor Albert Modi congratulated the College Manager for SSS, Ms Shelley Barnsley, for her leadership in the accreditation process, and her team for maintaining a high standard of services.

The CAES SSS currently comprises three counselling psychologists, three educational psychologists, a life skills officer, help desk administrator, intern life skills officer, counselling psychologist intern, and an educational psychologist intern. The Division works closely with the career development officer from the CAES Public Relations team.

The CAES SSS provides holistic support to students, covering academic support such as study skills and time management workshops, and psychological support for those experiencing personal and psychological difficulties. It supports the College’s services to close to 10 000 students across the University’s Howard College, Westville and Pietermaritzburg campuses.

Interns rotate between campuses and gain exposure to different contexts, liaising with a broad range of divisions within the University and beyond, including Campus Health Clinics, Risk Management Services, the Disability Unit, residence managers, academic and support staff, various medical practitioners, and hospitals. They also participate in the SSS community engagement partnership with Ridge Primary School and the Child and Family Centre in Pietermaritzburg, and the Centre for Applied Psychology at UKZN in Durban, where they are exposed to counselling children, adolescents and families.

Operating in the context of the ethical code for psychologists, the internship includes provision of academic support services, career guidance, individual counselling, workshops, and psychotherapy. The supervising team provides orientation for the interns, and evaluates and discusses their progress with them on a regular basis. The programme is structured for staggered professional development as interns work with cases on a rising scale of complexity through the year, and their engagement with individual clients enables them to develop diagnostic and therapeutic skills.

Barnsley described the team’s pride at achieving this accreditation, giving special recognition to Dr Neeshi Singh-Pillay for initiating the process and training the team in supervision, as well asMs Rossella Meusel and Ms Prashna Singh for their continuous work on the improvement plan to achieve the accreditation, and for their dedicated, well-informed and professional work in the supervision of interns. She also thanked Dr Kamilla Rawatlal and Ms Philisiwe Khumalo for their supervision.

Barnsley expressed gratitude to the CAES for the support, encouragement and financial resources it had contributed to the programme, and praised all members of the SSS team for providing ongoing support to the interns and for working effectively even when resources are constrained.

Meusel and Singh are finalising a comprehensive SSS model for use in future internship training. Meusel’s PhD research is based on the topic of competency in supervision and she has successfully achieved provisional accreditation for the CAES SSS Educational Psychology Internship programme.

The SSS has continued with student and staff support during the COVID-19 lockdown, providing tools and resources for the University community that have included a video guide and infographic on coping with mental health, and continuing to hold counselling sessions with students.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied


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World Fish Migration Day Goes with the Flow for an Online Commemoration

World Fish Migration Day Goes with the Flow for an Online Commemoration
From left: Dr Matthew Burnett collecting data with Ms Leawin Africa and Mr Alex Whitehead.

The annual World Fish Migration Day (WFMD) - traditionally celebrated on 16 May worldwide - has taken the COVID-19 pandemic in its stride, postponing its traditional 2020 celebrations to 24 October this year, however hosting a 24-hour webinar on 14 May to continue the mission of creating awareness of the importance of free flowing rivers and migratory fish.

UKZN’s Aquatic Ecosystem Research (AER) group in the School of Life Sciences will be part of the Global Swimways Webinar Marathon, which will include contributions from every country as it “follows the sun” to begin in New Zealand and end in North America, with a special session for Africa.

The free global event will cover multiple time zones and has been broken up into nine sessions lasting between one and two hours, with each accommodating up to 500 participants.

Experts from around the world will talk about migratory fish and the swimways they migrate throughout, inviting participants to uncover and explore different species and journeys in systems that range from the Yangze River basin to the rapids of the Colorado River. Practitioners and experts will address global swimways, species population status and trends, as well as sharing best practices and experiences to inspire participants to take action. According to the organisers, the webinar is suitable for people around the globe who are, or want to be, active and passionate about rivers, fish and nature.

Joining the discussions at 13h30 South African Standard Time will be Dr Gordon O’Brien from the University of Mpumalanga, who works with the AER and will present on the status and trends of river restoration and fish migration in Africa.

