UKZN to Host Virtual Graduation

UKZN to Host Virtual Graduation
A scene from a previous UKZN Graduation ceremony sees an elated Mandisa Mkhize celebrate as she walked the graduation stage.

Tomorrow (Friday, 29 May 2020), UKZN will host a virtual Graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 who were set to receive their qualifications during the autumn Graduation Ceremonies.

The decision to host a virtual Graduation has been made in accordance with the national lockdown and social distancing regulations to safeguard all South Africans from contracting COVID-19.

For graduands, the annual Graduation ceremonies – which are a joyous and grand occasion – are their proudest moment. ‘Although we are confined from hosting a traditional Graduation ceremony where thousands converge on our Durban and PMB campuses, we are elated at the opportunity to gather in a virtual space and celebrate in a whole new and unconventional way,’ said Ms Normah Zondo, Acting Executive Director: Corporate Relations.

A total of 9 963 degree certificates - 6 505 of which will be awarded to undergraduate recipients and 3 458 to postgraduates – will be conferred. A total of 414 master’s and 228 doctoral graduands will graduate. Overall, there are 104 summa cum laude and 270 cum laude graduands. Female graduands continue to lead with 70% summa cum laude and 67 percent cum laude achievements.

Eighty students with disabilities, 31 of whom have completed postgraduate studies, will graduate. Two exceptional achievers will graduate with PhDs and six with master’s degrees.

This Graduation ceremony will also include 276 international graduands, 217 of whom will graduate with postgraduate certificates. Overall, 1 609 degrees will be conferred in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science; 5 087 in the College of Humanities; 2 254 in the College of Law and Management Studies; and 1 013 in the College of Health Sciences.

The virtual ceremony will entail the conferring of degrees to qualifying graduands whose names appear on the autumn graduation ceremony programme. The Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Nana Poku, will deliver an address. As Acting Chancellor, Prof Poku will officially confer degrees on all graduands who have succeeded in meeting all their academic requirements, including those who will graduate posthumously. Deputy Vice-Chancellors will convey congratulatory messages to graduands. Standard Bank has partnered with UKZN to make this graduation possible. For this reason, Standard Bank CEO will also give a message of support.

The event will be broadcast live on SABC3 (Channel 193) at 13h30. Graduands will join via the link: https://virtualgraduation.ukzn.ac.za. This link will only be active and accessible tomorrow. UKZN has partnered with Ukhozi FM on this special broadcast between 12h00 and 15h00.

Words: Sejal Desai

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Medical Student to Lead African Youth Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Medical Student to Lead African Youth Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Mr Kapil Nairain (left) with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO.Click here for isiZulu version

Final-year Medical student at UKZN’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, Mr Kapil Narain has been appointed as the Chair of the Federation of African Medical Students Association (FAMSA) COVID-19 Technical Working Group (TWG), a continent-wide youth response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The committee comprises members from 15 countries with a gender balance, and translators to ensure that all countries in Africa can access the information it generates. Narain is the only South African on the committee.

This appointment was based on research and leadership experience.

Narain’s duties include planning a co-ordinated response that is cognisant of the global and local contexts of the pandemic by leading discussions on interventions and ensuring that the youth are at the forefront of initiatives.

‘I am honoured to be appointed to this position, and am excited to be working with students from various African regions to play a vital part in combatting this pandemic through research, awareness, activism, and art, as well as engaging with various health bodies. Currently the pandemic has reached the five million mark with more than 300 000 deaths globally. Whilst the US has the highest number of cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that Africa may be the next epicentre. This is of serious concern given the fragility of the continent’s health systems. Now more than ever, we require all hands-on deck!’

The TWG aims to ensure that Medical students are at the forefront in the response to COVID-19 across Africa.

Its roles include:

•    Sharing facts about COVID-19 to dispel myths and misconceptions about the pandemic

•    Carrying out online campaigns on COVID-19

•    Keeping abreast of the latest research and provide sound technical advice aligned to the WHO

•    Leading Medical students from across the continent in carrying out research on COVID-19 by developing standard operating procedures and guidelines

•    Sharing information on how Medical students from across the continent are contributing to the response to COVID-19

•    Acknowledging the efforts of various workforces from across the continent in the fight against COVID-19

•    Highlighting the challenges faced by African countries and potentially providing innovative solutions

•    Working with the FAMSA executive council to involve Medical students from across Africa in the fight against COVID-19.

The TWG has held a consultation with African Union (AU) youth envoy, Ms Aya Chebbi. FAMSA is also part of the African Youth Front, a multi-stakeholder advocacy group that provides a platform for African youth to contribute to the implementation of the African Continental Strategic Plan for the COVID-19 Pandemic. According to Director of the African Centres for Disease Control (CDC), Dr John N Nkengasong, ‘African youth are central to the fight against COVID -19.’

As Chair, Narain was a part of a webinar with junior doctors and Medical students on 12 May hosted by Operation Smile, a global non-profit organisation dedicated to delivering free surgery. He shared the platform with young leaders from Cameroon, Canada, the United States, Greece and Germany, to discuss how students’ are contributing in combatting COVID-19.

FAMSA was founded in 1968 to foster cooperation among African Medical students. It is an independent, non-political federation comprising 8 000 members from 30+ countries and is recognised by the WHO and the AU as the official international forum of African Medical students. Its vision is ‘To become a strong network of Medical students, aware of global health issues and responsive to the current questions facing the Medical profession and global health.’

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN’s Most Inspiring Students

UKZN’s Most Inspiring Students
From left: Mr Shimon Corcos, Mr Luthando Molefe, Ms Namutula Mukelabai, Mr Simangaliso Bayabonga Zulu and Ms Silindile Shazi.

UKZN has recognised its students who Inspire Greatness.

The awards celebrate excellence in community service, student influence, music and arts, academic prowess and leadership and aim to shine a spotlight on students who are flying the University flag high.

Twenty-six students were selected from more than 100 entries by a panel consisting of representatives of various units at the University. The entrants were nominated by fellow students.

BSc M Stream (Mathematics and Applied Mathematics) student, Mr Shimon Corcos was humbled and ecstatic to receive the award. ‘For us, this award carries more meaning now than ever before. We are endowed with the responsibility of continuing to be inspirational to our community as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic, while keeping our distance. In some ways our reach is restrained but we need to adjust our tactics and keep in mind that action, no matter how small, is better than inaction,’ said Corcos.

‘We need to challenge ourselves to not become absorbed in the uncertainty we are faced with and instead reach out and find ways to help others and to seek the help that we need,’ the third-year student added.

Bachelor of Education (Honours) student Mr Luthando Molefe, who scooped the award for the third consecutive time said: ‘I am delighted to have been named as one of UKZN’s Most Inspiring Students. This is confirmation that my hard work and dedication within the University and outside does not go unnoticed.’

Physiotherapy student and International Students’ Association president, Ms Namutula Mukelabai was humbled and honoured to have been selected. ‘This nomination shows that impact is always recognised, even when you think no one is watching. Thank you to those who nominated me!’ she said. ‘To the International Students’ Association team and the Physiotherapy department team, this is our nomination! A victory for one is no victory unless it is collective. Here’s to Inspiring Greatness!’

Mr Simangaliso Bayabonga Zulu, who is currently doing his Masters in Commerce, believes he was selected based on his ‘meritorious academic performance, community engagement and exceptional leadership.’

Zulu, a former president of UKZN’s Golden Key International Honour Society in Pietermaritzburg, juggled being a good student (he has more than 10 merit awards) and helping vulnerable communities. He is particularly proud of informing school learners about the requirements to access the University as Higher Education is life-changing and can have an impact on future generations.

UKZN’s tagline - Inspiring Greatness became Master of Arts student Ms Silindile Shazi’s slogan when she joined the University. ‘I am always willing to help others and that’s exactly how I studied. I believe we all have to be the change we want to see. If we work together, we can achieve a lot. I am honoured to receive this award.’

Corporate Relations Acting Executive Director, Ms Normah Zondo, said, ‘These awards were established to recognise our students beyond the classroom setting and applaud the impact that they are making in their communities and society. I am certain that going forward they will continue to excel and contribute meaningfully to their communities. I hope that you will continue to Inspire Greatness and inspire others to do the same.’ Zondo also thanked the selection committee for its contribution.

