Helping Medical Experts become Robust Leaders

Helping Medical Experts become Robust Leaders
Participants at the Leadership Training workshop.

As doctors in the frontline of the fight against of COVID-19, Medical heads of departments at UKZN not only carry a heavy clinical load, manage their departments and continue to teach but are also expected to inspire and lead with compassion ensuring overburdened staff are kept motivated.

With this in mind, the College of Health Sciences hosted a Leadership Development workshop for heads of departments and managers in the School of Clinical Medicine (SCM) led by renowned coach and consultant, Mrs Mariane Vorster.

Vorster’s interactive online workshop covered key aspects of leadership development, including management versus leadership, the leadership pipeline, self-reflection, multitasking, emotional intelligence, assumptions stereotypes, conflict, email etiquette and dealing with racism.

The aspect that resonated with the majority of participants was the constant need for self- reflection and “recognising one’s blind spots”.

Said head of Cardiothoracic Surgery Professor Rajhmun Madansein: ‘It’s so important to work on one’s blind spots and always encourage feedback. I intend to create a more supportive environment to allow feedback especially from junior staff. This workshop, which I thoroughly enjoyed, has given me the tools to do this through self-reflection.’

Head of Urology Dr Haroun Patel also found self-reflection key in leading others. ‘This workshop was very useful. It has reminded me that it is important to interact with your staff in a partnership. This is a very refreshing leadership style.’

Dr Linda Visser, Head of Ophthalmology for more than 15 years, found the workshop extremely useful. ‘I really learned a lot despite being in a leadership role for so many years. In fact, I’m amazed at just how much I learned about myself as well. A key lesson I learned is that I don’t delegate enough.’

Apart from developing key leadership skills, the group also held robust discussions on racism. Acting Head of Nuclear Medicine Dr Bawinile Hadebe commented: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop - the discussions around racism were powerful. It is an important but difficult and sensitive topic to discuss. This workshop has given me the tools to address it more effectively.’

Dean of the School of Clinical Medicine Professor Ncoza Dlova is determined to provide continuous development workshops for all her staff. ‘This was an amazing workshop. It presented us with the tools to reinforce what we already know and this is important as we often forget key skills. For me, the most important learning aspect was that people must be confident about seeking feedback from their staff and students. I also learned that it is important to control one’s self when sending emails to ensure that the message is not toxic.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Image: Supplied


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UKZN Water Expert Profiled and Lauded in Water Wheel Magazine

UKZN Water Expert Profiled and Lauded in <em>Water Wheel Magazine</em>
Hydrology and Climate Change expert, Professor Roland Schulze.Click here for isiZulu version

Expert in hydrology and climate change Emeritus Professor Roland Schulze, whose career has spanned more than five decades and earned him numerous accolades, is featured in the July/August edition of the Water Research Commission’s (WRC) Water Wheel magazine.

Schulze, who grew up in KwaZulu-Natal’s German community, studied Physical Geography and Chemistry at the then University of Natal, progressing to masters level and then lecturing Physical Geography at the University from 1969. In the same year, a book by Professor Roy Ward titled Principles of Hydrology, motivated him to study further on the topic. The establishment of the WRC in the 1970s provided a facility for funding Schulze’s research on small water catchments and later studies on a larger scale.

As he gained experience in the field of Hydrology, Schulze proposed the creation of a specialist Hydrology degree at the University of Natal, which became the first university in the country to offer the qualification. From a one-man effort, the Discipline of Hydrology at UKZN has grown to include a full-time staff of seven plus several part-time lecturers and postgraduate students.

Another major contribution of his was the development of the Agricultural Catchments Research Unit hydrological model which has been used for land impact studies as well as for modelling the potential impact of elevated carbon dioxide and temperature levels, and examining the shifts in water resources and maize production in southern Africa due to global climate change. The model has been applied to research in Zimbabwe, Eritrea, New Zealand, Chile, the United States, Canada, and South Africa.