Every year on WFMD, the AER raises awareness about South Africa’s migratory fish, whose routes are often cut off by dams, pollution and disturbance of wildlife. South Africa is home to the largest migrating shoal of fish on earth each year with the Sardine Run in winter, while yellowfish (which are an important indicator of ecosystem health) once migrated through the Thukela River in such numbers that the river appeared gold. Other fascinating fish migrations in Africa once included the movement of sharks into the Kruger National Park via Mozambique.

Fish migrations form an essential part of larger ecosystems, which include people. The ecosystem services that migrating fish provide are important for the environment and the people that rely on it. These over-subscribed ecosystems face increasing stressors such as drought and migratory barriers that impede their functioning, and the AER is working to emphasise the value of fish, systems and processes and to encourage people to support these systems to help them to survive.

The AER investigates what habitats and environmental conditions fish need and how to provide these, and focuses on educating people and increasing awareness of the sustainable use and protection of water resources. It also addresses fisheries management, water resources management, ecological risk, the behavioural ecology of fish, river and estuary health, and aquaculture.

As part of the WFMD commemorations, AER PhD candidate Ms Céline Hanzen participated in a virtual conference with the international non-profit organisation for eel conservation and citizen science education Eel Town, on 9 May, speaking about her research on African freshwater eels as a flagship species for river connectivity in the western Indian Ocean.

Words: Christine Cuénod

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Grad@Home Initiative

Grad@Home Initiative
Grad@Home initiative.

Varsity Youth in Action Network, a student organisation on the Edgewood campus, took to social media to honour graduands following the cancellation of UKZN’s April Graduation ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


A joyful poster dedicated to students across the country who could not attend graduation ceremonies was posted on the organisation’s Facebook page. It was very well-received, reaching around 73 000 people.

In his message, Chairperson of Varsity Youth in Action, Mr Nhlanhla Dube commented: ‘Graduation is not the end, but the beginning. We congratulate all graduates. This has not been an easy ride, but you made it to the finish line and that is what matters most. We wish you well in your future endeavours.’ He encouraged graduates to not let the COVID-19 pandemic kill their spirit, because, ‘beyond this valley there shall be redemption.’


Co-founder, Mr Lebohang Mathobela said: ‘As much as graduation ceremonies are significant, they do not validate a person’s success. Students should celebrate and cherish their academic accomplishments without any feelings of regret as they have earned them, and nothing can take that away from them. We encourage all students, University staff members and the wider community to adhere to the government regulations. Take good care of yourself; we shall meet again in the near future when the storm is over.’

Words: Ndabaonline

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Working “With” Home During Crisis

Working “With” Home During Crisis
Professor Shaun Ruggunan, Associate Professor of Human Resources Management in the School of Management, IT and Governance.

- By Professor Shaun Ruggunan

The largest single experiment in remote working is currently taking place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Never in the history of modern work have so many workers in the formal labour market worked off site. So what are we learning about this practice that is new? Over the past two decades human resource management as a professional and scholarly practice has been preoccupied with the ideas and practice of working from home.

Numerous studies have been undertaken on its organisational impacts and to a lesser extent, its impact on employees’ psycho-social well-being. The latter is often couched in the language of work-life balance, or work-life blending. However, what happens when, as in the current pandemic, there is a work-life bleeding? By this I mean that work and life become one; there is no fixed boundary, balance or blending between work and life. Yet many organisations continue to manage workers during this time of crisis as if there are still clear temporal and spatial boundaries in the workday.

I would suggest that as employers and employees we talk about working “with home” rather than working from home or remote working. I borrow the phrase “working with home” from distinguished psychotherapist Esther Perel. This way of thinking means that we are working WITH all the activities happening in the home simultaneously. There is no spatial or temporal separation of work from life. We should not feel guilty or embarrassed by this. Caring for children, vulnerable family members, partners and pets, doing domestic chores, processing trauma, coping with financially stressed households, care giving and overwhelming anxiety are the realities for most of us during the pandemic. It is within and not separate from this space that we continue to work to fulfill contractual obligations to employers.

For the most part employees are fulfilling contractual obligations, yet reports from around the globe suggest that many are working harder and longer than they did on site. I therefore offer some suggestions for both employers and employees to reflect on as you work “with” home.

This is an unprecedented global crisis and pandemic; it is not a productivity contest.