The 2020 Most Inspiring Students are:

Sinothile Godfrey Mavundla

Nhlakanipho Siphesihle Mnqayi

Nkanyiso Mncube

Muhle Ndwalane

Mpendulo Mbambo

S'sekelo Zungu

Thanduxolo Dube

Namutula Mukelaba

Phamkamile Mazibuko

Silindile Veracious Shazi

Khethokuhle Bhengu

Ayanda Mbatha

Shimon Corcos

Simangaliso Zulu

Talent Sikhosana

Mpendulo Zuma

Nosipho Gabela

Ntokozo Tono

Ntandoyenkosi Msomi

Anne Chisa

Fisokhuhle Sibiya

Talenta Mabasa

Sibahle Zuma

Luthando Molefe

Siyanda Bright Bambelo

Aviwe Madikizela

The categories were:

•    Diversity and Programming

•    Entrepreneurship

•    Music and Arts

•    Support and Inspiring Greatness

•    Aspiring Leadership

•    Poetry

•    Self-determination

•    Leadership

•    Community Service

•    Career driven

•    Academic excellence

Words: Raylene Captain Hasthibeer and Ndabaonline

Photographs: Supplied


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Science Centre’s Workshops an Educational Diversion for Kids in Lockdown

Science Centre’s Workshops an Educational Diversion for Kids in Lockdown
Dr Tanja Reinhardt shows participants how to form a bar graph using candy.

The Science and Technology Education Centre (STEC@UKZN) in UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science has been presenting weekly online workshops in which children are exposed to a variety of scientific principles through fun, colourful experiments.

STEC’s Dr Tanja Reinhardt, fondly known as “Dr T”, has been running virtual workshops via Zoom, one focused on discovering volcanoes, and a recent one on candy science. Aimed at primary school learners, the interactive sessions on a Thursday afternoon have used engaging experiments, involving basic and easily available equipment and ingredients, to communicate various scientific principles while being entertaining and encouraging children to actively participate from their own homes where many have been carrying out their schoolwork during lockdown.

The most recent edition, focused on “candy science”, saw close to 60 participants joining in with just a few implements and supplies, including small packets of coated fruit candies, bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, warm water, a straw, spoons, glasses and plates.

Expertly guided by Dr T, in the space of just under an hour the young future scientists created multi-coloured bar graphs to learn about statistics, arranged their sweets mathematically by colour, learned about the various parts of the tongue that distinguish the five basic tastes and about the role of smell, tested the pH of a sweet solution, and created vibrant layers to learn about the density of liquids. They concluded the workshop by creating colourful pieces of art using just sweets and water, while a few candies also made a disappearing act during the afternoon as a reward for the experimenting learners.

To supplement the learning many children are now doing from home, STEC has also compiled and distributed printable sheets with a variety of lockdown activities that can be done at home, including fun quizzes, educational games, intriguing experiments, and mathematics challenges to stimulate young minds. STEC has also been running a ScratchJr coding competition during lockdown, encouraging young participants to use the free Scratch programming language to create their own interactive stories and games on their devices under the theme “things that I want to do after the lockdown”. The prize for the winning individual or team project is a Bottle Jet workshop or a LEGO robotics workshop for 10 people, with exciting prizes for runners-up.

STEC@UKZN, which usually runs more physical interactive activities and displays and creates posters and presentations for learners to encourage them to pursue careers in Science and Technology, is meeting the challenge posed by lockdown conditions for parents and educators by developing tools to keep boredom at bay and enhance young learners’ experience of Science and Technology.

Future workshops will be placed on the STEC@UKZN website, and those interested in these workshops and activities can contact stec@ukzn.ac.za for more information or assistance.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod


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Master’s Student Selected for Prestigious Writing Residency

Master’s Student Selected for Prestigious Writing Residency
Master’s in Education student, Ms Fiona Khan.Click here for isiZulu version

Master’s in Education student and accomplished author, Ms Fiona Khan, has been selected from 40 international authors for a prestigious one-month Writing Residency at Grondel’s House in Iceland. The residency will take place in October in Reykjavík, one of UNESCO’s Cities of Literature.

In co-operation with the Reykjavík International Children’s Literature Festival Mýrin, the 2020 residency is dedicated to children’s literature. The festival will run from 8 to 11 October and Khan will be one of the featured authors. She will be introduced to the literary and library sectors in the city and will meet readers and literary enthusiasts at the Mýrin festival. 

Khan will use this time to focus on producing a comic book for children and middle graders about Reykjavík, while getting to know the city, Iceland and its culture and literature. The Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature for marketing and tourism will use her piece.

Khan plans to translate one of her books into a Nordic or Icelandic language to promote UNESCO’s sustainable living goals and the indigenous languages of the various countries. As the founder of the Global Forum 4 Literacy, she aims to expand her vision and mission of #Learn2Read2Write and the #ReadingRocks campaign.

‘In my research and studies and as an educational practitioner, I have found that visual literacy in language and literacy assists with blending, code switching and in the multiple indigenous languages we speak in South Africa or anywhere in the world,’ said Khan. ‘The power of comic books is underestimated in promoting literacy and language skills. I strongly believe that a powerful character with a strong message can have positive impact on the Creative Cities Network literacy and language challenges and can be translated into any language of any country on the network.’

Khan has started with a premise and a concept piece. She will expand the idea into one of the global Challenges of Climate Change. ‘Our greatest challenge in South Africa is literacy. Comics can be easily accessed, are affordable and are widely distributed in South Africa, especially in rural areas and townships where there are no libraries. Comics also allow for ReadAloud and performance arts and graphics. The potential is exponential,’ she added.

Speaking about her expectations of the residency, Khan said, ‘I look forward to forging relations with the host country and exchanges of culture, history and traditions welded with new and refreshing ideas of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in writing, reading and publishing. I have never been on a residency and I look forward to this opportunity as a door to mentoring and coaching, training and development in Durban and the broader South Africa.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


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The COVID-19 Crisis: From Winter of Despair to Spring of Hope?

The COVID-19 Crisis: From Winter of Despair to Spring of Hope?
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We currently live, in the words of the memorable opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, in “the worst of times”, a “season of darkness”. Yet, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, can there be a “spring of hope”, an “age of wisdom” where we have “everything before us”?

In the current epoch of globalisation, with extensive and rapid movement of people, ideas, information, capital, services and technology across countries, the world has shrunk through the rapid increase in the speed of air and other travel, the revolution in communications, the internet and huge computerised information systems. At the same time, globalisation has brought with it growing inequalities within and between nations whilst affording opportunities for the few.

Despite much greater contact across regions, nations, cultures and languages, we have witnessed a closing of minds and hearts and the negation of important human values. There is an all too evident lack of respect for human dignity, for people who are different from ourselves and the trampling of their human rights and a seeming rejection of the idea of the oneness of humanity.

The idea of a common public good nationally and globally and the ideal of everyone leading rich, rewarding and productive, healthy and secure lives free from hunger is eschewed in favour of the rich, who already monopolise an obscene share of wealth, and pursue self-interest, more profits and more wealth.

Almost everywhere, governments rule in the interests of big corporations like Amazon, preside over massive environmental destruction and promote cultures of unbridled individualism, survival of the fittest, greed, corruption, conspicuous consumption and crass materialism. While the rich flaunt their wealth, their hired help pour scorn on redistributive policies to advance a more egalitarian society.

Populist right wing nationalists selfishly focus on their countries and people alone (“America First”, “Make America Great Again”) and stoke destructive economic, political and religious fundamentalism, intolerance and prejudice.

Instead of ‘development as human freedom,’ as ‘a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy,’ as Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize-winning economist puts it, development is reduced to ‘growth of gross national product, industrialisation, or technological advance.’

Many countries have become less humane and just, more inhospitable, less safe and more insecure places, especially for workers, colonised and Black people, refugees and, often, women. The fractures of class, “race”, gender, disability and geography and their link with wealth, income, living conditions and opportunities are plain for all to see.

This reality predates the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet judging by the social media that bombards us daily it is only now, when we are all challenged by the pandemic, a lockdown and its grave economic and social consequences, that some middle-class people in South Africa appear to have become aware of the inequality and poverty that stalks our land – which have been glaring features for a century.

The lockdown is of course, causing great economic, social and personal hardship. More pain will follow through business closures, job losses, and difficulties in paying bonds, car loans, school fees and the like. But not everyone is affected in the same way. How, in what ways and to what extent we cope is strongly determined by class, “race”, gender, geography, age, whether we are employed, the work that we do and whether we receive social grants.

Some economists and business owners demand that government end the lockdown. They point to the hardships experienced by those who are poor – largely, but not exclusively, Black South Africans. The same poor, who with no or little safety nets, crammed into reconstruction and development programme (RDP) houses and shanties and reliant on daily or weekly shopping, are most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.