The magazine feature details Schulze’s major concerns with current water consumption patterns in water-scarce South Africa which are the need to retain water expertise in the country and to price water correctly to encourage water conservation.

Schulze began turning his focus to climate change in the 1980s, being recognised as a pioneer in the field in South Africa. He has won national and international recognition for his work in both water conservation and climate change - in 2013 a nationwide survey voted him South Africa’s top water researcher, and in 2018 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the African Utilities Industry Awards ceremony.

He was also inducted as a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa in 2009, and appointed a Fellow of the University of Natal in 1991.

Schulze has worked with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and over the course of his academic career spent several sabbaticals at institutions in the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.

Despite retiring over a decade ago, Schulze has continued to work with staff and students at UKZN, and is currently involved on projects in the fruit, macadamia and sugar industries. He is also working on projects with Stellenbosch University, the WRC, eThekwini Municipality, and the Western Cape provincial government.

Schulze has published more than 140 refereed journal papers, over 100 consulting reports and has supervised nearly 90 MSc and PhD students.

Outside of academia, Schulze is a committed member of the Lutheran Church, has been married to his wife Waltraut for 52 years, and is father of two and a grandfather of seven!

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


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Postdoctoral Researcher Selected for National Geographic Leadership Programme

Postdoctoral Researcher Selected for National Geographic Leadership Programme
Dr Yvette Ehlers Smith, UKZN Postdoctoral Research Fellow.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Yvette Ehlers Smith has been selected for the National Geographic Early Career Leadership Programme designed to invest in the development of promising scientists, conservationists, storytellers and educators and equip them to lead in these fields and generate solutions for a healthy, sustainable future.

Ehlers Smith, who conducts research at the Centre for Functional Biodiversity in the School of Life Sciences, focusing on ecology and zoology, received her BSc Honours degree at Oxford Brookes University, and her Master’s degree in Biodiversity and Conservation at Exeter University - both in England.

She completed her PhD in Ecological Sciences at UKZN with the help of a National Research Foundation fellowship, assessing the effects of land-use change and forest fragmentation on the avian, mammalian and plant functional and taxonomic communities of South Africa’s Indian Ocean coastal belt.

With a focus on the impact of changing land use on biodiversity, Ehlers Smith has studied human-wildlife conflict, indigenous knowledge, unifying cultural heritage with wildlife conservation, ecological interactions in agricultural land use settings, primate behavioural ecology, forest birds, plants and mammal communities.

The keen conservationist was featured on the South African TV show 50/50 discussing the blue duiker which featured in her PhD research, and hopes through her work to inspire people to take action in preserving dwindling habitats which are home to a multitude of species.

Ehlers Smith recently had an article published in the Mail & Guardian newspaper on the coronavirus outbreak, which highlighted the importance of protecting South Africa’s megadiverse natural places, particularly through the tourism industry.

Growing up in South Africa, Ehlers Smith gained a deep appreciation for wildlife protection, especially in an era characterised by increasing urbanisation, expanding agriculture and forestry, and habitat fragmentation which are impacting on the health and survival of several plant, bird and animal species.

A former National Geographic Explorer, she was selected for the year-long leadership programme out of a competitive pool of applicants following a thorough review by National Geographic staff.

The National Geographic funded Ehlers Smith’s research on southern ground-hornbills in KwaZulu-Natal in which she investigated how human dimensions and cultural beliefs could influence a species’ persistence in an area, and how the birds navigate human dominated landscapes.

As a National Geographic Explorer, she attended the second National Geographic Explorers Festival in London, connecting with fellow explorers and learning about effective science communication and collaboration with other explorers and experts. While conducting her research with National Geographic, Ehlers Smith also launched a donation project for sanitary towels and new underwear to meet the need for sustainable, reusable sanitary towels in her research area by young women and girls.

