ACCI Graduates Build Capacity in Africa

ACCI Graduates Build Capacity in Africa
Students from UKZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) who all received PhDs for their Plant Breeding research.

UKZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) on the Pietermaritzburg campus produced a bumper crop of doctoral candidates with eleven receiving PhDs for their Plant Breeding research. 

Each of the graduates, all from African countries, focused on developing new varieties of the crops they had studied and, thanks to the ACCI’s doctoral training programme, were equipped with skills they needed to investigate crops and improve on their resilience in their home countries. 

This study direction of the ACCI allows students to improve crops for an African environment in order to contribute towards improved food security. 

The graduates all spoke highly of the ACCI training programme, describing how the initial coursework element, undertaken at UKZN before they began fieldwork in their home countries, enabled them to approach their research with the necessary tools to complete their degree successfully. 

Dr Fekadu Balcha received his PhD for research on the breeding of sweet potato for improvement of root dry matter and beta-carotene contents in Ethiopia. His work is aimed at combatting widespread Vitamin A deficiencies in Ethiopia and other countries by developing sweet potato clones with high vitamin and mineral levels, and increased proteins and soluble sugars. 

Dr Hirut Betaw’s research was focused on genetic analyses of drought tolerance and resistance to late blight among potato genotypes, in response to drought and blight affecting productivity of potato in Ethiopia. Promising experimental potato clones were developed in this study. 

Dr Ermias Desta’s work involved the pre-breeding of tef, the most widely-grown, gluten-free cereal crop in Ethiopia, for tolerance to aluminium toxicity, the first study of its kind. Desta developed a hydroponic facility to assess for aluminium tolerance.

South African Dr Alina Mofokeng conducted an extensive diversity analysis of South African sorghum genotypes using agronomic traits, sequence markers and protein content, and amino acid composition. Sorghum genetic resources in South Africa have not previously been fully characterised for breeding or strategic conservation. 

Dr Quaqua Mulbah of Liberia examined integrating genetic resistance with biocontrol against rice blast and drought, having to overcome tremendous challenges in the achievement of his degree. He developed new, high yielding rice genotypes with durable resistance to rice blast and tolerance to drought. 

Dr Stephan Ngailo’s PhD was awarded for research on breeding sweet potato for improved yield and related traits, and resistance to disease in Eastern Tanzania. This staple crop is severely affected by the sweet potato virus disease, causing significant yield losses. 

Dr Placide Rukundo undertook his PhD study on the breeding of sweet potato for drought tolerance and high dry matter content in Rwanda, to contribute to combatting yield losses. The selected clones are novel genetic resources that could one day be released as new cultivars. 

Dr Rose Mongi received her PhD for breeding for resistance against angular leaf spot disease of common bean in the southern highlands of Tanzania, developing resistant and high-yielding common breeding populations. 

Dr Nathan Phiri conducted his PhD research on genetic analysis of common bean genotypes for tolerance to drought and heat stress in Zambia. He used participatory rural appraisal studies to identify farmers' preferences, and identified drought-and heat-tolerant agronomic phenotypes. 

Dr Ruth Musila analysed rice germplasm for drought tolerance and yield stability in Kenya, working on one of Kenya’s main staple crops. 

Dr Batiseba Tembo’s research involved breeding investigations and validation of molecular markers linked with spot blotch disease resistance in wheat germplasm for the rain-fed conditions of Zambia. 

Christine Cuénod


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MSc Cum Laude Graduate Balances Science and Film Interests

MSc <em>Cum Laude</em> Graduate Balances Science and Film Interests
Mr Preshanthan Moodley is not only a cum laude MSc graduate, but also an accomplished film maker.

Mr Preshanthan Moodley received a Master’s in Microbiology degree cum laude for his research on the feasibility of using agricultural waste as a feedstock for biofuel production. 

Moodley started his university education only after he had finished studying film making at the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance (AFDA). His background in film led to Moodley producing videos with the University’s Public Relations Office as a sideline during this time on the Pietermaritzburg campus. 

Balancing his interests has come naturally to Moodley.  During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, he conceptualised a short documentary to create awareness about the virus, with input from two Senior Lecturers at UKZN. The video was featured by East Coast Radio and has drawn more than 6 000 views on YouTube

Moodley worked hard to submit his Master’s in a year, also presenting his research at international conferences in the United States, Spain and Durban. He began his degree at UKZN at the age of 23 after completing his BA (Hons) at AFDA. 

Passionate about Microbiology and Biochemistry, Moodley was drawn to do the research when his undergraduate Lecturer and now Supervisor, Dr Gueguim Kana, introduced him to bioprocesses and the future of biotechnology. 

In his Master’s, Moodley explored bioprocess development for hydrogen production by dark fermentation using waste sugarcane leaves. 

‘Sugarcane leaves are produced in large quantities in South Africa, and current disposal techniques are hazardous to the environment,’ said Moodley. ‘New, environmentally-friendly approaches have been developed and show promise for combatting the looming energy crisis.’ 

Moodley, who credits Kana for inspiring his research path and encouraging him to pursue excellence, also thanked his parents for supporting him in all his diverse studies. 

‘Moodley is a very diligent, hardworking, eager to learn, resourceful, committed, self-motivated and target-oriented individual, with an outstanding zeal for scientific research,’ said Kana of his student. 

Moodley is currently enrolled for his PhD at UKZN. 


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A Distinguished Teacher and a Dean

A Distinguished Teacher and a Dean
Professor Albert Thembinkosi Modi - Distinguished Teacher, Crop Scientist and Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Dean and Head of the School of the Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), Professor Albert Thembinkosi Modi, received a Distinguished Teachers' Award for 2015 – only the second UKZN Dean to have received the honour! 

Nominated by students, Modi is able to balance the responsibilities of his role with his passion for teaching. The award is conferred for outstanding teaching demonstrating effective learning outcomes, community engagement, curriculum development, and the translation of practice into scholarship. 

Modi is a Crop Scientist, championing sustainable agriculture and the value of indigenous knowledge in informing scientific research. A graduate of the University of Fort Hare, he received his Master’s from the then University of Natal and was a Fulbright Scholar at Ohio State University in the United States for his PhD. Before joining the University of Natal in 1996, he was provincial agronomist for PHI-Hibred International. 

Modi said receiving the award was encouragement to continue leading by example. He makes time for students during and outside of lectures, guiding them graciously without patronising them as they encounter challenging concepts. 

‘I encourage student participation,’ said Modi, ‘and spend extra time preparing and updating material every year.’ 

He takes an interest in the lives of struggling students to give them special academic advice and direct them to counselling. 

His positive approach is informed by his belief that people have the unique ability to take command of and shape their destinies, a philosophy that helps him place confidence in his students’ capabilities. 