Their newfound concern for the poor is welcome - but also galling and hypocritical. For they are usually silent about inequality and poverty, living wages and the lack of opportunities for those who are poor. And they also strident in opposing a universal basic income grant as a right and national health insurance for all South Africans. It remains to be seen how strong and consistent their newfound concern for the poor will be.

Imagine if the long called for basic income grant and the associated infrastructure for its provision were in place. Our ability to target support to those desperately in need during this time would be much simpler. But our new political and economic elites continue to balk at ensuring that those in need receive support from the public fiscus.

A former finance minister claimed that he wished to discourage a welfare mentality. The reality is that unemployment in South Africa is not only cyclical but also structural. Under current economic policies a proportion of South Africans, through no fault of their own, will never find employment. It is cynical to pretend otherwise. It is social grants, limited as they are, that prevent more people from dying from malnutrition, as they did under apartheid. 

Imagine too if the long and much needed national health insurance was up and running. Our health system would potentially be much better equipped to serve the needs of all South Africans. Instead, we must tackle the pandemic with resources and facilities highly skewed towards the privileged, affluent suburbs and urban areas.

In Dickens’ terms, the global COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences is “the worst of times”, “the season of darkness”, “the winter of despair”. And yet, this crisis could also become “the age of wisdom”, “the season of light”, “the spring of hope”, and a time when “we have everything before us”.

The current crisis requires South Africans who are genuinely committed to social justice to forge a new imagination, to see through the storm that is still gathering and to envision what can lie beyond. It should be a space for new ideas and for embracing the values of social solidarity, human development and social justice. It should enable us to think about and forge a different kind of country and world.

This can only happen if, as a broad movement of workers, the unemployed, women, youth, professionals and students, we put an end to the soulless economic and social policies that have been dominant globally since the 1970s and for the past 25 years in South Africa. Policies that have put profits before people, the rich before others, growth before the environment, economic calculations above social justice and political power before meaningful democratic participation.

Whether this happens, whether amidst these “worst of times” we move into “the spring of hope” depends on whether, as government, civil society, social movements, organisations, universities and citizens, we have the will and courage to re-think and re-make our society on the basis of a different logic and compass.

One multi-billionaire captain of industry has been referenced prominently and approvingly on social media about the need to “reset” how we do things. It is unlikely that the “reset” he has in mind will create a South Africa that is humane and just and that ensures a “better life for all.”

The new logic that must guide us must prioritise people’s needs and development and social justice and make them the centre of all our actions. Instead of self-serving rhetoric on “radical economic transformation” it must, in deed progressively eliminate the obscene inequalities, poverty and inequities that prevail. This means a new economic model and approach to how we organise and distribute goods, services and opportunities.

It must understand that we are custodians of our planet for future generations and abandon reckless environmental degradation in the name of “growth” and “progress”. The new logic must value knowledge and education as cornerstones of human development and support our schools, colleges and universities to cultivate knowledgeable, skilled and decent citizens.

The new logic also requires citizens and activists across society to work and act together to collectively prise open the power of economic and political elites who have been closed to needs other than those of their own.

Saleem Badat is Research Professor in the College of Humanities at UKZN, former Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University and past head of the advisory body to the Minister of Higher Education and Training.

Photograph: Supplied


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A Looming Crisis: The Impact of COVID-19 on Small-Scale Farmers

A Looming Crisis: The Impact of COVID-19 on Small-Scale Farmers
Small-scale farmers at work in their homestead and communal gardens.

UKZN experts and facilitators working on the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) have weighed in on the looming “crisis within a crisis” for informal and local food systems as the COVID-19 pandemic affects various sectors of society.

URP Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Ms Nhlonipho Mbatha; Project Support Officer, Dr Vimbayi Chimonyo; and Project Facilitators Ms Xola Nqabeni and Ms Khethiwe Mthethwa, with Components Director, Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, described how the South African food system will fare under pandemic conditions.

The URP focuses on reducing climate vulnerability and increasing the resilience and adaptive capacity of rural and peri-urban settlements and small-scale farmers in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM). Lessons learnt through the project’s suite of complementary gender-sensitive interventions could improve the long-term resilience of smallholder farmers post COVID-19.

The spread of the pandemic, compounded by challenges such as poor health, low food and nutritional security, and limited access to resources and services to mitigate risk, puts marginalised groups at increased risk. These vulnerable groups, which often live in rural areas or informal settlements, are largely served by local, informal food systems as opposed to the large agro-industrial system, as a result of apartheid legacies that created a dualistic food system serving distinct groups.

Smallholder producers, who have little access to land, produce food for their own consumption or for poorly-developed informal markets, and remain reliant on the often unaffordable dominant food system. These previously disadvantaged farmers, most of whom have not benefited from agricultural transformation policies, often fall among the 21.3% of South Africa’s population with poor access to food, and many households suffer from malnutrition.

In rural and peri-urban areas, people have access to locally-produced food from smallholder communal farmers. However, constrained by high vulnerability to climatic extremes such as droughts and floods and with limited access to resources and extension services, these producers contribute less than 5% of South Africa’s agricultural produce.

‘That aside, smallholder farmers have a huge role to play in sustaining household food and nutrition security in rural communities during and post-COVID-19,’ said the URP group.

As smallholder farmers are currently busy harvesting and selling their summer crops, the advent of the COVID-19 crisis that has restricted movement and the functioning of informal markets, creates serious buying, marketing, storage and processing constraints that generate particularly acute problems for perishables. Market access and supply chains are impaired, and the distribution chain within the informal food system has ground to a halt, while many vulnerable groups cannot engage in farming activities to access food. While community members with access to land have a chance of recovering after the crisis, they might be plunged further into poverty as it progresses.

Resilience can be achieved by investing in social protection systems; strengthening food processing and storage facilities closer to farms; investing in local, community seed and grain banks as well as in local food production and consumption; supporting rights to food policies and institutions; and exploring ways for trade agreements and rules to better support the transition towards more sustainable agro-ecological food systems and local production for local consumption.

Interventions launched in South Africa to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the productivity of smallholder and communal farmers are positive but could still exclude smallholder communal producers in the informal economic sector who fall below the minimum threshold for support.

These farmers require support to enhance their productivity and market access through the establishment of collection or aggregation centres within communities, and provision of capital and access to finance and safety net systems. In the short-term, farmers could also be provided with storage facilities to prevent postharvest losses as a result of COVID-19, or localised strategic emergency reserves could be supplied.

‘When it comes to maintaining food systems during the pandemic, South Africa may have some advantages over other parts of the world, for example its relatively younger workforce. Nonetheless, it will undoubtedly face significant challenges in the coming months that will require thoughtful attention from policymakers,’ said the group.

‘Crucial preventative measures will be essential to slow the impacts of the virus, including informal food systems and smallholder producers.’

The URP is managed by the UMDM with support from the South African National Biodiversity Institute, in partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs. UKZN is a sub-Executing Entity, acting through the UKZN Foundation. URP interventions in the UMDM have included early warning and ward-based disaster response systems; ecological and engineering infrastructure solutions; integrating the use of climate-resilient crops and climate-smart techniques into new and existing farming systems; and disseminating adaptation lessons learned and policy recommendations. The project has established a number of homestead and community gardens in Swayimane and Nhlazuka that offer community farmers the required skills and inputs.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied


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Virtual Lecture Focuses on Learning During the Age of COVID-19

Virtual Lecture Focuses on Learning During the Age of COVID-19
Professor Vannie Naidoo from the College of Law and Management Studies.

UKZN’s Professor Vannie Naidoo presented a virtual guest lecture via zoom on 15 May to staff and students at Semarang State University in Indonesia on the theme of learning during the age of the COVID-19 (corona-virus).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, universities throughout the world shut down as educators and their students had to work in quarantine like circumstances from the safety of their homes to complete the semester. Naidoo advocated the need for on-line Distance/Remote learning as a way to ensure students and staffs’ safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges confronting learners and academics in using Distance/ Remote on-line learning platforms was also highlighted.

The lecture was very interactive and interesting feedback was received. Students at Semarang State University indicated that they missed the traditional classroom and found the shift to learning in virtual places often isolating and lonely. For their part, lecturers at the university added that they felt engulfed at having to adapt to the new virtual learning platforms and technologies at such an accelerated pace. The demands that go with adapting to these new teaching technologies is often stressful and coping in such a difficult circumstance like the pandemic is overwhelming. To overcome challenges facing these educators, Naidoo insisted, ‘Educators needed support and connectivity with their family, friends and fellow co-workers in order to ensure their overall wellbeing.’