The National Geographic Early Career Leadership Programme, which starts with a virtual gathering next month, will involve leadership training workshops, mentorship, media training, and educational outreach events.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN helps Source Generous Donation of Masks for SA Medical Students

UKZN helps Source Generous Donation of Masks for SA Medical Students
At the handover of the masks are Ms Nondumiso Gumede and Ms Yatisha Babulal of PPS, Mr Halala Zwane and Ms Nomakhwezi Khanyile of UKZN.Click here for isiZulu version

UKZN was among the Higher Education Institutions in South Africa which benefitted from a Solidarity Fund donation of hundreds of thousands of masks for final-year Medical students who recently returned to campuses to resume studies after the easing of the national lockdown restrictions.

The fund was approached by the Dean of Clinical Medicine at UKZN, Professor Ncoza Dlova, supported by members of the Final Year Student Committee who helped identify possible Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) donors to supply masks to all universities in the country offering medical training.

Dlova, who acted on behalf of the Committee of Medical Deans (SACOMD), managed to acquire between 90 000 and 100 000 masks for each university.

Donors who supplied the masks included Gift of the Givers, Investec, the UKZN Foundation, the Solidarity Fund, PPS, Sanlam and UKZN’s School of Clinical Medicine.

‘On behalf of UKZN’s Medical programme, we would like to thank each and every one who made a generous donation to assist Medical students during this challenging period,’ said Principal Programme Officer at UKZN’s Medical School, Miss Khwezi Khanyile. ‘The masks are playing a vital role in limiting the risk of students being exposed to the coronavirus.’

• The mandate of South African Government’s Solidarity Fund is to support the national health response, contribute to humanitarian relief efforts and to mobilise South Africans to drive a united response to COVID-19.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN Academics in US Radio Debate on Education during Coronavirus Pandemic

UKZN Academics in US Radio Debate on Education during Coronavirus Pandemic
Top row from left: Dr Zanele Dube-Xaba, Dr Eugene Machimana and Dr Angela James. Bottom row: Dr Anissa McNeil, Dr Bronwynne Anderson and Dr Zanele Ngcobo.

The re-opening of schools, e-learning and student trauma during the COVID-19 lockdowns were discussed by academics – including several from UKZN – during an interview on the More Radio Network in Los Angeles in the United States.

Four academics attached to UKZN’s School of Education, representatives from the University of Pretoria, and educators from Brazil, the United States, South Africa, Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania took apart in the radio debate chaired by Dr Anissa McNeil.

The guest panel represented all levels of education and included private and government school representatives. 

More than 20 000 listeners tuned in for the live broadcast which McNeil introduced by saying there had been enormous interest in the broadcast with educators world-wide responding to the education inequities suffered by the vulnerable and the poor.

She said a heartfelt concern of educators was: ‘Please ensure our young people are safe when they return to school. 

‘COVID-19 has highlighted inequities in school resources at a fundamental level - the safety of children. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security are the priorities and not only has COVID-19 revealed the inequality of school resources and facilities it has also uncovered inequity in the provision of knowledge and learning,’ said McNeil.

In the context of educators worldwide preparing to welcome students back to a safe and welcoming environment, topics debated were the re-opening of Schools, the use of e-Learning and the trauma experienced by students during COVID-19.

A participant, UKZN lecturer in Tourism Education Dr Zanele Dube-Xaba, commented: ‘It was a good moment to share experiences with colleagues from other countries. My take is that remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has not only exposed inequalities in the South African schooling system but has also exacerbated and legitimised them. I say this because in most underprivileged schools there has been no teaching and learning taking place due to the lack of resources and know how. Returning to school will be a complex situation especially with issues of social distancing in a context where learners are sharing textbooks and an inadequate number of teachers in specialised subjects. Reopening schools should ensure that the core of schooling - teaching and learning - is not changed to babysitting learners.’