We have all seen the social media posts about how you should learn a new skill or do all the things you said you never had time for, and the numerous calls to be super productive because the assumption is that you are sitting at home doing nothing. Do NOT feel pressured by this. Depending on your context, you are already homeschooling your children, cooking, cleaning, shopping, managing the anxieties of yourself and others around you and trying to stay healthy and safe. That in itself is exhausting. So your normal work tasks may actually feel more tiring than usual. Give yourself a break from this toxic expectation that a pandemic should make you more productive.

Your priority is self-care, and then care for others. Make sure that your family, health and emotions are fine. Managing stress and anxiety are about the ability to self-regulate your emotions. You are not useful to yourself or others (including employers) if you do not pay attention to your emotions, health and your family. Self-regulating employees that feel safe will offer more value to your organisation.

Women will bear more of the stress and anxiety during this pandemic since patriarchal systems situate them at the forefront as caregivers and “nurturers”. Please note this especially if you are a male manager.

Excessive or compulsive busyness during this crisis can be a sign of trauma or a way of dealing with trauma. Managers will often schedule endless online meetings and be in constant online communication with staff at all hours of the day. For many it is their way of coping with this profound crisis and trauma. With sufficient time and emotional intelligence, they will eventually begin to self-regulate. As an employee, you may find that busyness or excessive working may be a form of salve since you do not have to think much about the pandemic and its consequences.

Research is showing that too many online meetings are causing exhaustion and premature burnout. Schedule these only when absolutely necessary. Also, do not feel that you have to control every single sound or activity in your house during these online calls. Cats, dogs, babies, flushing toilets, etc. are part of what it is to work with home and what it means to be human. We control what we can in order to concentrate during these calls but we live in different types of households and managers need to create a culture where it is okay for your two year-old to interrupt your Zoom call. Introduce the child to your colleagues rather than scream at them for interrupting.

Lockdowns make each day seem as if it’s blurring into the other. It may be helpful to negotiate some ground rules regarding when you will engage with work. For example, still thinking of the “weekend” as a weekend and time away from work may be a way of boundary setting. Not sending or responding to emails after 17h00 on weekdays is another. The way this is done will be different for different organisations and people but you cannot be “on call 24/7” as this will deplete your psychological and physical reserves.

Finally, recognise and be thankful for any privileges you enjoy. You may have a large house with a garden during lockdown, or have a double income family. Your household may be food secure, you may have unlimited WiFi and have a dedicated space and time to work. These are not universal contexts. Recognise this in your dealings with others and be grateful if you enjoy any of these privileges.

This is a time of profound adaptation, and discussion and debates about working from home need to shift to a discussion on how we can better work “with” home. In the end this is not a discussion about people as human resources but rather one of people as relational beings.

Shaun Ruggunan is an Associate Professor of Human Resources Management in the School of Management, IT and Governance at UKZN.

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Technology Fosters International Collaboration during COVID-19

Technology Fosters International Collaboration during COVID-19
Dr Upasana Singh (top row, centre) with panellists of an international webinar hosted by Allenhouse Colleges, Kanpur, India.

COVID-19 has radically changed the shape of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) worldwide.

‘Diminished high-level research funding and fewer face-to-face conferences and collaboration – these are some of the potential consequences from the coronavirus pandemic as it affects Higher Education in Africa’ (Naidu, 2020).

An international webinar hosted by Allenhouse Colleges, Kanpur, India, on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Education Sector across the Globe, and the way forward proved that, in these unprecedented times, technology can bring the world together to engage on current issues and foster collaboration. The panellists hailed from six countries.

Dr William Painter, Dean at Westford Education Group, United Kingdom highlighted the paradigm shift in the global education sector due to the impact of COVID-19; Dr Cameron A Batmanghlich, Full Professor of Leadership at Varna University of Management, Bulgaria and Founder and President of the Eurasian Doctoral Summer Academy engaged the audience on the shift in the learning model from on-campus to remote or blended learning, and the efficacy of learning in this model; Dr Mohammad Rishad Faridi, Coordinator, Faculty and Student Development, Assistant Professor, College of Business Administration, Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University, Al Kharj, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shared his insights on the role of emotional intelligence in online learning, the changing role of faculty and the impact on start-ups and employment prospects; Dr Pastor Reglos Arguelles Jr., Dean at the College of Computer Studies, University of Perpetual Help, Molino Campus, Philippines presented on the impact of COVID-19 on the behavioural aspects of facilitators, learners, and parents of learners; and Dr Vivek Mohan, Associate Dean at Exeed College, Sharjah, UAE shared his experiences as a migrant student and his views on how COVID-19 will encourage studying closer to home, as well as outlining opportunities and challenges to educational institutions due to changes in the pattern of student migration for education resulting from COVID-19.