He has led numerous research projects, and helped establish the Ezemvelo Farmers Organisation and the Moses Kotane Institute for Science and Technology. He is a Senior Fellow of GreenMatter, Honorary Fellow of the Mangosuthu University of Technology, and Chairman of the South African Agricultural and Life Sciences Deans Association (SAALSDA). 

He is also a member of the South African National Seed Organisation (SANSOR), and sat on the Academy of Science of South Africa’s (ASSAf) Agricultural Education and Training Consensus Study panel in 2014. He is Fellow and past President of the South African Society of Crop Production (SASCP). 

Modi has published more than 70 peer-reviewed journal publications, conference proceedings and book chapters, as well as popular science articles. He has supervised 10 PhDs and more than 30 Master’s graduates. 

A C-rated NRF researcher, he has received several awards from organisations including the New York Academy of Sciences, the Third World Academy of Sciences, the NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards, the National Research Foundation (NRF), Agricultural Writers South Africa, and the Water Research Commission (WRC). 

Christine Cuénod


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Biochemistry PhD Graduate Wins International Award for HIV and AIDS Innovation

Biochemistry PhD Graduate Wins International Award for HIV and AIDS Innovation
Dr Nick Walker won Singularity University’s Global Impact Competition for his innovative stem cell bank concept aimed at finding a cure for HIV and AIDS.

Dr Nick Walker, who graduated from UKZN with a PhD in Biochemistry, has won Singularity University’s Global Impact Competition (GIC) for his innovative stem cell bank concept aimed at finding a cure for HIV and AIDS. 

Walker, one of 48 entrants from South Africa, will attend Singularity University’s ten-week Global Solutions Program (GSP) in Silicon Valley in the United States later this year. He will develop his project in South Africa supported by the Singularity University’s international alumni network. 

The premise of the competition is the proposal of an idea that could positively influence the lives of a billion people in ten years. 

Walker conceptualised a stem cell bank using stem cell-rich umbilical cord blood, generally a waste product at birth. The bank would be a resource for scientists working to isolate the stem cells, editing them to be resistant to HIV, storing, and dispensing them. 

This concept is based on promising research emerging from the case of Timothy Ray Brown, an HIV+ man who developed leukaemia, requiring a stem cell transplant which had the unintended effect of sending his HIV into remission, owing to a rare genetic mutation making his donor’s stem cells immune to HIV. Scientists have been attempting to edit stem cells to recreate this case, with mixed results. 

‘With my experience gained in stem cell banking at Next Biosciences where I work, and in the constant research and trials ongoing in this space, I decided to propose the idea of the stem cell bank,’ said Walker. 

‘At this point it is a concept, but all the science adds up and although a mammoth task, it is possible.’ 

While Walker is not as yet working towards a cure, his proposal could mean a leap forward in HIV and AIDS research. 

‘I am completely humbled by this opportunity,’ said Walker. ‘The other finalists were amazing and I feel very lucky.’ 

Walker, an Innovation Scientist at Next Biosciences in Johannesburg, received his PhD for his research on the extracellular matrix of muscle stem cells, presenting novel findings confirming the regulatory importance of extracellular matrix factors for successful myogenesis in muscle repair. 

Walker’s supervisor, Dr Carola Niesler, said he showed tremendous entrepreneurial drive, always trying to translate his scientific ideas into viable business initiatives. 

‘It was a pleasure to supervise someone with such spirit, integrity and high standards - the Singularity University award will certainly allow him to develop his co-interest in business and science. I wish him every success,’ said Niesler. 

Christine Cuénod


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Summa Cum Laude Computer Science Graduate Now Sets Sights on Honours

<em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Computer Science Graduate Now Sets Sights on Honours
Ms Jenna Freer was the only student on the Pietermaritzburg campus to graduate with a BSc degree in Computer Science summa cum laude.

Ms Jenna Freer graduated with her BSc summa cum laude in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from UKZN, gaining over 80% in all modules taken, and completing the degree within the minimum time. 

Freer, a product of Howick High School, was interested in pursuing a double mathematics major when she started her studies at UKZN, having enjoyed the subject at school. On the advice of Professor Nelishia Pillay at one of the University’s Open Days, however, Freer decided to take a Computer Science elective, and never looked back. 

Having done Computer Science as a second major and completing her degree with flying colours, Freer is now pursuing her Honours in Computer Science at UKZN. She says she looks forward to spending more time on the Pietermaritzburg campus, a campus she has enjoyed thanks to the chance it gives students to get to know their lecturers well, and vice-versa. 

She says she would not have achieved her degree summa cum laude without her natural drive to succeed and maintain a high standard. Rather than spending time fretting over the end result, Freer says she pays close attention to completing each task at hand to the best of her ability. 

‘My advice to other students is to treat every quiz, test or assignment as if they were as important as the final exam, because in the end, not only does that improve your overall marks, but also allows you to walk into the exam with a deeper understanding,’ said Freer. 

Christine Cuénod


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Be the Best You Can Be from Day One, Says Summa Cum Laude Graduate

Be the Best You Can Be from Day One, Says <em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Graduate
Ms Kerryn Lowe, seen here with her proud parents, graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics.

Ms Kerryn Lowe, awarded a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics degree summa cum laude, attributes her success to maintaining a healthy balance in her life, keeping focused on the bigger picture and having a positive attitude towards her studies. 

Lowe matriculated from Scottburgh High School, electing to study at UKZN’s Dietetics Discipline. 

Her interest in health, medicine and science inspired a dream to study veterinary science, which was not to be, leading Lowe to Dietetics, a science that corresponded to her belief that proactive attention should be paid to health, rather than reactive treatment for preventable conditions. 

‘Dietetics isn’t only about treating an immediate condition, it is about lifestyle, encompassing community-based approaches to clinical hospital settings to food services as well as industry dietetics,’ said Lowe. 

‘Dieticians can positively influence so many lives, through providing empowering education, not just immediate solutions to problems.’ 

Lowe’s philosophy is that each decision determines the outcomes of one’s life, which influences her approach as a dietician and her pursuit of excellence. 

‘My motivation comes from within, with the attitude that being the best starts on the first day of first year, with each test, and determines your life, your career and your reputation. What you learn now builds foundations for further learning and decision-making.’ 

Lowe believes in maintaining a healthy balance in life, and in having a non-academic outlet. 

‘A one or two hour break doing what you love and then sitting down to work can save you four hours of aimless work,’ she said. 

Lowe credited her family - especially her father - and friends for their support. She also thanked her surrogate family in her ‘home away from home’, namely, her lecturers and class of fellow dieticians. 

Lowe is currently completing her postgraduate internship year, after which she will complete her Master’s and community service before registering as a clinical dietician. 

Christine Cuénod


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Human Hair – the Next Fertiliser?

Human Hair – the Next Fertiliser?
Ms Moirah Malepfane who examined the elemental composition and fertiliser value of human hair for her MSc cum laude degree.