Naidoo observed that on-line Distance/Remote learning during COVID-19 is a new platform during the current climate for both learners and teachers and stressed that there is no “ONE best way” of embracing this new teaching approach. Educators need to adapt to the changing needs of their students during this time and adjust their teachings plans where necessary. A flexible approach is called for, as a prescriptive way of doing things will be detrimental to both academics and students. She added that on-line Distance/Remote learning is unchartered territory: ‘We are like Vasco da Gama as he set sail on his maiden voyage to India. Learning during the age of the COVID-19 pandemic is new, stressful and often overwhelming. These are unchartered waters for both teachers and learners, as we have been accustomed to the traditional classroom and the luxury of face-to face social interaction between the students and the lecturer. COVID-19 has made social distancing a crucial mechanism to help prevent the spread of this virus.’

She added that the psychological impact of COVID-19 could have negative effects on both students and academics. One of our biggest challenges is that during this COVID-19 pandemic both students and educators are grieving the old way of “normalcy”. Coping with change has a ripple effect on the wellbeing of our teachers and learners. Teachers and students’ wellbeing during this pandemic is crucial in order to facilitate quality education. Although both educators and students must maintain social distancing, it is essential to make sure that they are engaging in social connectedness and interaction via virtual platforms like Zoom, Skype, learning platforms like Moodle, WhatsApp and phone calls, so that they remain connected as a learning community. This fosters the idea that the students are not alone during these trying times.

Naidoo believes that the only way forward in such unsettling and formidable times is “to never give up”. Our will to survive, achieve and overcome in the most difficult of circumstances is what makes us truly human. In this present climate, both educators and learners must try to maintain a positive mind-set as often as possible. Students need their teachers to create “normalcy” amidst the current climate of uncertainty, sadness and death. Giving students hope and having them continue their studies makes them feel purposeful during this current pandemic. As dedicated academics, we must continue our programmes via virtual platforms, and strive to make it possible for our learners to have quality education, even in the mists of times of uncertainty and emotional turmoil.

Words: NdabaOnline

Photograph: Supplied


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Humanities Lecturer Explores Virtual Classrooms in the Time of COVID-19

Humanities Lecturer Explores Virtual Classrooms in the Time of COVID-19
Dr Zifikile Phindile Shangase, Community Development lecturer at UKZN.Click here for isiZulu version

Community Development lecturer, Dr Zifikile Phindile Shangase of the School of Built Environment and Development Studies (BEDS) presented her research on virtual classrooms at the Africa e-Learning Conference 2020 in Johannesburg.

The two-day conference examined how learning leaders and business leaders can increase learning and performance through technology, which Shangase believes is relevant in the time of COVID-19.

Shangase spoke on the virtual classroom project that aims to design a relevant virtual learning model that can be integrated within current curricula in order to enhance quality and effectiveness in Higher Education teaching and learning. ‘This project on university partnerships on co-teaching and learning via virtual classrooms will improve the learning experiences, skills and competencies of students and contribute to capacity building among participating emerging and long-standing academics,’ she explained.

This model is cost-effective as it applies existing resources that are available via learning management systems at universities, with no need to travel. Students can also collaborate on learning and research activities via virtual classrooms, with facilitated file sharing platforms.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


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Africa, You’ve Been Phished

Africa, You’ve Been Phished
Cybersecurity issues have increased exponentially during COVID-19 lockdown conditions.Click here for isiZulu version

Whilst “Zoom” might be the new buzzword during lockdown, so too is “zoombombing”.

Cybersecurity, scams and disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic was the topic of the latest data@breakfast online webinar, co-presented by UKZN senior lecturer in computer science Dr Brett van Niekerk* and KnowBe4 Managing Director Ms Anna Collard.**

Although South Africa is one of the leading economies in Africa, it lags behind in cybersecurity, ranking 56th globally and 4th in Africa in terms of the 2018 ITU Global Cybersecurity Index. ‘The country suffered a number of major cyberattacks at the end of 2019. Security company Kaspersky reports that cyberattacks have increased tenfold since the announcement of the national emergency, owing to cybercriminals seeking to take advantage of the uncertainty combined with remote working conditions necessitating the increase in internet, VPN and online collaboration usage,’ said van Niekerk. ‘Health and research organisations in particular have been targeted, including by state-sponsored cyber-espionage seeking to steal COVID research.’

Van Niekerk pointed to scams that have targeted COVID-19 infection maps as a means to distribute malware. ‘Privacy is also an issue of concern,’ he said. ‘Zoom is banned by many governments, organisations and educational institutions because of security issues.

‘Disinformation has also mushroomed with COVID-19. Voice notes inciting panic, students “warned” on social media that they won’t get funding and medical misinformation are all examples of the explosion of fake news.’

Van Niekerk singled out the threat of computational propaganda, where algorithms and automation (bots) were used to distribute propaganda and disinformation far faster than humans can react to and prevent them. In addition, he pointed to “deep fakes”, whereby deep learning is used to create realistic fakes – ‘images, audios or videos of someone doing something that never really happened.

‘In sum, this pandemic has seen a rapid change in online and work activity, with a corresponding increase in cyberattacks and scams. These attacks have become increasingly sophisticated, making it more difficult to identify scams.

‘Awareness training and education are therefore vital.’

Collard agreed. ‘In Africa, we have a high degree of digitisation. Currently half a billion people are online and this number will double within two years. These are all new users that are vulnerable to phishing and scams. It is a ticking time bomb.’

She offered a number of tips to recognise scams and phishing campaigns, and practice good cyber security. ‘Never click on a link before manually searching for its credentials. Anything that triggers your emotion is a giveaway. Educate yourself and your family. Don’t trust anything you haven’t expected. Limit what you share about yourself online. Secure your home Wi-Fi, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) and keep all software up to date.’

Collard also advocated for good password practices – never reuse your password, apply multi-factor authentication, use a password manager, create strong passwords for critical accounts, and don’t use your business email on personal sites.

‘Use your critical thinking mind. Stop. Think. Verify.’

Data@breakfast is a platform to discuss ‘topics at the forefront of big data, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, machine learning and more.’ The brainchild of UKZN Pro Vice-Chancellor for Big Data and Informatics, Professor Francesco Petruccione, the weekly seminar series has turned to the online world so that presentations can continue during the COVID-19 lockdown. To view the other popular and informative talks in this series, visit the data@breakfast website and YouTube channel

Dr Brett van Niekerk is a senior lecturer in computer science at UKZN and previously worked at Transnet as a senior information security analyst. He serves as Chair for the International Federation of Information Processing (IFIP) Working Group 9.10 on ICT Uses in Peace and War and is the co-Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism, associate editor for the International Journal of Information Security and Privacy, and serves on the international advisory board for the Journal of Information Warfare.

** Ms Anna Collard is the Managing Director of Popcorn Training/KnowBe4 Africa where she drives security awareness across the African continent. She won the Women in Tech Innovations Throughout Africa 2020 Award for Southern and Central Africa.

Words: Sally Frost

Image: Shutterstock


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Academics Call for Amendments to the Patent Law in Response to COVID-19

Academics Call for Amendments to the Patent Law in Response to COVID-19
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The following letter, which was drafted by UKZN academics and signed by some 82 academics and researchers nationally, was sent to the President in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AN APPEAL TO PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA BY ACADEMICS, RESEARCHERS AND TEACHERS TO EXPEDITE THE AMENDMENTS TO THE PATENTS ACT 57 OF 1978, IN LINE WITH THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY POLICY PHASE I APPROVED BY CABINET IN MAY 2018.

18 May 2020

Dear Honourable President Ramaphosa,

We commend our government’s efforts in responding swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic by the measures already taken to slow down the rate of infections, and to prepare our health facilities for the inevitable demand for beds and health services. But importantly, steps must also be taken urgently to ensure access to COVID-19 health products, both existing and prospective.

We write to you as academics, researchers and teachers from various disciplines who are gravely concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our country and the world. In particular, we are concerned about our ability to provide the essential health products to meaningfully respond to this crisis – the personal protective equipment, diagnostic tests and reagents, ventilators, medicines and vaccines which will be required on a massive, unprecedented scale. More particularly, we are writing because of the urgency of completing the process of amending South Africa’s Patent Law to strengthen patentability criteria, to provide for substantive examination of patent applications, and to adopt lawful flexibilities under the WTO TRIPS Agreement to ensure access to medicines for all. That long-delayed imperative is even clearer now as we face high prices and limited supplies of vitally needed COVID-19 health products.

