Honours and Recognition for Excellent Doctoral Research by UKZN Lecturer

Honours and Recognition for Excellent Doctoral Research by UKZN Lecturer
Ms Lihle Qulu.

Three top international journals have published the results of research by School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences (LMMS) Developmental Lecturer, Ms Lihle Qulu, who also won first-prize for her PhD research in the Credentialing Staff category at the College of Health Sciences (CHS) Annual Research Symposium.

What started out as her Masters research was converted into a doctoral study, because Qulu’s work is deemed to have the potential to bring more awareness for pregnant women on how to avoid stress during their term.

Her work is being supervised by the Head and Dean of LMMS, Professor William Daniels, and the School’s Academic Leader for Research, Dr Musa Mabandla.

The international multidisciplinary journal, Brain Research, published one of Qulu’s papers titled: “Exposure to Prenatal Stress has Deleterious Effects on Hippocampal Function in a Febrile Seizure Rat Model”.

‘The study found that febrile seizures were exacerbated by exposure to early life stressors and this may lead to the development of neurological symptoms associated with a malfunctioning hippocampus,’ said Qulu.

Neuroscience Research published another paper: Searsia Chirindensis Reverses the Potentiating Effect of Prenatal Stress on the Development of Febrile Seizures and Decreased Plasmainterleukin-1 _ Levels. 

‘Our data showed that treatment with Searsia reduced interleukin-1 _ levels in plasma of the febrile seizure rats and prevented lipid peroxidation in the liver. Prenatal stress is dampened by the beneficial effects of Searsia on seizure development in rat pups. These results highlight the potentiating effects of Searsia in the reversal of febrile seizures and prenatal stress effects,’ said Qulu.

The third paper, co-authored with Mabandla, appeared in the journal: Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Titled: “Prenatal Stress and Early Life Febrile Convulsions Compromise Hippocampal Genes MeCP2/REST Function in Mid-Adolescent Life of Sprague-Dawley Rats”, it reported that exposure to prenatal stress and febrile seizures could impair cognitive behavioural function. However, in the normally reared animals with febrile seizures, there seemed to be an attempt to counteract the effects of febrile seizures with time.

‘It’s a “pinch myself feeling” yet at the same time it makes one feel proud, humbled and excited that all the hard work paid off,’ said Qulu. ‘At times things were so tough I didn’t think my work would get published, so it’s super exciting. It also makes me very grateful for the supervisors I have because without them this would not have been possible. Their support means a great deal to me.’

During her research, she spent four-months at a laboratory in the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary in Canada where she received special training related to seizures and neuroimmune function under the auspices of Professor Quentin Pittman. ‘Studying abroad made me realise that our work and the techniques we use are internationally relevant.’

Qulu intends to go overseas to pursue postdoctoral research in translational neuroscience.

Lunga Memela


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UKZN Hosts Inaugural Annual Mafika Gwala Lecture

UKZN Hosts Inaugural Annual Mafika Gwala Lecture
Professor Ari Sitas (far left) with Mr Omar Badsha (second right) and the Gwala family.

The first annual Mafika Gwala lecture was delivered at UKZN by Sociologist, writer, dramatist and civic activist Professor Ari Sitas who spoke on: “Are the Children of Nonti Resilient? - Mafika Gwala and the Arts of Resistance”.

The Lecture in the Howard College Theatre was hosted by the College of Humanities together with South African History Online and the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences. It coincided with the first anniversary of the death of poet, writer, editor and member of the Black Consciousness Movement, Mafika Gwala.

Gwala’s family, his nephews and his eldest sister, Rosemary, were in attendance.  Their joint message read: ‘Thank you for bestowing this honour upon Mafika, our family and the community that he came from. Mafika represents the marginalised voice and we thank you for coming together to remember him and to stand for freedom, love and unity.’

Retired academic in the School of Education, Dr Betty Govinden, who recited a poem in honour of Gwala, said: ‘He wrote against the grain of society. He made us realise that poetry is an expression of the imagination, of the lived experience.’

Sitas then provided a critical reflection on The Children of Nonti, one of Gwala’s most anthologised poems and a tribute to Black resilience. ‘Remembering Gwala brings with it a haunting sensation. It is about the landscape that threads together, Umlazi, KwaMashu, Inanda, Mpumalanga, Edendale, Dambuza, Sobantu and Mpophomeni.

‘There is song, truth, oneness, laughter and struggle in The Children of Nonti. There is a metanarrative and an intra-narrative of liberation. There is art and resistance,’ said Sitas.

He noted that there was discomfort with writing such as Gwala’s as Black poetry had warranted inclusion in South African collections with the dominant view that its ‘artlessness’ was explicable and a serious marker of the harshness of apartheid.