Ms Ntwanano Moirah Malepfane graduated cum laude with a masters in Soil Science degree from UKZN after conducting a study on the elemental composition and fertiliser value of different human hair types in South Africa. 

Malepfane decided on the topic because of the need for alternatives to expensive commercial fertilisers and says human hair could act as a potential alternative source of nutrients, and its use could be an effective waste management strategy. 

Supervised by Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa, Malepfane used samples of hair from African, Indian and White people. Malepfane analysed the hair types for the presence of micronutrients, heavy metals, and various macronutrients, including nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus and potassium. 

She also carried out an incubation experiment to determine the release patterns of various elements. 

A pot study was conducted, evaluating the effect of pre-incubation time and hair type on crop yield and nutrient uptake. This revealed that, with a minimum pre-incubation time of 28 days, human hair could swiftly release enough nitrogen for growing spinach. 

Effects of hair type were more evident at shorter pre-incubation times - hair from Africans resulted in greater dry-matter and nitrogen and sulphur uptake than hair from Whites. 

Results indicated that hair from Indians and Whites exhibited higher nitrogen levels than hair from Africans, with hair from Indians releasing more nitrogen in the incubation study. 

‘This research was inspired by a growing interest in recycling waste keratin materials high in nitrogen and sulphur,’ explained Malepfane. 

Despite the advantages of this research, funding for the project was not forthcoming. Malepfane also had to combat superstitions about her subject matter, with some people believing that giving away their hair could result in it being used in black magic. 

Malepfane, who enjoyed exploring and understanding suitability and management of soils in her studies, plans to continue with a PhD. 

She expressed gratitude to God and her family for the encouragement and support she received during her studies. 

 Christine Cuénod


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Cum laude Master’s Graduate Tackles Mathematical Modelling for HIV

<em>Cum laude</em> Master’s Graduate Tackles Mathematical Modelling for HIV
Ms Edna Manda, who graduated with a Master’s in Applied Mathematics cum laude degree, studied mathematical modelling for HIV.

Ms Edna Manda graduated with her Masters in Applied Mathematics cum laude from UKZN, her research comprising an investigation of how within-host HIV infection dynamics affect the dynamics of the epidemiology of HIV infection and vice-versa. 

Manda’s work yielded data useful in predicting the progression of the infection within and outside the host.

Using mathematical models, Manda linked the immunological and epidemiological dynamics of HIV infection. This involved the design of a new model, using continuous systems of nonlinear ordinary differential equations, by directly linking the within-host dynamics (interactions between Langerhans cells, CD4+ T-Cells, CCR5 (R5) HIV and CXCR4 (X4) HIV), and the without-host dynamics of a basic compartmental HIV/AIDS model. 

‘Linking the two dynamics led to increase in the viral load within the host and an increase in the epidemic levels in the population dynamics,’ explained supervisor, Dr Farai Chirove. ‘Most studies on mathematical models deal with the different infection hierarchical levels separately; Edna’s work is one of few which attempts to close that gap.’ 

Manda, originally from Malawi, said she was inspired to pursue mathematics by her high school best friend, Ms Moyna Mwenye. 

Manda says she is motivated by determination, passion, perseverance and faith. Her cheerful disposition spurs her on and she says she is a big dreamer.

‘Edna challenges the ill-informed notion that women are naturally inept at mathematics by getting distinctions at both the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) and at UKZN,’ said Chirove. 

‘To my fellow ladies, remember dreams have no gender, so always know what you want; even the sky isn’t the limit,’ said Manda. 

Chirove described Manda as a dedicated student who is unafraid of making mistakes and persistent about correcting them, whatever the situation. 

Manda expressed gratitude to God for life and wisdom, and thanked Chirove, her family and friends, her partner George, and staff at AIMS, UKZN and Wits University’s Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Science (CoE-MaSS), for their support. She is currently registered for her PhD. 

Christine Cuénod


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Research Technician Proves his Mettle

Research Technician Proves his Mettle
Mr Nkosinathi Kaptein, who attained his MSc (Agric) degree in Agrometeorology.

For the past eight years, Mr Nkosinathi Kaptein has worked as a Research Technician at the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus - this week he graduated with an MSc (Agric) degree in Agrometeorology

His thesis, titled: “Irrigation Control System with a Web-Based Interface for the Management of Eucalyptus Planting Stock”, investigated the effectiveness of an automated irrigation system in an air temperature controlled greenhouse. 

Kaptein was supervised by UKZN’s Professor Michael Savage and Dr Marnie Light (UKZN/ICFR).  

‘Nkosinathi is currently the only Research Technician at the ICFR to have obtained an MSc degree,’ said Light. 

‘Whilst working at the ICFR, Nkosinathi undertook a part-time BSc degree through UNISA,’ explained Light, ‘This was followed by a part-time BSc Honours in Agrometeorology at UKZN, which he was awarded in 2014. The aptitude he demonstrated while doing his Honours led him to undertake a master’s degree. 

‘For the duration of his study, he was a full-time employee and much of the preparation of his dissertation was carried out in his own time,’ said Light. 

As part of Kaptein’s master’s research, small dielectric soil water content sensors were laboratory calibrated against the gravimetric method using coir/pine-bark/vermiculite media mix.  The system was tested in containers used for Eucalyptus seedling production for plantation forestry. 

‘This study showed that the automated irrigation system, based on measurements of media water content, can be used with success in scheduling irrigation for Eucalyptus seedlings, leading to potential savings in water usage,’ explained Light.  

Kaptein was awarded first prize for a poster presentation on the research he presented at the UKZN College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s 2015 Postgraduate Research Day. He also presented the findings of his research to forestry stakeholders at ICFR field days and the ICFR Annual Research Meeting.  

Kaptein aims to continue his studies and pursue a PhD in Agrometeorology. 

Sally Frost.


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Mastering Agriculture!

Mastering Agriculture!
Mr Sithembiso Ndlela (left) and Mr Nhlanganiso Sibisi received their Master of Agriculture degrees in Agricultural Extension and Rural Resources Management.

Two students received Master of Agriculture degrees in Agricultural Extension and Rural Resources Management at this week’s Graduation ceremonies, the first students since the Programme re-located to Cedara to complete five years of study without interruption. 

The Programme, instituted in 2010, is run jointly between Cedara College of Agriculture and UKZN, and is the first degree offered at Cedara alongside its diploma programmes. 

UKZN students are trained with diploma students through the Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management (AERRM) Discipline in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES). 

Mr Sithembiso Ndlela graduated cum laude for his Master’s case study on agricultural extension, sustainable livelihoods and self-reliance in Illovo’s small-scale sugarcane farmer development programme in Noodsberg. He was supervised by Professor Steve Worth. 