Said Dr Zanele Ngcobo of UKZN’s School of Education: ‘The Department of Education COVID-19 sector plan articulates the phasing in of learners but does not articulate how the teaching will take place. I am in agreement with Dr Dube-Xaba that online learning has exposed the vast inequalities in our education system, even with the phasing in of learners. The inequality will continue because while learners in one grade will spread across different classrooms, it is not clear how they will be taught with the shortage of Learning and Teaching Support Material and teachers we have in our schools. The question that lingers in my mind is are we resuming schooling for the purpose of ensuring that effective teaching and learning takes place or to tick the box that the curriculum is covered?’

Said Dr Bronwynne Anderson of UKZN’s School of Education: ‘It was an exciting experience to engage with academics from USA, Brazil, Africa and UKZN in the talk show. Due to COVID-19 we have come to learn how common our challenges are, particularly as they relate to education and the various issues we face in the reopening of schools. It is apparent that the similarities as they pertain to privileged and disadvantaged schools are pervasive, thereby either creating smooth reopening of schools or huge challenges. It became evident in the discussion that privileged /private schools encountered a smoother transition when reopening as they are in a better position to comply with regulations such as the acquisition of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), social distancing and sanitising of learners, teachers and classrooms due to the smaller numbers and hence control being more manageable.

However, public schools face enormous risks as they rely on government to provide PPE, and the large classes make social distancing, sanitising and control of learners hugely problematic. In addition, the traumatic impact of COVID-19 would require learners to access psychological and emotional counselling upon returning to school, which is not readily available in most public schools. Many indigent learners rely on feeding schemes for a wholesome meal in public schools and this is not possible when schools are closed - this dire situation compels parents to send their children to school to ensure they get a meal. It is these and many other factors that highlight the extreme levels of inequality in South Africa and elsewhere that impact on the ways in which teaching and learning are experienced. However, despite these and many other reasons why most of our schools are not ready to reopen, the process is going ahead. This begs the question: What matters most? The lives of our children or the determined attempt to get learners back to school and to resume learning under “abnormal” and detrimental conditions?’

Dr Angela James of UKZN’s School of Education said: ‘In the South African context, the urgency for learners to return to school raises many issues, including the importance of education versus schooling, timing and the in service work with students and communities. We have diverse schooling contexts ranging from the infra-structure to the quality of teaching, and the availability of resources etc. In many schools effective teaching and learning does not take place, as teachers are not actively present and working with the learners in the classroom. Learners are sitting on their own with very little work to do, much of which entails recall and copying information from the board or they spend time ambling around the grounds and the classroom itself. The focus on learners learning is not emphasised nor actioned on, effectively. During these COVID-19 times, even though they are intense, many learners have the time and “freedom” to think and be. I do think that we do not give learners credit in that they are intuitive, can be creative and develop a greater understanding of who they are and what they are about – freedom to have an experience of a difference. The timing of the return to school requires greater unpacking and intense planning for all stakeholders. Learners returning to school before we have reached our spike is really risky and unacceptable. The spike is expected in August/ September and therefore the safety of our school community and their families is at risk. While all the safety measures may be prepared at a school, there are no guarantees of absolute safety and no infection. We do need to look at what is possible in the communities, after the spike where our students may be of service, through Service-Learning. Much work will be required in the Early Childhood Centres in the communities, educating the learners about healthy living. Students can design healthy living programmes in collaboration with the teachers and community persons for relevant, practical ideas that can be implemented in the community.’

Dr Eugene Machimana of the University of Pretoria commented: ‘COVID-19 has further exposed the inequalities that exist across various social aspects in South Africa, including education. The negative impact of COVID-19 is compounded by the fact that South Africa is among the most unequal countries in the world in comparison with others such as Brazil and China. Some private schools only closed for a week when the lockdown started, shortly after that they resumed with online teaching and learning. This is yet another indicator of the social divide between lower and the upper class. Typically, learners from the lower class are left behind as the public schools were closed. Moreover, many poor learners do not have the resources, such as laptops, required for online learning, never mind the knowledge.’ 

