Engineering Career Days a Hit with Bright Sparks

Engineering Career Days a Hit with Bright Sparks
Dr Tanja Rienhardt demonstrates the properties of fire during Engineering Career Week on the Howard College Campus.

UKZN's School of Engineering hosted 385 Grade 12 Top 10 mathematics and physics pupils at Engineering Career Days held at the UNITE Building on the Howard College Campus recently.

The youngsters, chosen from 23 schools in the greater Durban area, heard from staff and postgraduate students about the various disciplines of Engineering.

The main aim was to recruit ‘bright sparks’ to study Engineering, however, the days also served to enlighten learners about what is expected from them as Engineering students.

Mrs Denise O’Reiley of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science advised the young folk about requirements, subjects and points needed to get into Engineering at UKZN.

Female pupils were specifically targeted on one of the days as the School of Engineering is on a drive to recruit young women into the discipline. 

In line with the theme: Engineering is a Girls' Thing, the youngsters were told about how their contribution to engineering in South Africa was important. 

Each day ended with exciting chemistry and physical science shows which were thoroughly enjoyed by the young folk.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Prashina Kallideen


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US National Institutes of Health Scientist visits UKZN

US National Institutes of Health Scientist visits UKZN
UKZN Medical School staff and postgraduate students with Professor Cheryl Winkler of the United States.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Principal Scientist in the United States, Professor Cheryl Winkler, delivered a stimulating presentation about the protein-coding gene, APOL1, and its association with kidney disease when she visited UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical SciencesOptics and Imaging Centre (OIC) recently.

In her research, Winkler discovered the association between a chromosome 22 region containing the genes, MYH9 and APOL1, in a human body with kidney disease. She found APOL 1 variants were predictors of chronic kidney disease and a marker for progression and they also provided protection against sleeping sickness, trypanosomiasis.

Her presentation covered a spectrum of phenotypes associated with APOL 1 risk alleles in the United States and African cohorts.

Winkler, who has a degree in immunogenetics from the University of Maryland, is a Senior Researcher in the NIH’s Basic Research Laboratory in the US and is Principal Investigator for several multicentre and international studies.

Recently, a UKZN masters student conducting novel research in the OIC, Mr Wenkosi Qulu, spent four months at Winkler’s laboratory investigating APOL 1 risk variants in African children.  He received financial aid from the Fogarty Fund which is administered by CAPRISA’s Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim.

OIC Head, Professor Anita Naicker, said Qulu’s training at the NIH initiated collaboration between Winkler’s lab and the Centre.

A PHD student at the OIC, Mr Vinogrin Dorsamy, will examine APOL 1 risk alleles in HIV associated pre-eclamptic patients. He will be supervised by Professor Anita Naicker and Professor Jack Moodley from the Women’s Health and HIV Research Unit in collaboration with Winkler.

‘The presentation was quite stimulating and thought-provoking,’ said Dorsamy who felt it merged history with cutting-edge molecular genetic studies. He agreed with colleagues and fellow students who said it shed light into new knowledge.

Lunga Memela


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Social Work Students March Against Women and Child Abuse

Social Work Students March Against Women and Child Abuse
UKZN’s Social Work Student Association on the march against women and child abuse.

Armed with placards and posters, the Social Work Student Association at UKZN organised a march from the King Dinizulu statue in Berea Road to the Durban City Hall in solidarity against women and child abuse.

The students were displaying their dismay and anger at the high abuse rates as recorded in the KwaZulu Natal report on Women and Child Abuse and hoped to increase public awareness about such issues.

Joining the students on the march and engaging in their World Social Work Day celebrations at the City Hall were government officials, Childline representatives, Department of Social Development councillors and members of the public.

‘We aligned the march with International Women’s Day and World Social Work Day in an effort to educate the public about women and child abuse. They need to realise this is a problem requiring urgent attention,’ said Mr Manqoba Mdamba of the Social Work Student Organisation.

The Association provided infotainment about the issue of women and child abuse and took a pledge to be the best social workers they could be and to contribute to the betterment of communities and the country.

Acting President of the Association, Mr Melusi Shabalala, hopes to mobilise men to take a stand against women and child abuse. ‘Women and children are the most vulnerable group and as men, we should take a role in combatting social ills such as rape and violence. We must bring back the dignity of men.’

Shabalala said the Association was now part of the Department of Social Development’s Social Ills Task Team in KwaZulu-Natal and was recognised by the University Student Representative Council (SRC) as a society, affording the Association greater power to make positive meaningful changes.

‘The Association has the potential to be great and to contribute to change but we are hindered by funding and we hope that the public and the UKZN community will heed our call to assist in any way they can,’ he said.

Social Work Lecturer Dr Tanusha Raniga said: ‘We are very proud of the Social Work Student Association who spear-headed the organisation of the march.

‘This initiative was an effort to show our commitment to promote the dignity and worth of all peoples, one of the core pillars of the Global Agenda for social work and social development.’

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Melissa Mungroo


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New Dean of Research at College of Humanities

New Dean of Research at College of Humanities
The new Dean of Research at the College of Humanities, Professor Drieke Hay-Swemmer.

The College of Humanities has appointed Professor Driekie Hay-Swemmer as its Dean of Research.

Hay-Swemmer has established herself as a Prolific Researcher in Higher Education, participating with distinction in numerous national and international research projects on teaching and learning.