Dr Upasana Gitanjali Singh, Sr Faculty (Information Systems and Technology), UKZN focused on the prospects of increased IT implementation and instructional design in education for continued learning, inadequate digital infrastructure in some countries, and the changes expected in the skill requirements of students in an online learning environment.She drew on her preliminary, unpublished research results from an international research project she is championing which focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on academics in HEIs. Singh explained that ‘…while the numbers may not equate since data collection is still in progress, the data shows that irrespective of economic state, developing and developed countries have experienced the same panic shift to online teaching and learning.’ She added that, it is becoming increasingly evident that academics in developed countries have more proficiency in adopting online teaching methods. The “panic” factor for them is thus slightly less. Singh added that the eight essential skills for students to develop for successful online learning are ‘persistence, effective time-management skills, effective and appropriate communication skills, basic technical skills, improved reading and writing skills, self-motivation and independence and a good study environment.’

The more than 220 participants included Vice-Chancellors of prominent international HEIs, academics, software company representatives and students from all over the world including India, the United States, United Arab Emirates, Bhutan, Philippines, Sweden, Botswana, Singapore, Malaysia and Nepal. The participants appreciated the dynamic engaging environment, despite being hosted virtually. The online polls, interactive online question and answer forum through the digital platform; and the enthusiastic moderator, Dr Bhagwan Jagwani, Director of Allenhouse Colleges, made the marathon three-hour session seem too short. In her closing remarks Singh stated that, ‘despite all the negative connotations associated with COVID-19, collaborative events like these illustrate the unifying nature of this pandemic.’ The webinar recording is available at https://www.facebook.com/allenhouse.superhouse

Words: Ndabaonline

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Attaining Graduate Attributes in a COVID-19 World: It’s a Family Affair

Attaining Graduate Attributes in a COVID-19 World: It’s a Family Affair
Professor Fayth Ruffin, Associate Professor at the School of Management, IT and Governance.

- By Professor Fayth Ruffin

COVID-19 has become a household word across the globe. It is a stark matter of life or death that disrupts human movement and postgraduate students are no exception.

Unlike forestalled classroom activities, postgraduate supervision has continued throughout the lockdown. Postgraduate students are expected to attain qualification-specific attributes. South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP): Vision 2030 envisages that Higher Education Institutions will produce more than 100 doctoral graduates per million of the population per year by 2030. In 2018, the Council on Higher Education unveiled nine graduate attributes. Five are concerned with knowledge, namely, obtaining both broad and specialised knowledge; gaining insight into related fields; heightening ethical awareness and making an original contribution to knowledge production. The other four attributes are skills-based and require applied use of appropriate methodologies; reflection and autonomy; and communication and digital literacy skills as well as critical thinking for problem solving.

What does this mean for doctoral (or master’s) students subjected to homebound lockdown, full or partial? For example, how can the African female doctoral student cope with the depth of her doctoral study whilst home-schooling children, and handling cooking, laundry and cleaning especially when the “nanny” or “helper” may be absent? What if she is gainfully employed and must now also work from home? Perhaps she is part of “essential services” and on the front-line fighting the war against COVID-19. This is where I hear Sly and the Family Stone declare to female doctoral students: “It’s a family affair”. The song continues: “One child grows up to be; somebody that just loves to learn”, and “Another child grows up to be; somebody you’d just love to burn”. Lyrist Sylvester Stone’s hypotheses are being tested during the lockdown period and will continue to be throughout the unlocking stages.