Words: Angela James

Photographs: Supplied


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UKZN Hosts Webinar on Classroom Courses during the COVID-19 Pandemic

UKZN Hosts Webinar on Classroom Courses during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Participants in the webinar (clockwise from top right) Dr Wan Puspa Melati, Professor Katherine Lyon, Professor Philani Moyo, Dr Mariam Seedat Khan and Professor Nelago Indongo.

University Capabilities - Classroom Courses to COVID-19 Curricula was the title of a webinar hosted by UKZN on the Zoom platform.

Presenters included Professor Philani Moyo of the University of Fort Hare, Dr Wan Puspa Melati of Taylor’s University in Malaysia, Professor Nelago Indongo of the University of Namibia and Professor Katherine Lyon of the University of British Columbia in Canada. The webinar was moderated by UKZN’s Society and Social Change Cluster Leader and Clinical Sociologist, Dr Mariam Seedat Khan.

The University of British Columbia’s Lyon delivered a paper co-authored with Professor Siobhan McPhee on Teaching for Student Resilience: Feedback from Students in Canada on the COVID-19 Transition to Remote Education.

Lyon said the transition to virtual education took place with three days’ notice in mid-March in Canada. ‘Over a weekend, 99% of courses that had been face-to-face at the university went online,’ said Lyon.

She said they could keep their existing assessments, or change the structure, or they could even cancel their remaining papers and exams and let students keep the grade they had. ‘The faculty was advised that they could teach live or they could teach pre-recorded, so we had a lot of choices.’

Lyon and McPhee were motivated to conduct their study on emergency remote education as they reflected on the challenges faced by students during the global COVID-19 pandemic. ‘We knew that other COVID-19 barriers and demands compounded students’ educational challenges. We knew that many of these barriers were systemic and that all we had control over was our teaching and our interactions with our students,’ said Lyon.

‘Our motivation for the study was to inquire about students’ pedagogical needs in their emergency remote education and to use this information to inform immediate teaching practice.’

Lyon said student feedback indicated that non-academic barriers impeded their course involvement. ‘On average, students experienced a 32% decrease in their course engagement in the post-transition online context. Three-quarters of students were at some point ‘unable to focus on studies due to non-academic-related challenges. This lack of focus was due primarily to personal circumstances, as well as anxiety, stress, uncertainty, and low motivation.’

She said that students in the Canadian context asked for structured flexibility in remote course design, regular centralised communication, and consistency in educational tools and platforms.

Their findings showed that given their complex circumstances, students appreciated course components that kept them on track and on schedule but that also gave them some agency and freedom. ‘So live online lectures with required attendance were not manageable for at least 20% of students who responded to the survey. This was due to technical issues, personal responsibilities and time zones.’

She added that 60% of students said online lectures that could also be viewed later were their preferred method of lecture delivery.

Melati, a senior lecturer at Taylor’s University in Malaysia, presented on: Embracing COVID-19 Curricula: Are we ready?

She suggested disparity in infrastructure and resources, the readiness of the workforce, and the lack of access by students to the internet, data and computers could impact on adapting to a “new normal”.

To illustrate the disparity in access to “good, stable” internet, Melati relayed the story of a resourceful Malaysian university student Ms Veveonah Mosibin whose remote village has limited access to the internet. In preparation for taking her online exams, she built a small shelter in an area with internet access – unfortunately the make-shift building blew down on the day of the exam. The courageous student climbed a tree for access to broadband services to do her online reviews. Melati said the student stayed in the tree for 24 hours to complete two exams!

Moyo, who is the Director of the Fort Hare Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Fort Hare, focused on how the global COVID-19 pandemic had affected researchers and data collection in the field. ‘COVID-19 has forced us to change the way we do social science data collection in so many ways,’ said Moyo. ‘The change has meant that research is done via online platforms, with particular emphasis on re-thinking face-to-face data collection.’