She holds a BA and HED from the University of Stellenbosch, Bed (Honours) and Med [Cum Laude] from the University of the Free State and a PhD from Vista University.

Hay-Swemmer has contributed towards expanding theoretical frameworks in the field of higher education as well as enriching research models used in higher education research. Her research on postgraduate supervision practices and underlying theoretical understandings has contributed towards a better understanding of postgraduate supervisory practices and pedagogies within the South African context. 

An executive member of the SA Association for Research and Development in Higher Education (SAARDHE) and of the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of SA (HELTASA), she is also member of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). 

Hay-Swemmer facilitated the capacity building programme of promoters and doctoral students on the (SANPAD) project and did her master’s degree on the needs and problems of postgraduate students, successfully implementing a postgraduate school at her previous institution. 

She plans to revisit current policies, structures and practices, and create time for researchers to share and disseminate their research and experiences. She will run workshops on article writing, research methodology, and ensuring supervisors are well equipped.

Hay-Swemmer has a passion to create conducive and enabling environments in which scholars and postgraduate students produce high quality scholarly work.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of College of Humanities, Professor Potgieter, said Professor Hay-Swemmer was a welcome addition to her team of Deans in the College of Humanities. 

Melissa Mungroo


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US Academic Praises UKZN’s Music Discipline

US Academic Praises UKZN’s Music Discipline
Dean of Education, Professor Gregory Kamwendo; Dr Samuel Springer of the United States; and UKZN’s Professor Cheryl Potgieter, Dr Pholoho Morojele and Professor Donal McCracken.

Lecturer in Music at Morgan State University (MSU) in the United States, Dr Samuel Springer, says he is impressed by the high standard of teaching and the calibre of music students at UKZN.

Springer was a guest of the School of ArtsMusic discipline where he was warmly welcomed by the DVC and Head of the College of Humanities, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, whom he had met when she visited MSU last year.

Springer was taken on a tour of the various music facilities available within the School, meeting academics and being given the opportunity to sit in on lectures and recitals.

He expressed his excitement at being at UKZN and his interest in learning and experiencing what the University offered. ‘It was particularly educational to attend some of the lectures and recitals. Professor Salim Washington’s Jazz composition lecture was informative - I learned a thing or two.’

Witnessing the performance of Opera students (soprano, tenor and bass) Springer was impressed by the high standard of teaching and the calibre of music students. ‘The lecturers are able to connect the students to music and nurture the raw talent they undoubtedly have.’

He advised the students to ‘stick to what you love’ and to take on challenges head-on and to have no regrets when following one’s dreams.

Springer described the South African music scene as ingenious, believing that culture breeds a good solid musician and aids in creativity which South African musicians have in abundance.

He was hopeful his visit to UKZN would result in a partnership being formed leading to an exchange programme for staff and students between the two universities. ‘We can learn from each other and add to a more globalised education.’

Said Mr Andrew Warburton, Lecturer at the Music department: ‘When Dr Springer visited our school four of our opera students performed for him. He was extremely impressed and offered to start a dialogue with a view to an exchange programme for our students as well as helping them to further their studies at Morgan State University. It was extremely pleasurable meeting him.’

Melissa Mungroo


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Community Engagement a Passion for GSB&L Academic

Community Engagement a Passion for GSB&L Academic
UKZN Lecturer Mr Njabulo Khumalo delivering a motivational talk at the Parish of Umlazi.

The need to empower the community of Umlazi with knowledge is what motivated Graduate School of Business and Leadership’s (GSB&L) Developmental Lecturer, Mr Njabulo Khumalo, to host development workshops aimed at motivating the youth of the township to prioritise education.

Khumalo was recently appointed as the Chairperson of the Education Committee of the Parish of Umlazi - one of the most active organisations under the Parish. The group was formed by academics with the aim of promoting education by seeking donations and bursaries for needy students of the Parish of Umlazi who wanted to go to university but could not afford it.In this role, Khumalo recently delivered a talk titled: “There is Success in Africans through Education”, to a group of high school pupils from the Nomavimbela High School, Umlazi Commercial High School, St Augustine’s Anglican Church, St Monica’s Anglican Church, Kingdom Centre Youth Conference, Kwa-Mashu Youth meeting, Morningside Youth Conference and Vumandaba High School in Mvume.

The aim of the talk was to make the pupils aware of the realities they have to face after completing matric, including getting admitted into university, funding constraints and the transition from high school to university. Khumalo encouraged pupils to find solutions to these challenges through planning ahead.‘African students are doing well these days, especially Grade 12 pupils in Umlazi. Last year, Mr Lwazi Shezi of Velabahleke High School, got 10 distinctions and took third place in Mathematics nationally, while the best student in Physical Science nationally, Mr Sanele Mdlalose, is from Dr JL Dube High School in KwaMashu.

This proves these children have potential they just need to be motivated.‘No pupil should complete Grade 12 and then have to stay at home because there is no money for them to study further,’ said Khumalo.

Thandiwe Jumo


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Wheeze in Young Children: Who To Treat and With What

Wheeze in Young Children: Who To Treat and With What
At a recent talk at UKZN are (from left) Professor Prakash Jeena, Professor Refiloe Masekela and Professor Peter Sly.

Wheezing was the subject of attention at a recent presentation at UKZN.