Our sense of urgency stems from the reality that many of the products required already are, or will soon be, protected by patents and other intellectual property, test data and trade secret protections, thereby making them unaffordable to our government for the treatment of all the people in our country. Such protections are the death knell of equitable access to health products.

Under our present patent system, there is no substantive examination of patent applications to ensure that they meet the rigorous criteria for the grant of a patent. This allows pharmaceutical companies to obtain unworthy initial patents and multiple patents on the same medicine thereafter by making small changes, even when such changes are obvious and lack inventiveness. This multiple-patenting strategy, commonly known as “patent evergreening”, results in extending patent monopolies beyond the 20 years required by the WTO trade and intellectual property rules, and blocks the early entry of generic competitors who can expand sources of supply and bring more affordable products to market. Countries like India and Argentina have already taken proactive steps in their legislation to counteract this problem. 

Our current patent laws also compromise the security of medicines supply in the country. If patent holders are unable or unwilling to deliver adequate supplies - as we have witnessed recently with the bans on exports of diagnostics by certain countries - we should be able to increase supply through the use of generic products registered in South Africa, which could increase availability and avoid stock outs. It would also enable local manufacturers to scale up the manufacture of the needed health products, thereby also advancing a key industrial policy objective. 

Such abuses of patents have restricted, and continue to restrict, access to medicines for millions of our people suffering from TB, cancer, hepatitis and mental health conditions - and will most likely also threaten access to any future COVID-19 related technologies. 

We have been there before. We witnessed first-hand how these laws and procedures for protecting patents blocked access to affordable versions of lifesaving antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) for the people needing them. After a lamentable period of delay, South Africa now has the world’s largest treatment programme with nearly 5 million people on ARVs, thanks to the availability of generic versions, which reduced the cost of treatment from over $10,000 per person per year to less than $.21 per person per day. We watched in desperation as countless lives were lost waiting for affordable prices. Our people should not have to go through that again.

It is precisely for these reasons that your Cabinet wisely approved the Intellectual Property Policy of the Republic of South Africa Phase 1 in May 2018. It is now two years since that decision, and we still do not have the relevant legislation before Parliament to ensure that government meets its constitutional obligations to deliver access to health care and the medicines necessary to defeat the current pandemic.

As academics, researchers and teachers at our universities, colleges and other institutions, we have actively participated in that policy-making process, providing comments and technical advice on successive earlier drafts of the policy. We are firmly convinced that the proposed amendments are compliant with international law and advance the right to access health care under our Constitution.

It is therefore imperative that the draft legislation is tabled, through the relevant Minister, as a matter of urgency, subjected to a short period of public comment, processed expeditiously through our legislature, and assented to by the President.

We are also in support of calls that the government take additional proactive, emergency measures to ensure affordable access to COVID-19 health products of assured quality as many countries, both developed and developing, have recently done. For example, the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) could and should be encouraged to adopt a temporary moratorium on the issuance of any patents on COVID-19-related health products for the duration of the pandemic emergency. In addition, the government can and should adopt emergency measures allowing for an automatic or mandatory compulsory licence for public and/or all-sector use with respect to any COVID-19 medical product for which prices are too high or supplies are insufficient to meet our local needs. Such licences should not only address the right to work patents, but also the right to access and use trade secret and confidential business information, especially manufacturing know-how, and where necessary access to clinical trial and other data needed to facilitate registration of licensed medical products. The government could also assure sufficient productive capacity to supply non-predominant quantities of medical products produced under such licences, to neighbouring African countries. Finally, the government could also issue compulsory licences to enable the supply to African countries with insufficient manufacturing capacity, pursuant to Article 31bis of the TRIPS Agreement.

We once again call on you to demonstrate, as you continue to do, the decisiveness and leadership which the people of South Africa have come to expect of you.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Signatories:

Professor Yousuf A Vawda, Senior Research Associate, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Brook K Baker, Northeastern University School of Law, USA; Honorary Research Fellow, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Caroline Ncube, DSI/NRF SARChI Research Chair in Intellectual Property, Innovation and Development, Department of Commercial Law, University of Cape Town.

Mr Andy Gray, Senior Lecturer, Division of Pharmacology, Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor F Suleman, Professor: Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Mamphele Ramphele, MB ChB, PhD, Co-president of the Club of Rome; Member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa.

Professor Leslie London, Head: Division of Public Health Medicine, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town.

Professor Jerome A Singh, Head: Ethics and Law, CAPRISA, SA; Director, Ethical, Legal, Social Issues Advisory Services on Global Health Research and Development, SA; Adjunct Professor, Division of Clinical Public Health and Joint Centre for Bioethics, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada.

Professor Malebakeng Forere, School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand, Associate Professor of Intellectual Property.

Associate Professor Tobias Schonwetter, Director: Intellectual Property Unit, Department of Commercial Law, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town.

Professor David McQuoid-Mason, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Helen Schneider, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape.

Professor Lonias Ndlovu, Dean, School of Law, University of Venda, Thohoyandou, South Africa. 

Professor M Iqbal Parker, Emeritus Professor of Medical Biochemistry and Structural Biology and Senior Research Scholar, Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Distinguished Professor Catriona Macleod, SARChI Chair of Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, Rhodes University.

Dr Varsha Bangalee, Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Sheetal Soni, Deputy Academic Leader, Lecturer (Bioethics and Intellectual Property Law), University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Kaymarlin Govender, Director-HEARD Institute, College of Law and Management Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Mr Umesh Bawa, Clinical Psychologist/Director: International Relations, University of the Western Cape.

Dr Marietjie Botes, APACHE Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Health Law and Bioethics, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Associate Professor Wendy Burgers, Department of Pathology, University of Cape Town.

Professor Tanya Woker, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Flavia Senkubuge, Specialist: Public Health Medicine, School of Health Systems and Public Health, University of Pretoria.

Dr Beverley Townsend, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Neo Morojele, Professor of Psychology, University of Johannesburg.

Associate Professor Rashid Ahmed, Department of Psychology, University of the Western Cape.

Dr Arne von Delft, Epidemiologist, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town.

Dr Lee Swales, Senior Lecturer and Attorney, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, Deputy Dean: Postgraduate Education, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Professor Hoosen Coovadia, Director: Maternal, Adolescent and Child Health Systems (MATCH); Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health; Emeritus Victor Daitz Professor of HIV/AIDs, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Ashraf Kagee, Professor of Psychology, Co-Director: Alan Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health, Stellenbosch University.

Professor Uta Lehmann, Director: School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape.

Dr Catriona A Towriss, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Actuarial Research, University of Cape Town.

Ms Sandhiya Singh, Lecturer, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Mohamed F Jeebhay, Head of Occupational Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Professor Klaus D Beiter, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, North-West University, Potchefstroom; Affiliated Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, Munich, Germany.

Professor Lucy Gilson, Professor of Health Policy Systems, University of Cape Town.

Associate Professor Lucia Knight, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape.

Associate Professor Liz Gwyther, Head of Palliative Medicine, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town.

Professor Diane Cooper, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape.

Professor Keertan Dheda, Professor of Respiratory Medicine, Director: Lung Infection and Immunity Unit; Head: Division of Pulmonology, Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town.

Professor Keymanthrie Moodley, Director: Centre for Medical Ethics and Law, WHO Collaborating Centre in Bioethics, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University.

Ms Nikki Schaay, Senior Researcher, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape.

Professor Sharon Prince, Head: Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Dr Tom Ellman, Director MSF Southern Africa Medical Unit.

Dr Carla Tsampiras, Senior Lecturer in Medical and Health Humanities, University of Cape Town.

Associate Professor Mershen Pillay, Lecturer in Speech Pathology, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Mohamed Ishaaq Datay, Senior Lecturer Health Promotion and Specialist Physician, Primary Health Care Directorate, University of Cape Town.

Professor Theresa Lorenzo, PhD Programme Convenor: Division of Disability Studies, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Professor Lynette Denny, Chair Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Groote Schuur Hospital, CapeTown; Director: Gynaecology Cancer Research Centre, SA Medical Research Council.

Professor Jennifer Moodley, Director: Cancer Research Initiative, University of Cape Town.

Associate Professor Shahieda Adams, Division of Occupational Medicine, University of Cape Town.

Professor Alex Welte, DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis, Stellenbosch University.