A leading scholar and sociologist, Moyo emphasised his reliance on community-based researchers for two climate change research projects he is currently working on, along with a team of researchers. ‘We have done intensive remote training for these community-based researchers. We have taken them through training in research ethics, and we are doing this virtually through online platforms,’ he said.

Unemployed graduates are assisting with interviews for the research projects as ‘they have a much deeper and broader appreciation for academic, social science research.’ Moyo cautioned that conducting phone-based or electronic interviews could be challenging as there was a loss of rapport when doing data collection online and that it was impossible to do visual sociology online.

Indongo, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Statistics and Population Studies and Director of the Multidisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Namibia, shared her experiences and coping mechanisms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indongo said universities globally were affected in their service provision. ‘It was indeed business as usual at the beginning of this academic year. We prepared for traditional in-person classes,’ she said. However, things suddenly changed, and ‘the university corridors were inactive, lecture halls were quiet. The pandemic forced universities to close campuses and in-person classes.’

Indongo said the concern was: ‘How do we impart knowledge, skills and guidance under the given circumstance while ensuring the quality of our products is not compromised?’

She said universities were “somewhat prepared” due to embracing the fourth industrial revolution - so online learning was not new for many universities, including the University of Namibia, ‘however it was on a smaller scale, and easy to manage.’

She advocated using online platforms, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Moodle, and forming academic WhatsApp groups. She emphasised the importance of active participation of all students and excellent communication when conducting online teaching and learning.

Questions raised during the webinar related to the digital divide, research limitations and ethical clearances, the absence of visual sociology and human engagement, the urban, rural divide and the access to devices.

UKZN’s Professor Mogie Subban highlighted the impact of the sedentary lifestyles of some university staff who sit for long periods of time, saying it was important to note the “occupational hazards” and sedentary injuries employees were vulnerable to when working under such conditions. Subban suggested that checks be made on ‘the ergonomics of our re-designed work spaces and lifestyles’ and proposed that sedentary employees be encouraged to ‘exercise every day, striking a balance between competing work commitments and simple resistance activities in periodic intervals.

‘Exercise routines may include aerobic and anaerobic activity with flexibility training. Employees should guard against being at risk for musculoskeletal injuries and other long-term effects on their overall mental and physical health and well-being,’ added Subban.

To view the webinar visit: https://youtu.be/NSbN0fC6d0o.

Words and image: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer


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Student Produces “R-evolutionary” Dream Art Installation

Student Produces “R-evolutionary” Dream Art Installation
Artworks by UKZN artist, Ms Coral Bijoux.

MA student Ms Coral Bijoux, who has more than 27 years’ experience in the Arts and Education fields, has completed a body of art as an installation at the Westville campus plant nursery.

Bijoux is an artist and curator as well as an implementer and manager of creative projects. Her latest work, Dreams as R-evolution, which she spent nine months working on, is now open for public viewing.

The work is a case study of interdisciplinary and auto-ethnographic praxis-led work where life sciences, art, music in the form of a daily “performance ritual” by the artist, and creative writing took place in a semi-discarded section of the plant nursery.

Late into the project, the Music Department featured the work in a piece titled, The Door of No Return, which considered the necessity for dreaming as “a freedom”.

The work was produced mostly from industrial and household discarded single use plastic. The space, which echoed the lives of animals, insects, plants and humans, became a place of fantasy and growth, degeneration and re-growth. It was within this context that the dreams evolved: questioning, answering, recording, questioning again, observing, noting, drawing, sculpting, and sharing.

Formal workshops, presentations and talks were held on site and there were also informal arrangements such as staff and students walking through or sitting in the space.

‘This is a space without doors, a roof or windows; open to the elements and open to engagement, interference and/or appreciation,’ said Bijoux, whose work evolved month after month as she braved the elements, student strikes and the COVID-19 lockdown.