Professor Peter Sly, Director of Children’s Health and Environment Programme at Queensland Children’s Medical Research Institute (QCMRI) in Brisbane, Australia, spoke on the subject under the title: “Wheeze in Young Children: Who to Treat and With What.”

UKZN’s Discipline of Padiatrics heard Sly touch on issues of diagnosis and the differential diagnosis of wheezing in the pre-school child, a common challenge in paediatric practice where children are frequently misdiagnosed as asthmatics.

Faced with the global challenge of the escalating incidence of childhood lung diseases, Sly seeks to identify and develop preventative strategies for children at great risk.

According to Sly, there is an increasing recognition that most chronic adult diseases have their origin in childhood, especially respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. ‘My research aims to understand the mechanisms underlying chronic childhood lung diseases in order to improve clinical management and to delay or prevent their onset, with consequent reductions in adult lung diseases.

‘A combination of basic science, longitudinal cohort studies and translation of research findings into clinical practice, including clinical trials, are included in three main areas: asthma, cystic fibrosis and children’s environmental health.’

Head of Department: Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Refiloe Masekela, said Sly’s talk was an excellent overview on the approach to wheezing and it was beneficial to her staff and registrars.

Sly is currently collaborating with the Discipline’s Professors Raj Naidoo and Professor Prakash Jeena together with a team of investigators in the Paediatrics department on the Maternal and Child Exposures (MACE) trial.

He is a frequent speaker at international conferences and widely published in leading journals in his field.

Recognised internationally in the area of Children’s Environmental Health, Sly currently directs the Children’s Health and Environment Programme at the University of Queensland. He is also on the Advisory Board for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Collaborative Agreement; is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Pacific Basin Consortium for Environment and Health, and is an advisor to the WHO’s Public Health and Environment Section.

Sly is a National Health and Medical Research Council Senior Principal Research Fellow and a Paediatric Respiratory Physician with extensive research experience in Respiratory Physiology.

Nombuso Dlamini


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Reflections on 60 years of the Freedom Charter

Reflections on 60 years of the Freedom Charter
Comrade Swaminathan Gounden.

The underlying message of the Freedom Charter reflects a nation at peace with itself and the world, Comrade Swaminathan Gounden told staff, students and members of the public at the inaugural Dr Phyllis Naidoo Memorial Lecture.

The lecture, titled: “Reflections on Sixty Years of the Freedom Charter and hosted by UKZN’s Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre, honoured Dr Phyllis Naidoo’s contribution to the struggle for South African freedom. Known for her indomitable spirit and commitment to the struggle, Naidoo passed away on 13 February, 2013

Gounden, who is among the handful of surviving Freedom Charter veterans, spoke about the Charter and the Congress of the People Conference on 26  June, 1955 in Kliptown, Soweto.

‘In the years preceding the Freedom Charter our people experienced repression in the fields of education, housing, culture, land, human rights, pass laws, the Group Areas Act, the Slums Act and many other discriminations imposed by the apartheid government, ’ said Gounden.

The purpose of the Congress of the People was to mobilise South Africans and make them ‘go on the offensive against reactionary forces at work in our country instead of being on the defensive’.

He said volunteers from the African National Congress, South African Indian Congress, South African Congress of Democrats and the South African Coloured People’s Organisation countrywide had visited families to invite them to submit demands for the Freedom Charter.

‘We went door to door, factory to factory, and talked to people on the street.  People’s demands were written down, some on tiny scraps of paper.  This was real democracy at work.

‘Ordinary working people had never been asked before about what they wanted to see in their country.’ 

The demands were sent to the Provincial Action Committee which in turn selected relevant demands and submitted them to the Congress of the People conference. The Natal contingent of 365 delegates was led by Archie Gumede who was a 1956 Treason Trialist and later President of the United Democratic Front.

Gounden paid tribute to Comrade Billy Nair, a stalwart in the struggle who served 20 years on Robben Island. ‘Comrade Billy presented a paper on labour and trade unions and its effect on the working class community.’

Other matters discussed at the meeting included human rights, land ownership and housing.

Gounden applauded the progress made since the advent of democracy but acknowledged there was still work to be done. ‘Looking back at these past 60 years, we have come a long way.  A democratic government has restored our dignity and humanity.  The majority of our people are more comfortable now than their parents ever were.’

However, he cautioned: ‘Much more needs to be done … Our social cohesion must be a prized goal.

‘Apartheid divided.  Our democratic movement united … the underlying message of the Freedom Charter is a nation at peace with itself and the world.  This unity we cannot take for granted.  We must work hard at it every day,’ he said.

Naidoo’s life is documented in an extensive collection at UKZN’s Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre on the Westville campus.

The collection, which Naidoo donated to the University in 2006, includes letters, photographs, press cuttings, books and previously unpublished short stories which illustrate the contributions of activists in the liberation struggle.

Members of the public are welcome to peruse the collections and immerse themselves in South Africa’s rich and turbulent history.

The Gandhi Luthuli Documentation Centre is in B Block (beneath the Library) on the Westville campus and is open between 8am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday.

Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer


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UKZN Alumnus uses Law as a Tool for Social Justice

UKZN Alumnus uses Law as a Tool for Social Justice
Constitutional Court of South Africa Law Researcher Ms Winnie Ngubane engaging with UKZN students.

Law graduate Ms Winnie Ngubane says her  recent appointment as a Law Research clerk for Justice Chris Jafta at the Constitutional Court is her contribution to the realisation of social justice.