Ndlela described postgraduate studies as challenging but rewarding, saying determination, a passion for extension and a love of learning helped him achieve his cum laude distinction. He is a firm believer that he can determine his own destiny. 

‘I feel I am ready and confident enough to make a difference, with all the necessary skills and knowledge,’ said Ndlela.  ‘This programme has not only given me the capacity to be a good Extension Officer, but has changed how I view life and approach problems.’ 

Mr Nhlanganiso Sibisi received his Master’s degree for his case study of agricultural extension and post-settlement support of land reform beneficiaries in South Africa, focusing on Ixopo in KwaZulu-Natal. He was supervised by Dr Karen Caister and Ms Simphiwe Mngomezulu-Dube. 

‘This programme sharpened and broadened my capabilities in agriculture. I found my lecturers professional and approachable,’ said Sibisi. ‘It is not difficult work to study, but requires sustained effort and commitment in order to complete it successfully.’ 

‘We are very proud of all of our graduates, but these two men have shown exceptional sacrifice and determination in achieving their goal,’ said Caister. 

Christine Cuénod


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Making Atoms Cool: Cum Laude Master’s Student Regulates Atomic Systems

Making Atoms Cool: <em>Cum Laude</em> Master’s Student Regulates Atomic Systems
MSc cum laude graduate Mr Derrick Beckedahl with his proud father, UKZN’s Professor Heinz Beckedahl.

Mr Derrick Beckedahl graduated cum laude with a Master’s degree in Physics.  His thesis was titled: “Generalisation of Theory and Algorithm for the Configurational Temperature Nose-Hoover Thermostat”. 

‘The property of condensed matter systems can be predicted by solving numerically the equations of motion of a huge number of atoms on the computer,’ explained Beckedahl’s supervisor, Dr Alessandro Sergi. ‘To this end, integration algorithms that implement more and more realistic conditions on the mathematical description of atomic motion are continuously needed.’ 

Beckedahl said the temperature in an atomic system was based on one of two things - the speed of the particles or their position in relation to one another. 

In collaboration with senior doctoral and post-doctoral students, Beckedahl generalised an integration scheme that estimates the temperature of an atomic system from its configuration, and keeps it constant in time. This way, time averages along the atomic trajectories on the computer can simulate time averages (and experimental results) in the laboratory when the system is kept at constant temperature by means of a thermostat. 

Beckedahl, the son of UKZN geography Professor Heinz Beckedahl, says he has always been interested in the way things work, which led him to physics, and is also fascinated by programming. 

Beckedahl completed his undergraduate degree in a physics programme that was offered by UKZN only, and is proceeding to a PhD in Computer Science, focusing on artificial intelligence. 

He said he had enjoyed being a part of the Pietermaritzburg campus, where he was able to get to know his lecturers well. He also thanked his parents for their support and understanding. 

Christine Cuénod 


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Cum Laude Chemistry Graduate Investigates Plants for Anti-HIV Activity

<em>Cum Laude</em> Chemistry Graduate Investigates Plants for Anti-HIV Activity
Mr Wonder Mpapane investigated plants for anti-HIV activity as part of his cum laude Master’s in Chemistry degree.

An investigation of the phytochemical structures of three medicinal South African plants, specifically evaluating their isolated compounds for anti-HIV activity, resulted in Mr Wonder Mpapane graduating with his Master’s in Chemistry cum laude degree. 

Using the indigenous plants Hypericum roeperianum (Hypericaceae), Gnidia polyantha (Thymelaeaceae) and Gnidia splendens (Thymelaeaceae), Mpapane was able to isolate 10 known compounds and two new ones. All were successfully tested for antiviral activity and cytotoxic effects, preliminary studies suggesting that six compounds are potential inhibitors of HIV-1 at the concentration used, although at high concentrations they showed some toxicity to the MT-4 cells. 

‘This investigation has confirmed that South African flora are a potential source of anti-HIV compounds,’ said Mpapane. 

Mpapane chose to study Chemistry because he says it is a science visible in the world around us, from the water we drink to the food we eat to the clothes we wear. 

‘Chemistry is a central science because it connects other sciences to each other; biology to geology to environmental sciences to physics,’ said Mpapane. 

‘I’ve enjoyed the opportunity it has presented to develop scientific theories, conduct research and understand the world around me.’ 

Mpapane, who moves on to start his PhD, thanked his supervisor, Professor Fanie van Heerden, and the academic and technical staff in the Discipline of Chemistry. 

Christine Cuénod


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Fellow UKZN Scientists Honoured

Fellow UKZN Scientists Honoured
Leading scientists Professor Steven Johnson and Professor Colleen Downs were both made Fellows of UKZN at a College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Graduation ceremony.

Two academics from the School of Life Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus have received UKZN Fellowships in recognition of their distinguished academic achievements. 

Professor Colleen Downs, South African Research Chair in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, and Professor Steven Johnson, South African Research Chair in Evolutionary Biology, joined a select group of about 90 academics who have received this prestigious honour from the University since 1989. 

Downs, who has been at the University since 1994, began her UKZN career in the Science Foundation Programme. With more than 200 peer-reviewed publications to her name, she is the University’s Top-Published Woman Researcher and has supervised more than 60 postgraduate students. Many of her past students have achieved international recognition. 

Her research on terrestrial vertebrates, which has contributed considerably to conservation activities throughout Africa, has focused on their ecology, physiology, behaviour and conservation, including work on effects of changing land use and urban ecology.  Her vertebrate subjects include Cape parrots, Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat and serval cats. 

With a passion for science education as well as being a keen birder, she is Chair of the Cape Parrot Working Group and has contributed to the annual Cape Parrot Big Birding Day for the past 17 years. She was recently appointed Honorary President of BirdLife SA and is a Fellow of the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU). 

Johnson is one of the University’s most prolific researchers, focusing his research on understanding the evolutionary diversification of plants, the conservation of plant-pollinator mutualisms, and the reproductive biology of invasive species. 

Johnson holds his second A-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and is the South African Research Chair in Evolutionary Biology. He completed his PhD on the pollination of plants in the Cape flora at UCT in 1994 and is a leading specialist in the field of plant pollination biology. Johnson has also established a state-of-the-art laboratory for the study of chemical cues used by plants to attract insect pollinators. 

Johnson has published more than 270 peer-reviewed scientific papers, as well as a number of popular science articles, and co-authored the books Table Mountain: A Natural HistoryThe Cape Orchids: a regional monograph of the orchids of the Cape Floristic Region; and Orchids of South Africa – A Field Guide

He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the NRF President’s Award, the Botanical Society of South Africa’s Percy Sergeant Medal, and UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award.  

Johnson is currently supervising 12 masters and five PhD students, having successfully supervised 11 PhD, 13 masters and 22 post-doctoral fellows. 

Christine Cuénod


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Red All the Rage at UKZN!