That doctoral student is somebody who loves to learn and she would likely love to burn those who interfere. Staying at home with moment to moment encounters with everyone can turn the achievement of doctoral attributes into a family affair. This calls for us to reflect on indigenous ways of knowing and being, particularly in terms of gender complementarity. Unlike women in the westernised societies of centuries gone by, whose daily life was relegated to the domestic sphere, African women in ancient societies were very active in public life – politically, socially, economically, spiritually, militarily and otherwise. We learn from Diop’s classic work, The Cultural Unity of Black Africa that ‘the Africans had produced a civilization where men were secure enough to let women advance as far as their talent, royal lineage and prerogatives would take them.’ This includes pre-colonial female leadership in public life through amakhosikazi and amakhosazana among Zulu and makhadzi among Venda peoples (all “royal” women leaders). The institution of “Queen Mother” as king-maker was evident in Ghana, Zululand and elsewhere. Igbo female political leadership included dual-sex organisations as well as umuada (patrilineage daughters) who provided governance structures complementary to broader governance modalities.

Esther Boserup’s book on economic development foregrounds the fierceness of Yoruba women in the marketplace. Whilst westernised women remained “perpetual minors” under the tutelage of their husbands, African women were traditional leaders of communities and were military leaders for Fon, Shona, Zulu and other territories. As spiritual leaders, they worked with male rulers by engaging the ancestors in governance. In Zimbabwe, a ruler once ignored advice from the ancestral spirits and his army employed a female traditional leader from another community to spearhead a rebellion against him.

So fluid and flexible were gender relations in ancient Africa that there were “male daughters and female husbands” among the Kikuyu, Kuria, Nandi (Kenya); Nnobi (Nigeria); Lovedu, Venda, Tonga, and Zulu (Southern Africa) peoples, to name but a few. For example, a male daughter when there was no son to handle political and economic matters. Barren and son-less women of wealth (who might be married to a man), became a female husband to advance the paternal lineage and protect future inheritance. These woman-to-woman marriages had nothing to do with sexual relations, but the female husband might participate in selecting a “sperm-donor” for her wife. Such relationships resulted in women being actively involved in public leadership. The notion of patriarchy is a westernised concept imposed by colonisers who were taken aback by and sought to dismantle the role of independent African women in pre-colonial societies.

How can indigenous ways of knowing gender complementarity uplift African female doctoral students in a COVID-19 world that is forcing homebound familial contact? These students confront a myriad of challenges on the home front that could make them a PhD drop-out statistic. Financial, family and time management challenges are the main reasons that doctoral students drop-out. Although she is trying to be strong and stoic, I can hear Sly and the Family Stone serenading her: “You can't cry ‘cause you’ll look broke down. But you’re cryin’ anyway ‘cause you’re all broke down”.

We will all be “broke down” if we fail to produce South African born doctoral graduates who can innovatively upscale our depressed economy which COVID-19 helped degenerate into “junk status”. A 2018 Department of Higher Education and Training report shows that the more than 100% increase in doctoral graduates from South African universities between 2009 and 2016 primarily stemmed from the inclusion of Africans from other countries. We are all “broke down” if we fall short of knowledge production that empowers South Africa’s voice in continental and global affairs. This is why attaining doctoral attributes is a family affair and why we should revisit indigenous ways of knowing gender and create an enabling environment in each and every home and extended family for the African female doctoral student to exercise her talents and prerogatives. Provided we use the COVID-19 lockdown phases as a turn-around strategy to promote gender complementarity instead of a death sentence, she can become a doctoral graduate who helps us to meet our NDP targets.

Professor Fayth Ruffin is an Associate Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Management, Information Technology and Governance. Her career spans across law, business, government, the non-profit sector and academia.

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COVID-19: Impact on Essential Goods’ Supply Chains

COVID-19: Impact on Essential Goods’ Supply Chains
Professor Micheline Naude, Academic Leader for Marketing and Supply Chain Management in the School of Management, IT and Governance.

- By Professor Micheline Naude

The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and will continue to have a substantial impact on global supply chains. Initially, its impact was felt on the supply chains of goods originating from China, particularly Wuhan province. As the disease spread to more and more countries, so too has the impact on global supply chains. This has taken the form of disruption of the manufacture and supply of a broad range of goods, largely as a consequence of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns in many countries.