Ngubane, who graduated with an LLB in 2011, is carving an impressive career for herself.

Ngubane’s position as a Research Clerk involves conducting critical legal analysis for cases that come to the Court, she attributes this success to an undergraduate qualification from UKZN which unlocked her potential.

‘An LLB degree from UKZN is highly regarded in our profession and it has opened many doors for me. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between law and politics and how they impact on social and economic development,’ says Ngubane.

‘During my LLB I realised that just as law was used as an instrument of oppression and grave injustices during apartheid, it can also be used as an instrument to achieve social justice, especially now with constitutionally enshrined human rights,’ she added.

That is why she has chosen to pursue a career path in human rights law. She has worked as an intern for public interest law organisation, SECTION 27 and non-profit legal clearing house ProBono.Org as well as a candidate attorney at the Legal Resources Centre, which specialises in strategic public interest litigation.

For Ngubane achieving success also means she has a responsibility to empower others also aiming to attain the same goal. With the experience of what it is like to be a student who is not sure about career options, Ngubane was one of the exhibitors at the recent Law Professions Day held to inform the students about the opportunities available at the Office of the Chief Justice.

Ngubane told students about the Law Clerk programme they could apply for and the fact that an LLB was a gateway into a variety of disciplines.

‘A career in law is so diverse and one can branch out into many fields. It is a springboard to many career options whether in the public or private sector and one is not merely limited to practise as an attorney or an advocate,’ she said.

Looking to the future, Ngubane plans to take advantage of the Court’s scholarship programme to study towards an LLM in Public International Law after which she wants to continue with her work as a public interest litigation attorney and possibly join the bar as a specialist in constitutional litigation.

‘Working at the Court has thus far been absolutely rewarding. The judges are very supportive and interested in the professional development of clerks. They provide invaluable mentorship to the clerks and I am very grateful for this once in a life time opportunity. All of this was made possible by my leap of faith to decide to study law at UKZN,’ said Ngubane.

Thandiwe Jumo


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UKZN Student Named ‘International Rising Talent’ in Science World

UKZN Student Named ‘International Rising Talent’ in Science World
Dr Adriana Marais with her research poster. (Picture: L’Oréal-UNESCO “For Women in Science”).

Dr Adriana Marais, the UKZN PhD student widely known for making it onto the final 100 candidates’ list for the Mars One mission, has been named as one of 15 promising young scientists – “International Rising Talents” - from around the world at the 17th L’Oréal-UNESCO “For Women in Science” Awards ceremony in Paris.

The ceremony, held annually since 1998, awards five Laureates with the L’Oréal-UNESCO Prize in Physical Sciences. The event seeks to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of women in science who are on the cutting edge of research in their fields. Two of the more than 80 laureates awarded over the years have gone on to win Nobel prizes.

L’Oréal and UNESCO have announced the five laureates to be honoured in 2015 – they are all established scientists who have distinguished themselves in their fields thanks to the excellence of their work. The Laureates are British Chemist, Carol Robinson; Brazilian Astronomer, Thaisa Storchi Bergmann; Canadian Polymer chemist, Molly Shoichet; Chinese Inorganic Chemist, Yi Xie and Moroccan Physicist, Rajaâ Cherkaoui El Moursli.

L’Oréal and UNESCO teamed up in this endeavour to attempt to address the shortage of women working in the realm of science by celebrating those contributing significantly in their fields.

The ceremony also singled out 15 ‘International Rising Talents’ chosen from among the 236 fellows recognised by the programme in 2014 – these are women working as postgraduate or postdoctoral fellows who demonstrate potential to change the world through their innovative work.

Each of the 15 scientists rewarded, including Marais,  received grants towards their research.

Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and Chairman and CEO of L'Oréal and Chairman of the L'Oréal Foundation, Jean-Paul Agon, opened the ceremony with Bokova emphasising: ‘We don't celebrate “women scientists”; we celebrate exceptional scientists who happen to be women.’

Marais, who was selected for this award after receiving a L'Oreal-UNESCO Regional Fellowship for Women in Science in sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, featured among the group thanks to her research in Quantum Biology, an area which attracted her interest because it questions the origins of life and what distinguishes living organisms from the inanimate matter of which they are made.

At the ceremony, Marais, who has won recognition for her participation in the Mars One initiative, spoke about her dreams of extra-terrestrial travel: ‘Since I was a child, I have always dreamed of living on another planet.’

Her resilience and courage has landed her a spot among 100 hopefuls who plan to be in the final team of four to colonise Mars in 2024.

‘It is a fantastic honour to be recognised for my research. I am driven by curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge. As a researcher, I feel extremely lucky to be spending my days trying to answer questions I have about the world around me. While we have not yet discovered “what life is”, we are certainly lucky to be alive during such an exciting time in the history of life on Earth,’ she said.

Marais’ research was featured in Nature’s Scientific Reports, a prestigious online journal with global reach where notable peer-reviewed research is published with open access.

The research, co-authored with her supervisor, Professor Francesco Petruccione; co-supervisor, Dr Ilya Sinayskiy of the Centre for Quantum Technology at UKZN, and Professor Rienk van Grondelle of the Vrije Universiteit in The Netherlands, is titled: “A Quantum Protective Mechanism in Photosynthesis.”