Red All the Rage at UKZN!
A pensive moment for some of the 117 Doctoral students in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, who were capped during the 2016 Graduation ceremonies.

UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) once again made a significant contribution to South Africa’s much-needed brain pool of highly-qualified science, technology and engineering specialists, awarding an impressive 117 PhDs out of a University total of 330 during the 2016 graduation ceremonies. 

The College’s total is a noteworthy increase over previous years with 106 PhDs being awarded in 2015, 98 in 2014, 76 in 2013, 77 in 2012 and 69 in 2011. 

This steady increase in PhD production is in line with UKZN’s strategic imperative to become the leading research-based university in the country. Marked progress is being made in this regard, with the Department of Higher Education and Training confirming UKZN’s No 1 slot in university research output for the third year in a row! 

PhD research showcased by CAES at the 2016 Graduations produced a rich and varied body of knowledge, ranging across the agricultural, scientific and engineering disciplines. 

Examples include a study of the rock fabric of Karoo Dolerite Sills along the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast by Dr Lauren Hoyer; research into the extracellular matrix of muscle stem cells by Dr Nick Walker; mathematical modelling of Cancer treatments by Dr Joseph Malinzi of Uganda; and an examination of the urban ecology of the Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus by New Zealander, Dr Shane McPherson. 

Not only does the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science aim to increase its PhD graduates; it also supports a flourishing post-doctoral research programme. During 2015, the College supported 197 postdoctoral scholars. 

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College, Professor Deo Jaganyi, said: ‘The success of the College is owing to the commitment and hard work of its academics, professional staff and its students. It is a pleasure to lead this group of individuals.’ 

In total, the College conferred 1 821 degrees out of a University total of 10 015. 

Sally Frost


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Nigerian Animal Scientist Chose UKZN because of its ‘International Recognition’

Nigerian Animal Scientist Chose UKZN because of its ‘International Recognition’
Mr Rasheed Adebayo of Nigeria, who was awarded his MScAgric cum laude degree in Animal Science.

Mr Rasheed Adebayo was motivated to study for an MSc Agricultural degree at UKZN as he knew it would advance his career at the Federal University of Technology in Minna, Nigeria. 

‘UKZN is an institution I chose for its International recognition,’ said Adebayo. 

Adebayo’s hard work paid off when he was awarded his master’s degree in Animal Science cum laude.  His thesis, which he undertook under the supervision of Professor Ignatius Nsahlai, investigated the effect of roughage quality and the period of meal termination on rumen fill. 

‘Roughages are relished by ruminants but there is fluctuation in their availability based on the season,’ said Adebayo.  ‘My research measured the fill of a stomach compartment called the rumen, which determines when a ruminant has eaten enough during feeding. 

‘This research will assist with the adequate management of the available food for the animals at both times of plenty and of scarcity. 

‘Everything was enjoyable at UKZN,’ said Adebayo.  ‘My supervisor Professor Ignatius Nsahlai was welcoming, motivating, dedicated and goal-oriented, the postgraduate office was homely and comfortable, the Ukulinga research farm was purposefully conducive and the farm staff were enthusiastically supportive. 

‘The laboratory was adequately equipped and inexhaustible research materials were available in the library and online.  What else could one possibly need for an enabling research environment?’ 

Adebayo said his choice of agriculture as an area of focus was because he enjoyed nature and had an unwavering passion to support the growing economy of his nation.  He has already secured admission for continued PhD research on ruminant production in the tropics from a forage-based diet. 

Adebayo thanked his wife Barrister Aminah Amusa-Adebayo and children Tamim, Aishah and Muhammad for their support.  ‘I would also like to thank Dr Ridwan Aiyetoro, my harbinger to UKZN, Professor Ignatius Nsahlai my supervisor and mentor and ultimately my parents, who still treat me with tender care.’ 

Adebayo also gave glory to God.

 

Sally Frost


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Crowned Eagle ‘Champion’ Awarded PhD

Crowned Eagle ‘Champion’ Awarded PhD
Dr Shane McPherson of New Zealand earned a PhD for work done on the urban ecology of the Crowned Eagle.

Self-confessed ‘raptorphile’ and newly-capped New Zealander, Dr Shane McPherson, travelled to South Africa in 2011 to search for a raptor research study idea. 

‘The options were rather limited in New Zealand with just five species,’ he joked.   The foundations of his PhD project were proposed by his co-supervisor Dr Mark Brown.  Guided by Terrestrial Vertebrate Biologist, Professor Colleen Downs, he soon found himself with a very enthusiastic and supportive research group.

McPherson’s doctoral thesis was titled: “The Urban Ecology of the Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa”.

‘Generally urbanisation has negative effects on biodiversity,’ explained Downs. ‘Shane’s research is the first detailed work on a large predatory raptor and a threatened species persisting in an urban environment.  He has made important findings and made management recommendations for their conservation.’ 

Downs said McPherson had used novel techniques to determine the diet of the eagles and show that they rarely took domestic prey - the study revealed that pets comprised less than 1% of their diet.  ‘This is a result very useful for the advocacy and public perceptions of the Crowned Eagle,’ she said. 

He also demonstrated how dependent the Crowned Eagles were on remaining forest patches and that they were particularly vulnerable to human impacts and land transformation. 

‘Few others could have done his work,’ said Downs. ‘He regularly had to climb trees 30m high or more with a helmet and a backpack to prevent an eagle attacking him with its talons.’ 

In his search for eagle nests McPherson discovered many more than had been predicted, with nests being distributed about every 2.5 km along river systems throughout eThekwini.  A GPS tracking study of these territorial adults revealed the importance of indigenous forests within this landscape - natural habitats protected by the eThekwini Municipality’s Durban Metropolitan Open Space System. 

McPherson has given more than 30 presentations on his work and involved the public in Crowned Eagle conservation. 

‘Shane was never going to do a PhD but I encouraged - or rather, coerced - him so I think we are both very chuffed it has happened,’ said Downs. 

Comments from McPherson’s examiners included ‘excellent’, ‘a sterling thesis’ and one that displayed ‘all the hallmarks of a high-quality ecologist’.  The thesis would ‘significantly influence African raptor conservation especially with respect to little known African forest raptors.’ 

‘During my time at UKZN I have thoroughly enjoyed the South Africa wildlife and landscapes,’ said McPherson. ‘I hope to continue to contribute to wildlife conservation and research in this spectacular country.’

Sally Frost

Pic:Minke Witteveen

 

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PhD Study Puts Large-Spotted Genets Under the Spotlight

PhD Study Puts Large-Spotted Genets Under the Spotlight
Cage bonding? - PhD graduate Dr Craig Widdows investigated why the Large-Spotted Genet has managed to thrive within an urban landscape.

Despite the negative effects of urbanisation on biodiversity, some species manage to persist and even thrive within an urban landscape.  Little is known about carnivores in such an environment from an African perspective. 