South Africa began a nationwide 21-day lockdown on 27 March 2020, later extended to 30 April, which is one of the “strictest” in the world. The country faces continued restrictions for months to come in terms of the government’s ongoing COVID-19 risk strategy. While South Africa’s borders are closed to the movement of people, the movement of cargo is still taking place, albeit with ongoing port and transportation delays. This adds risk, costs and pressure to the supply chain.

Most of the South African economy has been shut down, with the exception of essential services, mines and quarries, the banking, insurance and financial sector, the production and sales of chemicals, medical products, cleaning and hygiene products, food production and sales through grocery stores, food stores and spaza shops.

As a consequence of the shutdown of a significant portion of the economy, a large number of workers have been removed from their employers’ payroll entirely, or are being paid a proportion of their former income. Such workers include among others, domestic workers, construction workers, contract workers, taxi operators, hairdressers, beauticians, gym trainers, pre-school staff, estate agents, car sales and travel agency representatives. These consumers have reduced or no income and are therefore cautiously using any disposable income they may have, to buy only what they consider necessary. So, whilst the shelves of essential goods in retail stores are fully stocked, many consumers just do not have money to buy these goods and retailers are experiencing decreased sales revenue.

Retail grocery and essential goods traders operate on low margins and are adept at running their operations by negotiating and utilising extended trading terms. Simply put, they use credit from their suppliers to maintain their cash flow. They trade in a range of products from food, hygiene, and cleaning materials, to a broad range of consumer goods, which are not considered essential products under South Africa’s lockdown regulations. Many of these “non-essential” consumer products are sold at higher prices and better margins and the broad basket of ALL products allows for margin subsidisation.

While sales revenue is down from lower consumer purchases, traders need to pay their fixed costs – the most significant of which are rentals and employee costs. Consequently, they are formally or informally renegotiating payment terms, aimed at squeezing extra credit from their suppliers. This places fast-moving consumer goods manufacturers (FMCGs) and suppliers of these products in a difficult situation as they supply essential goods at lower volumes and with extended credit. The impact on the supply chain of FMCGs is significant – lower sales volumes and reduced profitability.

Preliminary discussions with leading FMCGs in South Africa reveal that while many of their operations have experienced reduced revenue and profitability, a significant impact of the South African lockdown has been on cash flows. This places immense pressure on these suppliers. The supply chain of the FMCG industry has further been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through additional containment and unplanned management costs, which include:

Pandemic planning expenses. FMCGs manufacturers are doing their utmost to keep their workspaces hygienic and COVID-19 free through additional processes such as deep cleaning and sanitising warehouses and factories, disinfecting incoming and outgoing trucks and testing staff.

Expenditure to move staff to and from work.Food manufacturers rely heavily on labour and most of the workforce relies on public transport to get to work, which makes them more susceptible to infection. Social distancing is not practical when travelling in close proximity to others in taxis or busses. Some FMCGs have thus arranged for transport for their staff.

Production delays due to supply chain interruptions. FMCGs have no control over what happens outside the workplace with their workforce and should their staff become infected, this could result in further losses as they are forced to temporarily close. For example, Tiger Brands temporarily closed its Durban Albany bakery as a precautionary measure after some staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Unilever South Africa confirmed that 30 of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19 at its Boksburg plant and operations were suspended to undertake deep cleaning.

Screening of staff and the supply of PPE. Workers have been provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), and health screening and testing has increased for all staff and contractors at each factory and warehouse.

In conclusion, the ripple effects of this challenging economic situation will be reduced profitability and lower cash flow, even after the outbreak is contained. Economic adjustments globally post COVID-19 will be challenging. Social distancing measures will continue until a safe and effective vaccine is discovered and universally distributed.

Sources:

Brown, D. (2020). South Africa Begins Nationwide Coronavirus Lockdown. Available: https://www.voanews.com/science-health/coronavirus-outbreak/south-africa-begins-nationwide-coronavirus-lockdown. Accessed 24 April 2020.

Comins, L (2020). 1 million jobs could be shed in lockdown. Available: https://www.iol.co.za/mercury/news/1-million-jobs-could-be-shed-in-lockdown-46319187. Accessed 20 April 2020.

Kilpatrick, J (2020). COVID-19: Managing supply chain risk and disruption. Coronavirus highlights the need to transform traditional supply chain models. Available: https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/risk/articles/covid-19-managing-supply-chain-risk-and-disruption.html. Accessed 24 April 2020.