It deals with oxygenic photosynthesis, specifically the mechanism that plant systems have developed to protect themselves from the effects of the harmful free radicals through the use of the effective magnetic fields generated by quantum mechanical property spin.

According to the study, this is a clear instance in which a quantum effect plays a macroscopic role essential for life, hinting at the role processes like photosynthesis could have played in the origin of life as well as the potentially important implications this mechanism could have for living organisms in general as the same free radicals are associated with aging and disease.

 ‘A society with only men doing science can do only half the science that could be done if women were more involved,’ said Marais, who hopes her achievements will inspire and encourage curiosity in both young girls and boys, and ‘let them know that science is an exciting and rewarding career option’.

She also hopes the awards will achieve their goal of inspiring more women to get involved and stay in science, and show them some of the opportunities for funding and support afforded by initiatives such as ‘For Women in Science’.

The week-long trip included visits to UNESCO Headquarters, the (L'Oréal) Aulnay Advanced Research Centre and the French Academy of Sciences.

Christine Cuénod


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Teaching and Learning a Passion for School of Management, IT and Governance Academic

Teaching and Learning a Passion for School of Management, IT and Governance Academic
Ms Ntokozo Makoba.

Giving up a career in local government for academia was not an easy choice for Public Governance Development Lecturer and PhD candidate, Ms Ntokozo Makoba. However, her ambition to contribute to shaping future leaders through education has convinced her it was the right one.

Before assuming this position, Makoba was employed as a Deputy Director in Efficiency Services at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development where she was responsible for various functions including organisational development, job evaluation, business process redesign, implementation of Batho Pele and management of the section.

She aims to use her vast practical experience in provincial governance to ensure her students understand the link between theory learned in class and the working world.

‘Despite the challenges and the obvious financial transition, I enjoy academia and look forward to adding value to it. I am hoping to get onto a programme that will see students involved in public service in their final year and also creating a platform where professionals in the field can interact with students. The need to do that came out very clearly recently in a session I had arranged where the Director in Change Management at DSPA addressed students on change management. It was a dynamic session and I am hoping to be able to build on it and to explore the possibilities,’ said Makoba.

Apart from teaching Organisational Change and Leadership to third year students, Makoba also has to swap roles between being teacher and a student. Her research involves looking into if and how indigenous values are integrated into government policies and how these lead to sustainable livelihoods.

‘I feel the study will contribute tremendously in understanding what could be done to create a balance between indigenous knowledge and values and the requirements entrenched in the Constitution. There is already a great willingness from amakhosi in the Umgungundlovu Local House of Traditional Leader to participate in the study. The study will use, among other tools, Action Research and I am sure that that will see me doing community work in the Umgungundlovu area and I am looking forward to that,’ said Makoba.

As a PhD candidate and academic, Makoba is grateful for the guidance and leadership of Dr Fayth Ruffin, who also supervised her Masters in Administration which she graduated with last year.

‘I work with a team of passionate academics whose doors are always open and who humble me in their endeavour to assist with even menial tasks. I am also very blessed to work with women who I admire greatly and who I regard as great academics. They have also opened their hearts and are willing to give of their time to listen and to advise. I am indeed a student and appreciate the experience and the value this adds to my journey,’ said Makoba.

Thandiwe Jumo


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UKZN Team Creates Robotic Prosthetics Company

UKZN Team Creates Robotic Prosthetics Company
Mr Greg Jones, Mr John Harris and Mr Drew van der Riet fine-tuning their prosthetic hand.

A UKZN Mechanical Engineering graduate and his supervisor have opened a robotic prosthetics company following the success of an artificial hand they designed.

MSc graduate, Mr Drew van der Riet, and supervisor, Professor Riaan Stopforth, won accolades for van der Riet’s robotic prosthetic hand design during the student’s Master’s degree studies at the University.

The company, Touch Prosthetics, aims to drive the field of prosthetics technology , making it more accessible to the general public through the production of affordable, modular advanced prosthetics using innovative 3D printing.

Van der Riet, who will graduate with his Masters degree Cum Laude in Mechanical Engineering in this month’s Graduation ceremonies, developed a remarkable design for a robotic prosthetic hand for his MSc, which incorporated a unique sensory feedback system enabling the prosthetic to provide an amputee with a restored sense of touch.

This was made possible using revolutionary research in the area of upper-limb electromyography (EMG) prosthetics. Since the initial design won widespread acclaim, van der Riet and Stopforth have been collaborating on the development of a new control system to make using the arm simpler.

With the support garnered from government and business after winning recognition in competitions such as the Step-Up Technology Innovation Competition and GAP Medical Competition in 2013, Touch Prosthetics has been launched and has produced its updated prosthetic hand model.

The company aims to be on the forefront of cutting-edge research and allows for simple and affordable upgrades to its accessible models to increase their functionality. Additionally, the company is working extensively in the area of sensory feedback, which is where modern prosthetics are lacking in their ability to engage with their surrounds. Touch Prosthetics’ innovative response to this problem is the unique design of prosthetics which restore the sense of touch to amputees without the need for surgery.

Stopforth and van der Riet have been joined in their ventures by Mr Greg Jones, a Masters student in Engineering, who is being supervised by Stopforth. Jones acts as a design consultant to the company while conducting his masters research on the mechatronic design of a low-cost and improved prosthetic; the Touch Hand II.