That is what spurred Dr Craig Widdows to undertake a study of the Large-Spotted Genet in urban areas for his PhD in Ecological Sciences. 

Widdows, who always had a passion for wildlife and ecology, worked under the supervision of award-winning Terrestrial Vertebrate Biologist, Professor Colleen Downs, who is based in the School of Life Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus. 

‘From discussions with other students it was obvious that UKZN had a fantastic Biology Department, whose staff shared the same passion as I did for African ecology,’ said Widdows.  

Widdows was motivated to study Large-Spotted Genets not simply because of the lack of knowledge regarding this species, but also their ability to live and thrive within human-dominated environments. ‘As urban areas continue to expand, species that are able to survive in urban areas provide a model,’ he said. ‘I wanted to understand the characteristics and traits that allow this species to live where other mammalian species often decline.’ 

Widdows conducted a dietary study of the animals, investigating its home range and habitat use within an urban landscape and examined community perceptions of the creature.  He demonstrated how the genets use human structures and food and have changed their behaviour to persist within an urban environment. His examiners judged his work ‘a significant contribution to the ecology of an African carnivore in an urban environment’. 

Downs described Widdows as a gentle person able to work independently and very diligently. 

Widdows thanked his parents for giving him the opportunity to attend university. ‘They have always encouraged me to go beyond what I thought was possible,’ he said.  He also thanked Downs for believing in his abilities from undergraduate level and for her passion for research and its integration into the public sphere. 

‘Finally, I would not have completed my PhD without the love and support of my wife,’ said Widdows. ‘She was (and still is) the best research assistant in the world and has spent more nights in the rain watching genets than anyone else. It is her achievement as much as it is mine. 

‘I would encourage everyone to follow their passion, no matter what it is. Just do what makes you happy. Once you find your happiness everything else will follow.’ 

Sally Frost


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Cape Parrot Genetics Confirmed in PhD Research

Cape Parrot Genetics Confirmed in PhD Research
Dr Riël Coetzer studied the Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus) for his doctorate.

The Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus), an endangered species, is endemic to forests of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo Province with less than 1 600 remaining in the wild.

To earn his PhD in Genetics, Dr Riël Coetzer successfully confirmed the species status of the Cape Parrot and examined the phylogeography and conservation management of this enigmatic species.   He was supervised by Dr Sandi Willows-Munro, Professor Colleen Downs and Professor Mike Perrin.

‘His research has contributed significantly towards the management and conservation of this species,’ said Willows-Munro. Coetzer’s examiners were equally unanimous that he had made an important contribution to biodiversity science, conservation genetics and ornithology in South Africa.

‘I always wanted to work on endangered animals, and make my mark within the conservation research world,’ said Coetzer on his choice of a PhD research topic.  ‘It is important for me to help improve our knowledge of our different ecosystems. As I’m born and raised in the Eastern Cape, which is part of the distribution range of this scarce species, it made sense to focus on the Cape Parrot.’ 

Coetzer’s research had three main focus areas: (1) the taxonomy of the Cape Parrot and its position within the genus - he proved that it is indeed a distinct species despite international opinion that views it as a sub species; (2) the genetic diversity among the current populations across their distribution range and how it compares with historical data (European logging activities and dry conditions adversely affecting populations historically over time); and (3) the assessment of a set of genetic markers for possible forensic applications. 

‘One of the major threats to Cape Parrots in South Africa, other than habitat loss, is illegal trafficking of these charismatic birds for the exotic pet trade,’ explained Coetzer. ‘It is therefore important to have an effective DNA analysis tool to identify confiscated animals and return them, if possible, to their original population.’ 

Coetzer identified a suitable set of microsatellite markers for use in forensic case work, which can be used to identify the population of origin of confiscated birds, to verify the legality of traded birds and to link a criminal to illegal trafficking activities. 

Coetzer is currently a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of the Free State. He thanked his parents for instilling a love for nature in him from a young age, and his family, friends and supervisors for their support during his PhD research.  ‘I couldn’t have done any of this without you all,’ he said. 

Sally Frost


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In a Class of His Own

In a Class of His Own
Mr Tharish Sooruth, the only summa cum laude BSc Honours graduate in Computer Science, achieved 80% or above in all modules.

Mr Tharish Sooruth has graduated in a class of his own – the only BSc Honours summa cum laude graduate in Computer Science on the Pietermaritzburg campus.  And his hard work has paid off in the world of work - Sooruth is currently a graduate trainee at First National Bank. 

‘To graduate summa cum laude is a great honour and one that I never expected,’ said Sooruth, who got over 80% for all modules in his degree, graduating in the minimum possible time. 

When asked about his future plans, Sooruth said he was aiming for success in the corporate world, sharing innovative ideas and excelling in his area of expertise. ‘I would like to have a positive effect on the people I meet and continue to learn every day,’ he said. 

Sooruth has the following advice for fellow students:  ‘Never give up on your dreams and ambitions, and strive to encourage yourself to achieve success. Always seek help when needed and never be afraid to speak out.’ 

Sooruth said that it was those people who were closest to him, namely, his parents, family and friends, who were his greatest inspiration. ‘Their continuous support, motivation and guidance helped me to get to where I am today.  For this I am most grateful.’ 

Sally Frost


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Poverty and Child Malnutrition Focus of PhD in Statistics

Poverty and Child Malnutrition Focus of PhD in Statistics
Dr Faustin Habyarimana measured poverty and child malnutrition as part of his PhD degree in Statistics.

Measuring poverty in households and the malnutrition of children under five years using household survey data in order to identify their determinants, was the subject of PhD Statistics research by Dr Fautin Habyarimana. 

Habyarimana was supervised by Professor Temesgen Zewotir and Dr Shaun Ramroop of UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. 

Habyarimana of Rwanda said he had been attracted to UKZN by the quality of its graduates and was impressed with the stimulating environment on the Pietermaritzburg campus and the availability of materials needed for his research.  

His research assessed and developed statistical models used within the ambit of poverty and malnutrition in Rwanda. ‘It is a good piece of work which evaluates sophisticated statistical approaches and is novel in its measuring of poverty and malnutrition,’ said Ramroop, who explained that the research represented the sum total of classical and modern statistical theory underpinning joint and multivariate modeling of real life processes.  

Factors identified by Habyarimana as affecting the poverty of households included education levels, age and gender of the household head; the place of residence of the household (rural or urban); the province it was situated in as well as the household’s size. 

The study further revealed a positive association between poverty and malnutrition and suggested that the eradication of poverty would lower malnutrition levels. 

Four articles have been published in internationally accredited journals based on Habyarimana’s research and a further three are under review. 

‘Faustin's hallmark quality was that he had great industriousness combined with statistical prowess,’ said Ramroop. ‘This is what made the statistical community and other researchers sit up and take note of the research!’ 