Maphanga, C. (2020). Unilever confirms 30 employees test positive for Covid-19 at Boksburg plant. Available: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/unilever-confirms-30-employees-test-positive-for-covid-19-at-boksburg-plant-20200423. Accessed 24 April 2020.

Maphanga, C. (2020). Covid-19: PPE for workers is crucial, Ekurhuleni mayor tells owners at Boksburg shopping centre. Available: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/covid-19-ppe-for-workers-is-crucial-ekurhuleni-mayor-tells-owners-at-boksburg-shopping-centre-20200422. Accessed 24 April 2020.

Professor Micheline Naude is the Academic Leader for Marketing and Supply Chain Management in the School of Management, Information Technology and Governance, UKZN.

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Do You Practice It or Just Talk It?

Do You Practice It or Just Talk It?
Mr Lihle Mbatha, Bachelor of Education Honours student in the School of Education.

- by Mr Lihle Mbatha

Dear members of the University community,

You have the luxury of being in possession of almost all the basic gadgets and resources required for successful e-learning. You have your personal laptop(s); more than one smart phone; and a desktop computer at home. Furthermore, you have access to the two essential resources, which are the foundation of remote learning, electricity and a network connection.

Here are my burning questions to you:

•    Will you come forward and lend a helping hand?

•    Is it necessary to remind you of your obligations as citizen of South Africa?

Do you practice the spirit of Ubuntu?

If you do, you will have already lent a helping hand. If not, you can do so by identifying university students in your community/nearby area who need resources to access e-learning. If you have two smart phones, why not give one (to be returned at a later stage) to a student? The same goes for other gadgets. Some students have equipment, but no electricity and a network connection. Why not invite them to share your resources?

Let us do more than pay lip service to the spirit of Ubuntu. Now is not the time to be divided as a nation.

Mr Lihle Mbatha is a Bachelor of Education Honours student in the School of Education.

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UKZN Hosts LGBTI Virtual Contextual Bible Study

UKZN Hosts LGBTI Virtual Contextual Bible Study
The LGBTI virtual contextual Bible study collaboration.

The Gender and Religion Programme and the Ujamaa Centre within UKZN’s School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics partnered with Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) to host a virtual Contextual Bible Study with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people from across South Africa that are engaging in lived realities during the COVID-19 crisis.

According to Professor Charlene Van Der Walt, ‘Human rights organisations have reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the insecurity and vulnerability experienced by LGBTI people who are confined to their family homes in southern African countries.’

During this period, faith leaders have reached out to their congregations via social media through online worship services and daily devotions. In some instances, these devotions sought “theological clarification” for the pandemic.

‘Conservative South African cleric, Pastor Oscar Bougardt blamed the COVID-19 pandemic on LGBTI marriages because of God's “wrath”. Families and faith communities often contribute to multiple forms of violence, causing indelible trauma for LGBTI people and their bodies,’ said Van Der Walt.

An episode from the Joseph narrative in Genesis 37 was used during the webinar to bring together LGBTI people of faith to critically and creatively engage these life-denying realities and to search for hope. ‘We explored Joseph’s “queer” vulnerability as a collective resource to enable resilience and hope during COVID-19. Participants joined the conversation from KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, North West and the Western Cape,’ said Van Der Walt.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

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Agriculture Graduate Forges Ahead

Agriculture Graduate Forges Ahead
Small scale farmer, Mr Nhlakanipho Motaung, and his produce.Click here for isiZulu version

BSc in Agriculture graduate, 25-year-old Mr Nhlakanipho Motaung, has flourished since joining the Umngeni Resilience Project (URP) in April 2019.

The project is a partnership between the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, the South African National Biodiversity Institute, uMgungundlovu District Municipality and UKZN’s Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems.

A small-scale farmer with a 3.2 hectares’ farm in KwaSwayimane, his passion for agriculture started when he cultivated sweet potatoes and maize with his mother while growing up.

The URP supports him with seeds and also provides technical assistance and opportunities to network with different stakeholders. Motaung said that working with the project has enabled him to grow personally and professionally. ‘It has been a wonderful experience to work with URP,’ he said, adding that all aspects of his farming business are growing smoothly, from production, to harvesting, marketing and branding.