This prosthetic hand is a bio-mechatronic system, integrating the disciplines of mechanical engineering, electronics engineering, computer engineering and biology. The Touch Hand II consists of a mechanical exterior with an electronic interior, with the movement of the fingers controlled by an amputee through the use of small electrode pads placed on the amputee’s residual muscles, which sense muscle contractions.

Jones is excited by the challenges posed by the research and development focus of the project and hopes to make a career out of robotic technological research and development.

Stopforth’s position in the company is that of a research project manager and advisor who keeps project requirements and specifications in line while making sure that students are able to complete a postgraduate degree; ideally in a year for masters students and two years for PhD students.

Van der Riet’s focus in the company is that of managing the technical development of the Touch Hand, managing fundraising, creating linkages with people and companies, and developing the optimum business strategy to move Touch Prosthetics forward.

Van der Riet, who said he had fallen in love with innovation and creating new things that improve people’s lives, has enjoyed taking his research to the level of entrepreneurship, seeing all of his ideas and creativity and pursuing the dream of becoming a serial robo-entrepreneur.

Stopforth, who studied at UKZN and joined the School of Engineering in 2008 as a staff member, began the journey of research into prostheses in 2009 when he started the Mechatronics and Robotics Research Group (MR2G) Bio-Engineering Unit. The research pursued in the Unit involved exoskeleton legs and an exoskeleton arm, which over time evolved to the development of a prosthetic hand and leg. Further incorporated control features by means of an electroencephalogram (EEG) headset were also researched through a PhD student. The new hand design incorporates haptic feedback (for sensing vibration and temperature) and the control by means of EMG signals.

Stopforth sees the value in the company as taking theoretical research to a different level where models are tested out in an application.

‘If research cannot be applied and used in the future, then it is a waste of time and resources,’ said Stopforth.  ‘So our research is “killing two birds with one stone” – students are able to obtain post graduate degrees, but they are also contributing to making a difference to the world.’

Stopforth believes that students get excited and pursue research that has a purpose and that will have an effect on people’s lives. His research groups have adopted an attitude they have learned from amputees, which is to adapt and progress.

Van der Riet said the prospect of being able to improve lives had been a driving force in his decision to use his skill in robotics to assist people, one he found most rewarding. With the launch of Touch Prosthetics, he had seen the culmination of his work to make these kinds of prostheses widely available to those who needed them most.

Jones added that he was excited by the fact that such an innovative robotics-based project was happening at UKZN, given the need for development in robotics within South Africa.

Stopforth said he has been inspired by amputee John Harris, who is testing the prosthetic devices for the company.

‘John is able to continue with his life and performs tasks that I sometimes wonder if people without disabilities are able to achieve; this has also given us motivation to develop devices that people like him will be able to use,’ explained Stopforth.

‘I am also hoping that this will motivate the undergraduate students to make sure they have the ability to make a difference in South Africa and the world.’

* A UKZN hosted website will be developed soon, but more information about Touch Prosthetics can be found at https://touchhand.wordpress.com For more details about: Touch Prosthetics, the research being conducted, or performing postgraduate research as a consultant for the company, contact Professor Riaan Stopforth (stopforth@ukzn.ac.za) or Mr Drew van der Riet (dvdriet@gmail.com)

Christine Cuénod


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UKZN Partners with Agenda Feminist Media for Feminist Dialogue

UKZN Partners with Agenda Feminist Media for Feminist Dialogue
Participants at the joint Agenda and UKZN Feminist Dialogue.

The Feminist Dialogue - How does/would a girl-led response(s) to sexual violence look like? – was presented at the New Conference Centre on UKZN’s Edgewood campus. 

Leading the presentation were UKZN’s Professor Relebohile Moletsane and Agenda Feminist Media representative, Professor Claudia Mitchell of McGill University, who is also an Honorary Professor at UKZN.

The Dialogue launched a six-year (2014-2020) collaborative project titled: “Networks for Change” and “Well-Being: Girl-led” ‘from the ground up’ policy making to address sexual violence in Canada and South Africa.

In launching the project, the dialogue invited girls and young women, feminists, activists, academics, policy makers and others to come together to reflect on what such responses might be.

Opening the dialogue, the Dean and Head of the School of Education, Professor Gregory Kamwendo, observed that the dialogue was important and central to humanity and targeted an issue prevalent in society. Lamenting the absence of men at the event, he expressed the hope that such open discussions would attract a greater male presence in the future.

In her opening remarks, the Chair of Agenda Feminist Media Board of Directors, Ms Janine Hicks, expressed confidence that the research would allow the experiences of rural girls to be heard so as to enable change in messages to communities and government, and ultimately change in policy.The event featured case studies of Girl-led responses to Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Sexual Violence.

Dr Rekha Mahadev, who graduated from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in 2014, shared her research on using participatory video research to address GBV in an Indian High School. Her study focused on how Indian youth understand, experience and relate to GBV.

The youth in her study identified cultural influences, social normative influences and intrapersonal influences as influencing GBV. ‘As a survival tactic, women rationalise and trivialise abuse and see it as an act of love. They are also imprisoned by culture, patriarchal norms and succumb to peer pressure.’

Mahadev sees her participatory video research as a powerful tool for addressing GBV in communities. ‘It can be seen as an intervention by addressing the abuse and violence with the learners, adding to their knowledge base on how to take action, giving them a sense of accountability and responsibility. The learners see this research as socially constructive and transformative to them as they effect self-directed changes and shift existing norms on gender roles.’