Ramroop was particularly complimentary about Habyarimana’s fortitude.  ‘Towards the completion of the thesis, Faustin's father passed away and he had to return to Rwanda for the funeral,’ he explained. ‘He possessed extraordinary emotional maturity to persevere unto completion in the face of that tragedy!’ 

Habyarimana’s PhD was funded by the government of Rwanda and University of Rwanda, for which assistance he was grateful. He also thanked his father, mother, wife and children.  His future plans are to pursue post-doctoral research and follow an academic career.  

Sally Frost


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Croc Boffs Plan to Stick with Scaly Things

Croc Boffs Plan to Stick with Scaly Things
Mr Mark Summers, awarded his MSc in Ecological Sciences by UKZN, is not afraid to get down and dirty with his favourite ‘study specimen’ – the Nile crocodile.

UKZN has several research projects examining various aspects of the Nile crocodile emanating from the laboratory of terrestrial vertebrate biologist, Professor Colleen Downs of the School of Life Sciences in Pietermaritzburg.   

Postgraduate student research has been of key importance in the implementation and success of Downs’ Zululand Nile Crocodile work, with the emergence of many important and novel contributions to the understanding of these top predators and their role in ecosystems. 

Two such projects reached a successful conclusion when their authors, Mr Mark Summers and Dr Jonathan Warner, were capped with an MSc in Ecological Sciences and a PhD in Zoology respectively.  

Although Nile crocodiles are apex predators which occur throughout Africa in many aquatic ecosystems, their feeding ecology is poorly understood, along with the species’ risk of exposure to environmental contaminants such as heavy metals. Recent population declines of Nile crocodiles in South Africa have underscored the ecological value of this important predator to aquatic ecosystem health and function. This topic formed the basis of Warner`s PhD research. 

Working at Lake St Lucia, Kosi Bay and Ndumo Game Reserve, which are home to the largest crocodile populations in KwaZulu-Natal, Warner and his team captured 322 Nile crocodiles to help gain the knowledge of individual body size, sex and a range of other data for analyses of animal population demographics and size structure. 

Warner collected and analysed blood samples from 34 sub-adult and adult free-ranging Nile crocodiles for levels of lead concentrations. It was found that on average, crocodiles had higher levels of lead at Lake St Lucia than at Ndumo Game Reserve or Kosi Bay. This was attributed to lead sinker ingestion during gastrolith acquisition and to a lesser extent, fishing-bait theft. 

No clinical effects of lead toxicities were observed in these crocodiles, even though the highest levels of lead represented the most elevated levels of lead in blood recorded to date for any tissue in any free-ranging vertebrate. The data and field observations suggested adult Nile crocodiles were likely tolerant of elevated lead body burdens, but experimental studies on other crocodilian species suggested the lead levels in blood may have harmful or fatal effects to egg development and hatchling health. 

Master’s research by Summers’ was based at Pongolapoort Dam in Zululand and investigated the numbers, nesting ecology and behavioural aspects of gaping in Nile crocodiles. 

The study showed that the population of Nile crocodiles in the dam is increasing and remains in a healthy state compared with other populations in South Africa. Insights into their behaviour may be applicable to other crocodilian taxa. 

Both men were full of praise for ‘the tremendous supervisor support’ they received from Downs, the availability of resources and the level of research expertise at UKZN as well as its proximity to their study sites in Zululand and the School’s encouragement of full-time field work.  

In closing, Warner said:  ‘Crocodile research is physically demanding, time-consuming, and often dangerous. But I’ve been privileged to work with some very competent and fun people in the field.’ 

 Steve Camp

Pic: Shannon Wild


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Invest in the Education of our Children, Says Nzimande

Invest in the Education of our Children, Says Nzimande
The Honorable Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, congratulating graduates in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science at UKZN.

‘We call upon parents and guardians to take an active interest in what is going on in our institutions, so that together with management and government you are able to tackle whatever challenges our institutions and students face.’  

This was the call put out by the Honorable Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, at the occasion of the graduation of students within UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. 

With reference to recent student protests and the #FeesMustFall campaign across universities in South Africa, Nzimande said:  ‘Yes, our students have a right to protest, but our universities need transformation not destruction led by a minority of students.’ 

‘Government, in its determination to support students who come from families that cannot afford but are enrolled in the fields of study offered by this College, has this year set aside over R800 million from the National Skills Fund as full bursaries for such students,’ said Nzimande. 

Nzimande singled out engineers and veterinary specialists as some of the skills desperately needed in South Africa.   ‘The importance of producing more people in these areas of study is of paramount importance to us,’ he said. Nzimande said he was proud of the graduands for taking up fields where there was a shortage of skills.

Nzimande challenged the University to consider expanding in the field of Animal Health as currently Onderstepoort is the only institution where aspirant Vets can study.  ‘Human health is in danger if we do not look after animal health, especially the livestock that supply our meat, milk and other related products,’ he said. 

Nzimande said he was delighted to see such a large cohort of PhD and Masters graduates.  UKZN graduated 330 doctoral graduates overall, with 117 graduating from the College of AES. 

Nzimande was also there to support his niece, Miss Noxolo Gumbi, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics. 

‘I thought I would come quietly as a parent to witness the graduation of my late brother’s daughter, Noxolo Gumbi. However, it would be amiss of me if I did not take this opportunity to also congratulate, in true African tradition, all of our other sons and daughters graduating here today.’ 

‘Graduation is a kind of coming of age ceremony, where years of study finally pay off and you gain hard evidence in the form of a certificate from an accredited and highly acclaimed institution of higher learning such as UKZN,’ said Nzimande. ‘So go out there and make your mark in your chosen field and contribute positively to growing the economy and knowledge base of this country.’ 

Nzimande encouraged graduands to enroll in post-graduate studies, ‘We are faced with a challenge of ageing academics, and as government – working together with universities – we have put in place a programme - the new Generation of Academics (nGap) - to attract young aspirant academics,’ he said. 

The Minister also thanked parents and guardians for their efforts, ‘Much as these graduands are your sons and daughters, but their achievements go beyond just improving their personal lives and those of their families. Their skills are vital for the overall economic development of our country. So there can be no more of a patriotic duty than for families to invest in the education of their children,’ said Nzimande.

Sejal Desai


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Science Access Student Moves through the Ranks to Graduate with Cum Laude BSc

Science Access Student Moves through the Ranks to Graduate with <em>Cum Laude</em> BSc
Mr Langalihle Mazibuko, who graduated with a MSc Mathematics degree cum laude.

Starting a BSc degree through the Science Access programme - a course aimed to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not meet mainstream entry requirements - and ending the journey with a cum laude Master’s degree in Mathematics is definitely an achievement to brag about. 

But Mr Langalihle Mazibuko is not the bragging type, and his unassuming, deprecating and humble manner makes his achievement all the more laudable. 