Professor Julian Kinderlerer, Past President, European Group on Ethics; Emeritus Professor of IP Law, IP Law and Policy Research Unit, University of Cape Town; Former Professor of Biotechnology and Society, TU Delft; Visiting Professor, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Ms Lindiwe Maqutu, Lecturer, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Associate Professor Delva Shamley, Director: Clinical Research Centre; Head of Division of Clinical Anatomy and Biological Anthropology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Mr Jay Kruuse, Director, Public Service Accountability Monitor, School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University.

Ms Priya P Singh, Lecturer, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal; Attorney and Notary of the High Court of South Africa.

Ms Sarah Driver, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Rhodes University.

Ms Jacintha Toohey, Lecturer, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Hazel Bradley, Senior Lecturer in Public Health, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape.

Professor Fons Coomans, Faculty of Law, Maastricht University, The Netherlands; Visiting Professor, University of Cape Town.

Ms Megan Pentz-Kluyts, CANSA Dietician, Member of Research Operations and Research Committees, Cancer Association of South Africa.

Ms Michelle Pressend, Lecturer in Environmental Sociology, University of Cape Town.

Dr Jawaya Shea, Head: Child Health Unit, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Professor Mpiko Ntsekhe, Mauerberger Chair of Cardiology, University of Cape Town.

Professor Collet Dandara, Professor of Human Genetics, University of Cape Town.

Associate Professor Shajila A Singh, Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Associate Professor Lydia Cairncross, Head: Endocrine and Breast Surgical Unit, Division of General Surgery, University of Cape Town.

Dr Virginia Zweigenthal, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Dr Indira Govender, Clinical Research Fellow, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (based in Somkhele, KZN); Member, Rural Doctors Association of SA, Stop Stockouts Project.

Professor Adam Haupt, Deputy Dean of Staffing: Faculty of Humanities, University of Cape Town.

Dr Zenda Woodman, Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Mr Bonginkosi Shozi, PhD Fellow: African Health Research Flagship, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Purshottama Sivanarain Reddy, Senior Professor, School of MIG – Discipline of Public Governance, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Professor Alison V September, Head: division of Exercise Science and Sport Medicine, Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town.

Dr Feroza Amien, Lecturer, Division of Public Health Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town.

Professor Muazzam Jacobs, Division of Immunology, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town; National Health Laboratory Services Medical Scientist.

Ms Tamanda Kamwendo, PhD Fellow: African Health Flagship, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Ms Michaela Rae Steytler, LLM Candidate, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Kirsten Bobrow, Senior Atlantic Fellow and Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Cape Town and University of California, San Francisco.

Ms Chantelle Green-Thompson, final year LLB student, University of the Witwatersrand.

Image: UKZN Graphics Unit


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Tips and Tools for Online Teaching and Learning

Tips and Tools for Online Teaching and Learning
Mr Simangaliso Bayabonga Zulu, Academic Development Officer in the College of Law and Management Studies.

- By Mr Simangaliso Bayabonga Zulu

The global spread of COVID-19 has put governments and universities under severe pressure. Academic programmes have been disrupted, with students forced to remain at home. Online teaching and learning is the only way to adhere to the academic calendar, with technology the vehicle to drive this change. However, this has presented challenges to both students and academics.

The decision to move classes online has raised a number of questions. Is this the right time to make that call? On what basis? How easy is it to make the transition? Another major question is institutional capacity. Are universities able to support thousands of students and instructors in suddenly moving to online teaching? In order to make a wise decision, one needs to consult. Campus wide Advisory Committees which included government officials, international and local education experts, student representative councils, etc. were set up for this purpose.

What to do and where to start

To deal with the unexpected transition, this article offers advice to academics to assist them in achieving the twin goal of maintaining instructional continuity as much as possible and completing the academic year.

1. Begin by going over your course assignments for the coming weeks. Are they accessible online, so that students can find the content and materials they require? Is it clear how students will submit their work? Have deadlines been amended and have all of these issues been communicated to students and posted online?

2. How will you give feedback on progress? Consider how you give students opportunities for practice and feedback, for both small-stake and high-stake assignments. For instance, students could develop their analytical skills through collaborative annotation of assigned readings. Perusall is a free tool for this purpose. Online discussion forums or quizzes, and feedback on students’ responses could also be useful.

3. Move on to the in-class experience. This is the stage where you decide what digital tool to use to deliver content to students at home. In particular, you have to decide whether to choose a synchronous means of engagement, ie, live Zoom meetings, or an asynchronous one, ie, a voice recorder or narrated videos or a combination of the two.

4. Consider the course materials. Many readings and materials already exist in a digital form and may have been posted online. However, there is still a need to double-check that readings, videos, problem sets, quizzes, and the like are accessible, along with key documents such as the course syllabus and calendar.

5. Once all of the above have been dealt with, the name of the game is communication. Given the uncertainty surrounding online learning, you still need to explain as clearly as you can and in a variety of ways. Explain to students what they can expect over the next few weeks. Make sure you cover what students are responsible for and where they can find the resources to fulfil these responsibilities. Finally, list the sequential steps they should follow. Ensure that the lines of communications are two-way. You could also offer additional ways students can keep in touch with you such as SMS, WhatsApp, any messaging app, email, or video call, to name but a few.

How to be an effective online teacher

In order to be an effective online teacher, you need to keep it simple and build and maintain as much contact with students as possible. While some academics may not see the value of teaching online and many may not know how to do so, you have time to learn. The following principles, practices and resources will assist academics:

1. Show up to class: Effective teaching requires a teacher to be in class. Engage with students in a number of teaching activities such as explaining, guiding, asking, illustrating, and answering questions. Arrive early to set up for online class and stay a few minutes afterwards to talk one-on-one with students who need additional support.

2. Be Yourself: In an online classroom, one’s teaching style can get lost in translation. The solution is to display your personality and passion in ways that are genuine. Be human. Remember to tell students ‘I am here to help’.

3. Put Yourself in Students’ Shoes: In teaching online, visualise students as part of a class. Ask a trusted colleague to evaluate your online class.

4. Organise Course Content Intuitively: When organising course materials, think about your students. Generally, online students become confused, frustrated, and disengaged because you or the campus learning management system, ie, Moodle make it too hard to find the content and activities. When students use a lot of cognitive resources to figure out where to go to find readings, videos, quizzes, they have little mental energy left for the content. Discouraged and/or irritated students are less likely to learn. Strive for course organisation that is clear, methodical, and intuitive.

5. Add Visual Appeal: Your online course should not be dry, boring, and unappealing. People are more likely to want to be in a space if it is pleasant to look at. Online courses that are visually attractive encourage students to engage more frequently and meaningfully. The following is a public link to a visually effective online course: Modern Mythology and Geek Culture. Take note of the visual impact of the home page, then click around to observe its logical, student-friendly organisation.

6. Explain Your Expectations: When assigning a task write down the directions. Provide a rubric. Make an informal two-minute explainer video to flesh out some details of an assignment. Share an example of student work that earned top marks.

7. Scaffold Learning Activities: Creativity is required to help students to succeed. Scaffolding does not happen naturally in an online class. Build with students, step by systematic step. For example, during the dry run phase of e-learning, ask students to send you messages using Moodle chats, Microsoft teams, emails etc, so that they know how to do this later. Ask them to answer a question about the syllabus through these channels. Reply with a short personal greeting so that they know you received the message and are available to help. Another example is to ask students to upload a PDF file of their handwritten work solving the first step of a problem. This exercise will help them learn how to export a Microsoft word file into a PDF file, and how to submit it as an assignment in the learning management system.

Finally, ask for help when you need it. There is no need to travel this journey alone. Take advantage of online tools and support. Collaborate with campus experts to refine your approach. Seek an experienced online teaching mentor. Teaching online is different from teaching in person. Find someone who does it well and learn from them. Interact with others who are grappling with the same teaching issues in order to gain insights and ideas.

Online Resources

While teachers deliver content, technology enables students to study from home. Technology should be thoughtfully applied. The numerous online and teaching and feedback tools include Google Classroom, Moodle, Kaltura, Desire2learn, Microsoft Teams page, PowerPoint screen recording, Zoom page, VLC video compression, UETL page, Handbrake etc. The following applications could assist you in providing online teaching solutions and feedback to students. You should also check with your department what tools are available.

Free online teaching and learning tools

1. SoundCloud: An easy audio-recording solution where students simply click an arrow and play a teacher’s recording.

2. Vocaroo: A premier, reliable recording service that is PC-user friendly. Once recorded, the link to the recording is immediately available to send to your students.