Mr Ndumiso Ngidi of the Durban University of Technology looked at Transformative Pedagogies for addressing GBV in a township school in Ntuzuma. His presentation centred on his Inyathelo Lethu (Our Initiative) Project.

‘The project brought together two groups of peer educators, one being a newly established group at Senzokwethu Secondary School and another group from the Durban University of Technology. The two groups collaborated in developing and implementing a GBV prevention curriculum in the secondary school. The project reached 200 pupils through workshops and weekly dialogues.’

Ngidi told of how the initiative enhanced the learners’ confidence in identifying gender violence in their own lives and the lives of others.

Some of the 200 learners reached in the project commented, through letters, on the value of peer educators in their school and started to communicate about various issues affecting them. According to Ngidi, in their letters some of the learners told of their experiences of abuse and their appreciation of the project in helping them identify these and work towards finding solutions. Serious cases were referred to Childline.

Ms Melissa Lufele and Ms Zethu Jiyana, BEd students at NMMU accompanied by Professor Naydene de Lange, presented on the work of The Girls Leading Change initiative. The project involves 14 young women students from NMMU’s education faculty who came together in their first year in 2013 to address the issue of sexual violence on campus.

In this session, the two women presented on the work of the Girls Leading Change, in which they developed cellphilms (videos made using cellphones), policy posters and action briefs to stimulate dialogue in their university community around sexual violence and safety. Lufele and Jiyana spoke about women students’ experiences of violence and feeling unsafe on campus, issues which their project aimed to highlight. Said Lufele: ‘The issues raised in the cellphilms were used to generate a set of policy posters and action briefs that we shared with university policy makers to work towards addressing the issues.’

The three collaborators: Naydene de Lange, Relebohile Moletsane and Claudia Mitchell, initiated Girls Leading Change as a pilot initiative that will feed into the bigger project launched at the feminist dialgue.

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the project, Networks for Change and Well-being, co-led by Moletsane and Mitchell, focuses on indigenous girls in four provinces in Canada and rural girls in three provinces in South Africa. The overarching aim of their partnership is to study and advance the use of innovative approaches to knowledge-production, policy-making, and communication, in addressing sexual violence against girls and young women in South Africa and Canada.

In particular, their work examines how girl-led media production might influence community practitioners and policy-makers. In so doing, the project aims to shift the boundaries of knowledge production and inform policy change.  

Melissa Mungroo


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I-UKZN Igubha Usuku Lwesifo Sofuba

I-UKZN Igubha Usuku Lwesifo Sofuba
uDkt Kogie Naidoo uchaza ngokuguquka kwesifo sofuba osukwini lwase-NRMSM lomhlaba lwesifo sofuba.

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I-Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine (NRMSM) igubhe usuku loMhlaba Lwesifo Sofuba ngokuba nenkulumo efundisayo ebithulwa yiNhloko yoHlelo loCwaningo e-Centre of the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), uDkt Kogie Naidoo.

Inkulumo ebihlelwe ikolishi Lezifundo ZezeMpilo ngokubambisana ne-NRMSM, ibihlose ukukhombisa ukwesekwa kwalabo abacwaninga nge-TB, abaphila nayo nabanakekela abaphila nalesi sifo.

UNaidoo wabelane ngolwazi olukhona nge-TB. ‘I-TB ithathelana isuka kogulayo kuya komunye umuntu ngomoya. Ukubonakala kwayo kumuntu kusanesikhathi kubalulekile ukuze kuncishiswe isifo nokusabalala kwaso.’

Uchaze ngezindlela zokubona izimpawu zalesi sifo. ‘Sibhekene nomthwalo omkhulu we-TB ehlobene nengculazi. Kufanele siqinise imizamo yokunciphisa ukusabalala kwe-TB.’

Uthe e-KZN, ama-70% eziguli ezine-TB zibuye zibe ne-HIV. Ululeke abafundi nabasebenzi baseNyuvesi ukuba bazi izimpawu ze-TB, ugqugquzele labo abane-HIV ukuba bajwayele ukuhlolela i-TB.   

UNaidoo ucacise ngokungazuzwa uma kuhlanganiswa imishanguzo ye-TB nama-ART. ‘Ama-ART ehlanganiswe nokwelashwa kwe-TB akhuphula izinga lempilo ezigulini ezinalezifo zombili.’

Umshayeli wetekisi uMnu Sibongiseni Goba owatholakala nesifo se-TB kuMbasa ngonyaka odlule uthe:’ I-TB iyelapheka futhi ngiwubufakazi balokho. Ngibonga uDkt Naidoo ne-CAPRISA njengoba ngikwazi ukuma lapha phambi kwenu ngisho ngokukhululeka ukuthi ningazibi izimpawu zalesi sifo ngoba ngacishe ngafa.’

Uthe wazishaya indiva zonke izimpawu zesifo ngoba wayengazazi ukuthi ziyini. ‘Ngaphambi kokuthi kutholakale ukuthi ngine-TB, ngancipha emzimbeni, ngaba buthakathaka futhi ngijuluka ebusuku.’

UGoba uthe waquleka ngelinye ilanga waphaphama emva kwezinsuku ezimbili eselashwa esibhedlela i-Prince Mshiyeni.