‘It was important for my children, friends, family, staff members and students who witnessed this crazy work being developed, to see that it is possible to transform a self,’ said Bijoux. ‘That it’s possible to have a dream, be it to study under the direst conditions or to “one day get a job of your dreams” - or to create a dream project. It is possible no matter what the circumstances are or what the context is.’

Art critic and academic Dr Ashraf Jamal added: ‘Bijoux has spent almost a year immersed in an art installation project which is evolutionary, or better – revelationary - because what Bijoux strives to reveal, through all the senses, is our relationship to the earth, our native land, which we have squandered and abused.’

The artbook will soon be available and those keen to view The Dreams as R-evolution installation can make a booking with the artist by leaving a message on the website https://coral4art.co.za or contact the artist on coralbijoux.65@gmail.com.

The Dreams as R-evolution installation project was funded by the National Arts Council and the Human Elephant Foundation. All work was conceptualised and developed by the artist, supported, interrogated and observed by friends, family, students and interested parties.

Tholakele Mdakane assisted the artist as a mentor.

Bijoux thanked UKZN’s Infrastructure, Planning and Projects (IPP) Department for permission to use a section of the nursery as well as staff members who assisted from time to time.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Supplied


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Webinar Focuses on GBV during COVID-19 Lockdown

Webinar Focuses on GBV during COVID-19 Lockdown
Webinar participants (from top left) Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, Ms Lisa Vetten, and Ms Ali Shongwe; and (bottom) Dr Angeline Stephens, Ms Janine Hicks, and Professor Relebohile Moletsane.Click here for isiZulu version

Understanding and Responding to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) during COVID-19 and Beyond: New Strategies for New Times was the focus of a public webinar hosted by the College of Humanities.

The webinar featured the Commissioner at the Commission on Gender Equality Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, Ms Lisa Vetten of the University of the Witwatersrand, and UKZN representatives: student and gender activist, Ms Ali Shongwe; Manager of Student Support Services in the College of Humanities, Dr Angeline Stephens; School of Law lecturer and Gender-Based Violence activist, Ms Janine Hicks and Education academic Professor Relebohile Moletsane, who chaired the forum.

The webinar examined how the incidence of GBV in the COVID-19 lockdown climate – ie the closing of workplaces, the curfew, and restrictive regulations – was affecting families and communities as well as strategies and mechanisms for strengthening networking, communication and support for individuals and groups.

It also focused on what role players might perform to ensure the incidence of GBV is not set aside or marginalised in the rush to resume economic and educational activities.

Further, it explored how authorities - government and institutions such as UKZN - should be responding to intensify action against GBV and the scourge’s new challenges, while further assessing individual responsibilities - ie students, staff, academics, and management - in the fight against GBV.

Said Mofokeng: ‘It is important to ensure that those who are in the periphery of society - based on certain vulnerabilities such as extremes of age, gender identity, sexual orientation, poverty, and migration - must be informed by a literal consideration and inclusivity of such individuals.’

She further identified that institutions of higher learning as important spaces where young people were moving from childhood into adulthood, and where among the conditions which kept them from thriving were ‘violence, drug use and abuse, homophobia, anti-blackness, misogyny and academic exclusion due to a lack of financial support.’

Mofokeng said the Commission on Gender Equality would continue to act as a catalyst in order to ensure that access to justice for GBV victims and survivors was realised without hindrance during the national lockdown. ‘When access to justice is hindered in Domestic Violence Courts, the Commission on Gender Equality may act on behalf of a complainant. This will only happen in instances where the complainant is unable to get assistance from the courts because Domestic Violence Courts are designed to assist complainants without the assistance of a legal representative.’

Stephens said: ‘The current COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown restrictions have brought about the re-emergence of a long-standing debate around violence that relates to the interplay between the personal and public (institutional) domains.’