3. Screencast-O-Matic: A digital tool that records up to 15 minutes. Screencast-O-Matic is editable and is simple and intuitive. Students can be added for group discussions, individual sessions, etc. Sessions can be saved and viewed anytime.

4. Kaizena: A feedback digital tool for Google documents that enables the lecturer to provide verbal feedback directly on student documents and track their progress by comparing their feedback history over multiple assignments. It is 75% faster than typing with Voice Comments.

5. Screencastify: Enables the lecturer to easily record, edit, and share videos. A screen recorder for Chrome (via extension) requires no download.

Paid online teaching and learning tools

The following online teaching and learning solutions require universities to purchase a license. These applications are user friendly and allow users to work any place at any time.

1. VoiceThread: This learning tool enables the lecturer and students to participate in a pre-uploaded presentation by providing text, audio, and/or video discussions. VoiceThread fills the social presence gap in e-learning interactions. It offers natural online interaction that lends itself to students presenting and defending their work before teachers and peers.

2. Snagit: A screenshot programme offered by TechSmith that captures both video and audio. It brings a human element to teaching and enables interactive content to be made available online. Teachers can build a dynamic online presence by making personalised videos to explain their content, introduce themes, record video lessons, and capture lectures online that students can review later.

3. Camtasia: Another programme by TechSmith that allows users to create video via screencast or direct recording.

4. Panopto: Offers recording, screencasting, and video streaming. Panopto is the easiest way to record video presentations, manage your existing video files, and stream your video content to any device.

5. Hippo Video: An all-in-one, cloud-based, video-management system that allows users to capture, edit, and share video, audio, and screen recordings. This is a virtual classroom online with a video platform. Lecturers can create interactive videos and students can do online presentations.

Mr Simangaliso Bayabonga Zulu is an Academic Development Officer in the College of Law and Management Studies: School of Management, IT and Governance on the PMB campus. In this position his role is to provide academic support to students in terms of module content concerns that students may experience such as challenges in understanding concepts, application of theories, calculations and so on. In these disruptive times and transitioning to e-learning, he is providing these in a virtual context. He holds a BSS, PGCE, BCom Honours and Masters in Commerce all from UKZN.

Reference

The Chronicle of Higher Education (2020) Moving online. How to keep teaching during coronavirus. Special collectionWashington, DC: Chronicle.com


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Food Disruptions Highlight Importance of Transdisciplinary Research and Action

Food Disruptions Highlight Importance of Transdisciplinary Research and Action
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the livelihoods of small-scale farmers in the uMgungundlovu District.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts have gone far beyond individuals’ health, transforming social, economic and ecological landscapes, as well as the food systems many rely on and leading to dire predictions of increased poverty, unemployment and food insecurity that could reverse much of the progress made in recent times.

Innovation and partnerships are required to prevent a food security crisis, avoid the decline of agricultural production and address humanitarian impacts.

This is according to researchers Mrs Rashieda Davids, Dr Shenelle Lottering and Ms Mallika Sardeshpande, who work with Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi who leads the Agriculture Theme of the international Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) transdisciplinary research programme.

‘Through consideration of the opportunities and risks in the food system as a whole, and working across disciplinary and institutional boundaries, we can facilitate improved policies towards a more sustainable and resilient food system and the social, economic and environmental components that underpin it,’ they said.

In South Africa, lockdown regulations saw an initial upsurge in food demand through panic buying, followed by a downturn as many people lost their income. The disruption of food production, distribution and access has affected the livelihoods and nutritional well-being of many. It has devastated small-scale producers supplying informal markets, worsened vulnerabilities to food and nutrition insecurity, and threatened the basic human rights and dignity of those facing increasing hunger and poverty.

Vulnerable groups face a vicious cycle. When the labour force is unable to work, food supply dwindles, as does the income to purchase food, resulting in malnourishment and weaker immune systems, with many already battling chronic illness. It is estimated that 3.2 million South Africans now require food aid, with insufficient capacity to meet this demand.

Recent estimates suggest that the effects of COVID-19 could see an increase of up to 50% in poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa, signalling a likely recession and exacerbating the gap between the rich and poor. Globally, up to 195 million jobs could be lost, equating to three-fifths of the global workforce, and translating to around seven million jobs in South Africa. Job insecurity makes it difficult to stay home or maintain social distancing.

‘The situation is of particular concern for South Africa, which already has very high rates of inequality, poverty and unemployment owing to historical imbalances. COVID-19 is worsening these existing vulnerabilities,’ said Mabhaudhi.

The pandemic has also exposed the vulnerabilities of international food trade. Fresh produce and livestock products from large-scale operations are going to waste, and while few nations have stockpiled food or banned exports, in South Africa, which is biophysically capable of producing sufficient food, some industries have suffered due to export restrictions.

The need to support localised food systems has been recognised. This could take the form of subsidies, cash transfers, provision of seed, sanitation and storage facilities, and so forth, but also diversification of food production through cultivating indigenous, underutilised species that are often culturally significant, more nutritious, better adapted to their environment, and more resilient to climatic shock.

‘Ultimately, the food crisis arising from the pandemic is an issue of access rather than shortage, and malnourishment rather than hunger,’ said the researchers. ‘It brings to the fore the need to recognise and respect diverse forms of food production and procurement, including foraging, gardening, and small-scale agroforestry.’

Heartening responses to the pandemic have included the allocation of billions of rands to relief funds, grants, food parcels, provision of clean water, and the mobilisation of internationally acclaimed South African HIV and TB scientists to lead the charge, as well as the seamless application of infrastructure, knowledge and experience gained from decades of research in HIV to this crisis.

Despite these efforts, questions remain on how best to safeguard the economy and social welfare from future food system disruptions, and how to transform these systems for greater resilience and sustainability.

‘Similar to the redeployment of HIV researchers and health workers for COVID-19, we need to offer solutions from all sectors operating in the food system, to be agile, innovate and transfer knowledge and experience to address the multiple issues resulting from COVID-19,’ the group said.

They suggest that the National Development Plan’s delineation of improvements to sustainability, agriculture, climate change, and water and sanitation requires transdisciplinary and inclusive collaboration between various sectors for effective implementation.

The need for inclusivity is demonstrated in the often-overlooked link between human and ecological health. Disruptions of the human-ecological balance through factors such as rapid population growth increase the risk of the spread of and exposure to emerging diseases such as COVID-19. The environments where humans reside influence their vulnerability to disease, and inequalities in healthcare access, proper housing, and nutritious food place significant portions of society at increased risk of infection. In this regard, there is a need to revisit old spatial planning laws, which perpetuate these vulnerabilities.

Research efforts like SHEFS generate novel knowledge and tools to inform policy and practice on sustainable and healthy food systems, and enable innovations to mitigate systemic shocks to the food system by providing structured opportunities for transformational learning and collaborative work among diverse stakeholders.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied


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COVID-19 – A Vindictive Messenger for Multilateralism

COVID-19 – A Vindictive Messenger for Multilateralism
Professor Damtew Teferra, Professor of Higher Education at UKZN and founding Director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa.

- By Professor Damtew Teferra

The COVID-19 pandemic has shattered the deep-seated notion of the invincibility, supremacy and affluence of the Goliaths of the world. The power of the invisible virus has not only demonstrated our collective vulnerability, but has humbled the most powerful nations, their people and their institutions.

This pandemic mercilessly and indiscriminately strikes at a time when the new world order, as peddled by its most powerful architects, has been dangerously marching towards unilateralism. Enter COVID-19: the infinitesimal multilateralist, which brought together the gigantic unilateralists in a search for redemption.

The reign of unilateralism

In the past few years, we have witnessed the emergence of unilateralism, nationalism and provincialism around the world. Countries which have for long championed vigorous multilateral views and deeds have been increasingly challenged by internal issues which tend to be disproportionately inward-looking.

The simplistic, but populist, view that a country’s internal problems reside external to its borders has slowly trickled into the psyche of many countries and has in effect, muscled out multilateralist views and principles.

Some countries have gone so far as to restrict and block the movement of students and academics, riding on the sentiments of vocal internal political forces. We have witnessed travel embargoes on multiple countries, a number of them in Africa. Others are selectively permitting migration into their territories but only to those with high-end skills and knowledge, stealthily siphoning off experts and resources, which make them more globally competitive.

In keeping with this trend, unilateralist forces have been slowly weakening multilateralist forces, institutions and views. Multilateral principles of governing, including international collaboration and development cooperation, have been frowned upon as unilateralism has taken hold in major global power centres.