UNaidoo  ungumcwaningi oyinhloko ocwaningweni lwe-CAPRISA oluhlose ukuthola izindlela ezingcono zokwelapha iziguli ezine-TB ne-HIV, ungumhloli oyinhloko ohlelweni oluhlose ukuqinisa izindlela zokunakekelwa ngokwezempilo kweziguli ezine-HIV, TB ne-DR TB futhi ungumcwaningi oyinhloko ngokubambisana ohlelweni laseThekwini oluxhaswe yi-PEPFAR neVulindlela CAPRISA AIDS Treatment Programme.

Uyi-PI ocwaningweni lwe-CAPRISA olubhekene nokujwayeleka kokutholakala kwe-TB ezigulini ezine-HIV neTB ebese zilashelwe i-TB ngempumelelo phambilini.

Nombuso Dlamini


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UKZN Student Crowned Miss Varsity Shield

UKZN Student Crowned Miss Varsity Shield
Mbalenhle Ngidi after being crowned Miss Varsity Shield.

UKZN masters student, 22-year-old Miss Mbalenhle Ngidi of Durban, was all smiles this week after being crowned Miss Varsity Shield. 

Charismatic and hard working, Ngidi said her drive and compassion for the community stemmed from a ‘fast-tracked childhood’ caused by the loss of both her parents by the time she was just 12. A burning desire to help others gave her the will and the strength to soldier on in those difficult times.

Demonstrating how she was always up for a challenge, she enrolled in a male dominated field at UKZN - the Built Environment - where she is studying Town and Regional Planning and is also serving as Deputy President of the Enactus organisation on Howard College Campus.

Enactus is a community of students, academics and business leaders who are committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a more sustainable world.

Ngidi says she likes being referred to as ‘the biggest rugby ambassador’, as she is an avid rugby fan and a supporter of fair play in the game.  She is also right behind the University’s rugby team, the UKZN Impi, in its campaign against the abuse of women.

‘During my term as Miss Varsity Shield I aim to help ignite a sense of sustainability and independence in the organisation our Impi team works with in the field of women abuse, the Jes Foord Foundation.’

Asked how she found time to meet all her many commitments she said ‘when a person puts their mind towards an idea or interest everything just falls in place. Time seems to find its way around you,’ she added.

Luthando Msomi


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Call a Spade a Spade, says Visiting Scholar

Call a Spade a Spade, says Visiting Scholar
ASSAf’s distinguished Visiting Scholar, Professor Zakri Hamid (right) with UKZN’s Professor Snowy Baijnath.

Researchers have been urged by a visiting Malaysian scholar to conduct research that is relevant to society.

Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Professor Zakri Hamid, made the call during his public lecture hosted by UKZN’s Research Office in collaboration with the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the Department of Science and Technology.

In his lecture titled: “The Role of Science Advice in National and International Economic Development”, Hamid said scientists were guilty of not calling a spade a spade. He advised them to get buy in or form collaborations with government but most importantly win the support of the public.

‘If the public is with you, you will find a way to government…it is all about advocacy,’ said Hamid.

The challenge with advising government was to ensure that decisions and policies were made with the best available scientific information.

‘Reflect on what you can give to your country, society and the world. Together science and scientists can provide a better future for the world.’

He said the role of scientists had never been as crucial as it was now, with one of the challenges being how they communicate.

The three prerequisites for every scientist were: Credibility, Relevance and Legitimacy. 

‘Credibility is a non-negotiable for any academic and what you are researching should have relevance to your society.’  

During the question and answer session, Hamid said universities needed to encourage their graduates to become entrepreneurs. Many inventions and improvements were the work of scientists including the improvement in the forecasting of weather conditions.

Sithembile Shabangu


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Doctoral Student Awarded Prestigious Scholarship

Doctoral Student Awarded Prestigious Scholarship
UKZN PhD student Mr Thokozani Ndaleni (centre) with his supervisors Dr Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan and Dr Inbanathan Naicker.

PhD student in the School of Education Mr Thokozani Ndaleni has been awarded a prestigious doctoral scholarship by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) in association with the SA Humanities Deans’ Association (SAHUDA). 

The main objective of this scholarship programme is to promote research in the humanities and social sciences in South Africa.

Scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit, the coherence of the proposed research project, feasibility of the project, and the likely contribution of the project to the body of knowledge in the field.

Ndaleni, who worked as a secondary school English teacher for 28 years, completed his masters degree in the specialisation of Teacher Development Studies at UKZN in 2013. He is now a full-time student in the School of Education’s PhD programme and has recently successfully defended his proposal.

His doctoral research focuses on English language teacher learning. The proposal reviewers commented that Ndaleni’s study is ‘timely and relevant and has the potential to contribute significantly to language learning of teachers in SA schools’.

His doctoral supervisors, Dr Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan and Dr Inbanathan Naicker, commented: ‘We are delighted that Mr Ndaleni has received this prestigious award. It is very well deserved. He is an insightful and enterprising student who works consistently hard and devotes a great deal of time and effort to his research and writing. He is also a patient and supportive mentor for his fellow students.’

Speaking about being awarded the scholarship Ndaleni said, ‘The inadequacy of research on the South African English language teachers’ learning has been my concern for quite some time. I hope my doctoral study will add value to existing research on language teacher learning. Hence, I am greatly indebted to (NIHSS) and (SAHUDA) for the esteemed award. My scholarship will definitely be enhanced!’

Melissa Mungroo


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