Framed within a feminist social psychological perspective, she considered how this dynamic shaped the nature of violence under the current context at home and at university as students and staff began to return to campuses. Stephens offered some suggestions such as strengthening current responses in a way that promoted collective responsibility through bridging the personal-public-institutional divides in the response to the challenge of violence and GBV in the current COVID-19 context.

Shongwe, as an intersectional feminist, questioned what comprised an effective national, “crisis response”; what institutions were mobilised; what resources were allocated; what policy and legislation (and enforcement) were committed, and the urgency of prevention and solution finding. ‘The year apart between the official declaration of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) as a national crisis, compared to the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic as a national disaster, reveals a bipolar understanding of what “crisis response” means to the South African government, or more worryingly, the understanding that not #AllCrisesMatter.’

She noted that ‘similar to the anti-racism required to transform a racist society, feminist (anti-patriarchal) and communitarian values can sufficiently deliver upon the expectations of our constitutional democracy, where the shadow pandemic of GBVF inhibit the improvement of our quality of life.’

According to Vetten, COVID-19 and the extraordinary conditions created by the lockdown challenge the ways people conventionally think about gender and violence.

Vetten spoke on the incidence of violence under lockdown as well as on the helping response put in place, noting the inadequacies and apparent inaccuracies in available data. She linked these silences and omissions to some of the other new realities caused by the lockdown, and posed critical questions around how the public conceptualised violence, who it was assumed to affect, and what was generally regarded as appropriate interventions, calling for targeted research to address these issues. 

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Supplied


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UKZN Cleaning Services Staff Among Unsung Heroes in Fight Against Coronavirus

UKZN Cleaning Services Staff Among Unsung Heroes in Fight Against Coronavirus
CMS staff prepare the campus for the return of students and staff.Click here for isiZulu version

Cleaning services staff have been hard at work cleansing and sanitising all UKZN campuses to ensure the properties are “safe” for use by the University’s community.

Campus Management Services (CMS) shifted into top gear after the announcement on 1 June that South Africa was moving forward into Level 3 of the national lockdown which eased some of the restrictions in force previously.

On the Higher Education front, Level 3 allowed a maximum of 33% of the student population to return to campuses, delivery sites and residences provided they could be safely accommodated and supported in line with health and safety protocols.

Those who returned to UKZN campuses included students on track to complete their degrees this year, those on selected clinically-based programmes, individuals with disabilities, SRC executives, student residence assistants, student life officers, residence assistant officers, undergraduate students unable to access Moodle, postgraduate students requiring laboratory equipment, honours and postgraduate diploma students needing access to laboratory equipment and students appointed as laboratory demonstrators.

Measures introduced by UKZN in the fight against the virus include mandatory screening of everyone entering campuses as well as increased vigilance by CMS staff.

Returning staff members were given a Zoom orientation on COVID-19 Safety Measures.

Cleaning services staff have proven to be among the unsung heroes of the struggle against the coronavirus at UKZN, placing themselves at the forefront to ensure campuses are “safe”. Staff have been trained in Standard Operation Procedures (SOP), which involve using more sanitiser to cleanse touch points, including desks, chairs and common areas.

The frequency and intensity of cleansing will be adjusted according to the needs of the specific departments as more staff and students return. Lans will be open from Monday to Friday from 08h00 until 16h30, closing between 13h00 and 14h00 for cleaning and sanitation.

‘We appreciate our staff’s dedication under the circumstances. We hope for co-operation from our students with their return,’ said Sifiso Cele, Manager: Cleaning and Cartage division.

Staff have been very impressed with CMS staff efforts. ‘I was impressed with the dedication of the cleaning department during lockdown especially in providing a big team armed with Personal Protective Equipment,’ said a member of staff from the Vibration Research Testing Centre.

It is through the efforts of the community that we can beat this virus, together yet apart.

Words: Samantha Ngcongo

Photograph: Supplied


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