Non-viable islands

In a book chapter I wrote in 2008 on, Higher Education in Africa: The Dynamics of International Partnerships and Interventions, I articulated that the common agendas that bind countries together and the common challenges that confront them in the shrinking global village increasingly necessitate serious and equitable partnership between all stakeholders.

The environment, climate, health, energy, migration, peace and global security, to name some key concerns, are no longer amenable to solutions conceptualised only within national jurisdictions or confined by artificial political boundaries.

I further noted that more than ever before, there is a need for new and sustainable forms of global and regional engagement that are mutually beneficial, in order to address these common issues.

Microsoft founder, Bill Gates has stated that the COVID-19 pandemic ‘is reminding us that we are all connected and something that affects one person has an effect on another. It is reminding us that the false borders that we have put up have little value as this virus does not need a passport.’

A wealthy, safe, secure and healthy island surrounded by a massive landmass of poverty, war, violence and disease has increasingly become an illusion. COVID-19 may be a vindictive but effective messenger.

African Higher Education – The challenge ahead

For more than a decade, Africa has witnessed both expansion and some level of revitalisation of its Higher Education sector. During this period many African economies have shown steady growth; indeed, half of the fastest-growing economies are reported to be in Africa.

Africa’s growth performance, which stood at 3.4% in 2019, was expected to climb to 3.9% in 2020. This may now remain a dream as the global economic depression is likely to devastate its economy and its institutions, including Higher Education.

The effect on Higher Education will likely mainly be felt on two grounds: firstly, a precipitous decline in government subventions to Higher Education due to weak revenue and income; and secondly, a comparable drop in commitments from development partners, largely to research, upon which African Higher Education has been unduly and disproportionately dependent.

In light of the impending economic realities, it is important to underscore the key role of Higher Education in the global development discourse. A strong medical institute that undertakes life-saving research for its immediate population needs to be construed as protecting others globally from similar pandemics such as Ebola, Bird Flu and COVID-19.

Similarly, building and sustaining a strong forestry institute that plays a key role in afforestation schemes in the Global South needs to be construed as catering for all in the world. The carbon footprint comes to mind. Supporting a space science institute in the Global South to help predict rainfall patterns more accurately is as much in the interests of the Global North.

By producing more harvest, not only will countries feed their own populations, they will have more to provide to the world and, in so doing, will minimise poverty, conflict and violence. They will also help to contain mass migration – a serious concern of the Global North.

There is the impending danger that Higher Education may once again be side-lined as a luxury that African countries can least afford when it should continue to garner support on a priority basis to help overcome challenges like COVID-19 and many other human-made problems and natural disasters.

In light of this reality, the appeal to institutional egalitarianism has to give way to institutional differentiation. Countries need to ring-fence their flagship universities and key research institutions for undiminished support to ensure their survival, if not their growth. Every crisis creates an opportunity, and this may be an opportune time to adopt some unpopular and unconventional, but realistic, measures.

Flawed approaches, neglected realities

In a recent column in the Financial Times on the need for global partnerships, Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Abiy Ahmed wrote that, ‘There is a major flaw in the strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Advanced economies are unveiling unprecedented economic stimulus packages. African countries, by contrast, lack the wherewithal to make similarly meaningful interventions. Yet if the virus is not defeated in Africa, it will only bounce back to the rest of the world.’ He described this strategy as myopic, unsustainable and potentially counter-productive.

Quite a lot has been written about the ethos of international collaboration in the interests of sustainable development, peace and the security of the global community. However, there is little to show for it. Yellow fever kills up to 60 000 people every year and malaria kills 500 000. Night blindness afflicts 2.55 million children every year in Africa alone.

Poverty, war and conflict kill millions more. In effect, many COVID-19s – ruthlessly and selectively – strike Africa every year without the world seriously caring. The time has come to push the pendulum back.

Conclusion

In an article on the proliferation of African summits and the role of universities, I noted my longstanding resistance to donor-recipient phraseology, on the grounds that there is no donor who is not receiving and there is no recipient who is not giving.

This phraseology continues to dominate the landscape, presumably because what is considered to be donated or received is inequitably claimed, inappropriately monetised, and unfairly expressed. The prevailing discourse must change in the interests of healthy, meaningful and sustainable global development, with Higher Education at the centre of it.

In bequeathing his colossal fortune to the Gates Foundation, Warren Buffet, one of the richest people in the world, reportedly urged Bill and Melinda Gates to “swing for the fences”.

How many more deaths and devastation need to occur before we trigger an all-inclusive and truly global plan to swing for the fences, along the lines of the Marshall Plan, to save the world and humanity as a whole?

Damtew Teferra is professor of Higher Education at UKZN and founding Director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa. He is the convenor and founder of the Higher Education Forum on Africa, Asia and Latin America (HEFAALA). Teferra is founding editor-in-chief of the International Journal of African Higher Education. He steers the Higher Education Cluster of the African Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa. 

Photograph: Supplied


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The Elephant in the COVID-19 Room: A Heretical Inquiry into the Heart of Death

The Elephant in the COVID-19 Room: A Heretical Inquiry into the Heart of Death
Professor Kriben Pillay, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Business and Leadership.

- By Professor Kriben Pillay

I do not expect this to be published widely because this inquiry dares to point out the elephant in the room of the COVID-19 pandemic; our terrifying fear of death. If one examines all that has been written about the pandemic, there is almost nothing about the fact of death and how to embrace it, and yet our responses to COVID-19, worldwide, are actually about death, or rather, our frenetic attempts to avoid it. (This inquiry is not about wanting physical death, or doing nothing to protect the physical organism; it is about the lack of psychological clarity and fear, which, ironically, promote physical and mental suffering in insidious ways).

So, before you press the “dislike” button, consider this: We, and our leaders – scientific, educational and political – make decisions that are deeply informed by our own fears. And there are two layers of death. The death of the physical organism may actually be the least of our worries (I write this from personal experience, having had two very close encounters with death); it is the psychological death that so scares us – our self-images of who I think I am, embedded as they are in various layers of psycho-social-cultural identities.

But these identities are fictions; we do not come into the world with anything but a physical body with certain gender and racial features. The rest, that we are now so terrified of losing, is acquired. The parable of the Garden of Eden makes sense now; the apple of knowledge – who I think I am – is the loss of my expansive innocence. This limitless awareness of who I really am has become contracted into layers of who I fundamentally am not. I am only superficially the social roles I play, or the discrete inner person that I take myself to be, clothed in these outer garments. However, everything in life has helped build this illusion of being a separate person; an illusion that I am now so fearful of losing. Therefore, the fear and terror is big; very, very big.

The physical organism is programmed to avoid pain, but it is actually burdened by the psychological fears that we carry. That is why we long for the peace of deep sleep when the psychological centre, the “me”, so fearful of so many kinds of death, falls away for a time.

I assert that we cannot say that we are living a full, free life, if we are always avoiding the fact of death, especially of the psychological kind. So, we largely live a life of pseudo freedoms; freedoms that centre on me, the psychological self that is ever accumulating, materially and psychologically, to stave off being no one, very often at the expense of someone else. In many leaders, we can see the consequences – dysfunctional, absencing behaviours – but we are all part of this delusion, until we squarely face the actuality of death. This is not a matter of blame; it is apparently how we have evolved, but now we are being asked to make a dramatic leap in the transformation of our consciousness.

When clarity dawns, we then understand deeply why the philosopher Socrates chose to drink poison in prison, rather than flee into exile when he was given the opportunity. Because clarity breaks the illusion of death, and therefore the suffocating fear. However, this dissolution of the illusion is not replaced by fantasies of an afterlife; it is the simple recognition (where the word “recognise” means to see again), that who we really are has never, ever, been separate from Life. And Life never dies. This is echoed in all the wisdom traditions, but we have a dominant culture that has closed itself off to that insight, and now, in this pandemic, we are paying the price.

Professor Kriben Pillay is the former Dean of Teaching and Learning in the College of Law and Management Studies and an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Business and Leadership at UKZN, where his research is on the brain, illusion and consciousness in leadership. He is a writer across many genres; his poems and short stories appear in many South African anthologies and he has recently contributed a chapter on leadership in the book, Large Scale Systemic Change, and a chapter titled The Illusion of Solid and Separate Things: Troublesome Knowledge and the Curriculum in the book Disrupting Higher Education: Undoing Cognitive Damage. His recent book is The Survivalists: Visionary leadership for South Africa’s marginalised entrepreneurs – The Story of IBEC. He is currently writing a self-study on awakening.

Photograph: Supplied


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