Potatoes were his first crop and he has now expanded to amadumbe (Taro), sweet potatoes, dry beans, and maize. As farming is his only source of income, Motaung said that he secures his market before planting his crops as the most common mistake farmers make is to plant without knowing where they are going to sell their harvest. He is working with others farmers to identify new market opportunities, including informal markets. He wryly admits that financial affairs and paperwork are the tasks he finds most challenging, but he is working on improving his skills in these areas.

Words: Ms Nhlonipho Mbatha, Dr Vimbayi Chimonyo, Ms Xola Nqabeni, Ms Khethiwe Mthethwa and Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi (URP team members)

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Environmental Fluid Mechanics Lab Pioneers Renewable Energy and Coastal Engineering Projects

Environmental Fluid Mechanics Lab Pioneers Renewable Energy and Coastal Engineering Projects
The Environmental Fluid Mechanics Laboratory deploys equipment to measure flow around coral reef features.

Under the leadership of Professor Derek Stretch and Dr Justin Pringle, UKZN’s Environmental Fluid Mechanics Laboratory (EFML) is pioneering innovative research projects that apply its members’ expertise in fluid mechanics, coastal and estuarine dynamics and hydraulic engineering to several fields.

The EFML group, which is training two PhD students and six master’s students, is involved in innovative research to develop renewable energy options, improve coastal water quality, predict the future of shorelines under climate change conditions, and investigate the interplay of waves, currents and coral reefs.

In an era when new, cleaner, and environmentally sustainable renewable energy resources are needed, microalgae grown in bioreactors are being touted as a solution as they absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen while converting light into chemical energy through photosynthesis. To effectively cultivate algae for the production of biodiesel, the EFML is investigating the effect of ocean turbulence and mixing on algal productivity in flexible, floating, photobioreactors where the algae feed off wastewater discharges from coastal cities.

Drawing on the team’s physics, mathematics and biology backgrounds, the EFML is also exploring the physics of how coral reefs interact with varying flow regimes at micro and macro scales. At Sodwana close to the Agulhas current, the group is studying how mixing events drive changes in temperature and salinity, which in turn affect the biological functioning of the reef. This is important as changes in climatic behaviour lead to ocean acidification, rising sea levels, and changes in weather behaviour, threatening the health of coral reefs.

Another renewable energy project, assisted by a grant from UKZN InQubate, is the use of hydrokites to harness ocean current energy in the Agulhas current off South Africa’s east coast, one of the strongest, most consistent western boundary currents in the world. Kites have been used to harness wind and tidal energy, but have not previously been designed for use in such strong currents. The EFML is developing prototypes of a design that can be deployed and maintained on the continental shelf, with the simple, cost-effective, versatile design a promising prospect for job creation.

In collaboration with Professor David Dorrell in Electrical Engineering and supported by UKZN InQubate, the EFML is exploring the use of multi-oscillating water columns to generate renewable electricity along the South African coast, which is one of the world’s most energetic in terms of waves and ocean currents. Harnessing this untapped resource could make a significant contribution towards meeting the country’s energy needs.

The EFML is also developing new design tools for coastal engineers within the context of climate change. By investigating the links between changes in synoptic scale atmospheric circulation and changes in wave climates driven by atmospheric circulation, it is providing insight into wave climates to improve the evaluation of future climate scenarios. This is important as changes in wave behaviour erode beaches and threaten developed coastal areas. The team has developed a new statistical model to simulate waves based on atmospheric circulation patterns, providing a framework to evaluate coastal vulnerability and develop simple shoreline response models.

The EFML’s resources and capacity include a small wave channel, optical measurement equipment and techniques to measure environmental flows in 4D (time-resolved in 3D), and a recently-acquired 15 metre water channel with a random wave generator. They have a Laser Doppler Anemometer for engineering flow measurements, field instrumentation, and smart instruments to measure mixing around coral reefs, urban air quality, and natural ventilation of buildings.

Pringle was recently awarded a Y-rating from the National Research Foundation in recognition of his potential to rapidly establish himself as an expert in his field, having produced an excellent PhD thesis with several high-level publications.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


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