Hard work and determination got Mazibuko to where he is now.   ‘My marks in high school for mathematics were average, although I always had a special interest in the subject,’ said Mazibuko.  

He is grateful he took this interest further and did not give up even when he failed to gain access into the mainstream BSc programme. 

Mazibuko was awarded a Moses Kontane bursary and TATA scholarship for his undergraduate studies and the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science Bursary for his Master’s degree. 

He specialises is in the field of differential geometry and his Master’s thesis examined the geometry of CR-manifolds.  

Acting Dean of Research within the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Theresa Coetzer, congratulated Mazibuko on his achievement. ‘It is especially pleasing to see such a result from a student who started University through the Access route,’ she said.  ‘Langalihle has grabbed the opportunity provided with both hands and made the most of it.’ 

Mazibuko attributed a large part of his success to his supervisor, Professor Fortune Massamba. ‘Being a top researcher in the field of mathematics himself, he has been more than just a supervisor but also a role model to me, full of inspiration and encouragement over the past few years.’ 

Mazibuko is now focused on the next milestone – obtaining a PhD degree.  For this he has been awarded an NRF innovation doctoral scholarship. 

He says he wants to remain in academia as he enjoys the challenge of being at the cutting edge of research and the stimulation that inquiry brings to his life.

Swasti Maney


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Mathematical Modelling of Cancer Treatments Subject of Doctorate

Mathematical Modelling of Cancer Treatments Subject of Doctorate
Dr Jospeh Malinzi is warmly congratulated by his fiancé and co-MSc graduate, Ms Winnie Nakiyingi, on the attainment of his PhD in Applied Mathematics.

Ugandan national Dr Joseph Malinzi was awarded his PhD in Applied Mathematics for work done on the mathematical modelling of cancer treatments and the role of the immune system’s response to tumour invasion.  

Malinzi was supervised by UKZN’s Professor Precious Sibanda and Dr Hermane Mambili-Mamboundou. 

‘Mathematical modelling is a cost effective tool for simulating complex real-life situations using equations to predict the behaviour of the system,’ explained Sibanda.   ‘Joseph’s study was primarily concerned with using differential calculus to construct models for tumour invasion dynamics and growth, and investigating the significant parameters in cancer treatment.’ 

Sibanda said the critical biological factors during tumour invasion were determined theoretically and a systematic analysis of the immune system response to oncolytic virotherapy treatment given. ‘Joseph further investigated how drug infusion methods determine the efficacy of chemo-virotherapy treatment.’ 

‘Joseph is a very hard working and outgoing, sociable fellow,’ said Sibanda.  ‘He completed his PhD in the minimum possible time, and this despite taking a rather heavy tutoring load to supplement the small study bursary from his supervisors.  He will be continuing with post-doctoral study.’ 

Malinzi said he chose UKZN for his PhD because of its high ranking in Africa and because of the attraction of studying in his particular domain of research under Sibanda.  ‘I also enjoyed the privileges and amenities that come with doing research, for example working space, fee remission and a good post-graduate student lounge,’ he quipped. 

Malinzi explained what attracted him to Applied Mathematics in the first place.  ‘I think that one of the solutions to Africa's problems is through Science. One of my goals is for me to make a difference in the world through my abilities. I was motivated by the fact that applied mathematics, specifically mathematical biology, can contribute to solving real life problems.’ 

Malinzi thanked God, his parents, his siblings, his supervisors, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS-ZA), and his fiancé, Ms Winnie Nakiyingi, who also graduated this year, with a MSc in Statistics.

He also expressed gratitude to UKZN for the fee remission he received. 

Malinzi had the following words of advice for students:  ‘Grab research opportunities, live by example and take responsibility in order to make the world a better place for all of us.’ 

Sally Frost


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MSc in Agriculture in Record Time

MSc in Agriculture in Record Time
Mr Lindah Hluyako did not allow a BTech background prevent him mastering the art of scientific writing and completing his MSc in Agriculture in record time.

Nelson Mandela’s statement about education being the best weapon to use to change the world inspired MSc student Mr Lindah Hluyako to persevere with his postgraduate studies and complete his Master’s degree in Agriculture six months early.  

Hluyako, who grew up in a rural area in Mpumalanga, first completed a BTech at Tshwane University of Technology. This made his pursuit of a Master’s degree in Agriculture all the more difficult as he was new to the research world and its methodologies.  

Getting accustomed to scientific writing as opposed to writing and presenting seminars, which is the main focus of a BTech, was very challenging for Hluyako. ‘Linking sentences and making them flow was a nightmare,’ he chuckled.

Being among accomplished researchers at UKZN, however, and with constant motivation from his supervisors, Dr Lembe Magwaza, Dr Alfred Odindo and Professor Paramu Mafongoya, Hluyako completed his degree within 18 months with an upper second class pass of more than 70%.

‘Lindah’s achievement is unusual and worthy of praise given that he did not come from a scientific background,' said Magwaza.

Hluyako received his Master’s degree in Agriculture (Crop Science) for his agronomic characterisation and evaluation of Pigeon pea landraces in KZN. 

‘My advice to young students is that they must push hard in their studies, no matter how difficult it is – stay focused and one day you will reap the rewards,’ said Hluyako. 

Swasti Maney


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Exiled Army General, Street Seller and Graduate

Exiled Army General, Street Seller and Graduate
DRC refugee Mr George Ilangila who was awarded a BSc degree in Human Nutrition from UKZN.

From exiled army general to street seller to BSc graduate at UKZN – it’s been quite a journey for Mr George Ilangila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

After completing his first degree in the DRC in 1988, he joined the army and served as a general in his home country before being forced to flee to South Africa as a refugee during a time of conflict. 

Before the commencement of his studies at UKZN, Ilangila worked as a security officer for Enforce Security Services in Durban. He then became a street vendor in Durban, selling sweets and chips.  

Determination and strong will, however, ensured that he made numerous enquiries about funding opportunities that would enable him to resume his studies. 

Ilangila registered for a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus and finally, thanks to a bursary from the Gift of the Givers, he was able to complete his degree successfully. 

Ilangila believes that it was his perseverance and strong faith that brought Gift of the Givers to his rescue. 

Readapting to study schedules and to new study methods and technologies, compounded by the language barrier (his previous studies had been in French), Ilangila found the first year of study torturous.   With the assistance and encouragement of the staff within the discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, however, and with the support of Mr Aslam Safla of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, he managed to regain his confidence academically. 

Ilangila also drew his solace, strength and inspiration from members of the Carbis Road Jamat Khana.  

Ilangila is currently registered for a post-graduate Diploma in Community Nutrition.  ‘My undergraduate degree is not the end of the road,’ he said.  ‘I aspire to complete a PhD one day and perhaps remain in academia.’ 

Swasti Maney


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