Sitas spoke about Gwala’s literary role during the struggle, his life and involvement in the Black Consciousness Movement, in trade unions with good friend Omar Badsha, and his time with the ANC.

He said Gwala existed within a continuum of poetry in KwaZulu-Natal, sharing with the audience an in-depth analysis of more poems from Gwala including New DawnJol’inkomo, No More Lullabies and others which have appeared in Exiles Within.

In closing, Sitas said: ‘The landscape we are left with is still harsh and many of our poets are experiencing a new “exile within” as the Black/White discourse gains prominence and the dashiki that Gwala laughed at with such guttural joy has been replaced by the penguin suit. Many too, are still waiting for the “tornado or for something to snap”. We need to restore Soho Eckstein and the Fuhrer with the black mask again.

‘We have to revisit the meanings of liberation and their metanarratives and craft, because there is a future to be wrested away from greed and need. It has always been the poet who has allowed us to dream of the festival. Gwala, often jazzhappy, often black and furious, needs to be remembered for such a social service in the arts of resistance.’

CEO of South African History Online and good friend of Gwala, Mr Omar Badsha, said the lecture was significant as it reclaimed and popularised the work of Gwala, who he feels shaped the sensibility of so many artists today.

‘He was well-known in academic and artist circles but not in the broader community. This Lecture allowed the public to revisit his work and reflect also on the work of artists who were prominent in the apartheid struggle. It also allowed for a discussion on contemporary issues relating to artists,’ said Badsha.

Melissa Mungroo


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Swazi Teachers Visit School of Education

Swazi Teachers Visit School of Education
School of Education academics with a delegation of teachers from Swaziland.

A delegation of 15 teachers from Swaziland recently visited UKZN to hear about academic programmes run by the School of Education.

Dean and Head of School, Professor Gregory Kamwendo, welcomed the teachers warmly after which Academic Leader for Research, Professor Pholoho Morojele, and Academic Leader for Teaching and Learning, Dr Sithabile Ntombela, led the discussion with assistance from one of the postgraduate administrators, Ms Bhengu-Mnguni.

‘The majority of the teachers were interested in the postgraduate programmes, from BEd Honours right up to a PhD,’ said Morojele.  ‘Since we do not offer undergraduate programmes on a part time basis, a very brief presentation was made on alternative academic routes towards becoming professional teachers,’ said Morojele.

The focus shifted to the entry requirements for the various postgraduate programmes and the delegation was pleasantly surprised and thrilled by the manner in which the School of Education’s modes of postgraduate programmes’ deliveries were responsive to the needs of adult students in Africa and beyond.

Overall, the delegation was happy to hear that they could also be considered for postgraduate degrees outside the School of Education if they qualified.

Trip organiser and Swaziland student, Mr Happy Mahlobo, said: ‘It was a honour to receive such a welcome from UKZN’s School of Education. On behalf of the educators, I extend our gratitude for it.’

Melissa Mungroo and Pholoho Morojele


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UKZN Students Contribute to World Social Science Forum

UKZN Students Contribute to World Social Science Forum
UKZN students at the World Social Science Forum (from left) Ms Ntombikayise Mabaso, Mr Sanele Madlala and Ms Ayanda Ngubane.

Three third year Community Development students were selected to participate in one of the panel sessions at the 2015 World Social Science Forum (WSSF) in Durban.

They were Ms Ntombikayise Mabaso, Ms Ayanda Ngubane and Mr Sanele Madlala.

‘It was a pleasure and a privilege to be recognised and be part of the WSSF panel discussions,’ said Mabaso.

‘It provided us with a wealth of information and knowledge that will assist us to uplift the communities we come from and future communities we will work with.’

The students discussed their topics under the theme: “Attitudes Towards Social Inequality: Hopes, Fears and Global Prospects” which was part of the WSSF and Department of Science and Technology (DST) New and Emerging Scholar Roundtable.

The Roundtable discussion aimed to provide new and emerging scholars with a platform to discuss their views and beliefs about various dimensions of social inequality at a personal, national and global level.

‘Being a part of this Roundtable discussion allowed us to raise issues important to the youth and the communities we come from. It gave us the chance to provide possible solutions to societal issues and to talk about youth development,’ said Madlala.

The students explored a number of themes including their expectations, hopes and dreams for their future, their views on South Africa’s position in the world currently and in the future as well as how they saw the world evolving.

‘I chose to do community development because I realised that I have the potential to change my community for the better and to make a positive difference to society,’ said Ngubane. ‘WSSF and UKZN’s Community Development Discipline gave us the platform to engage and network as students and future scholars.’

Community Development Lecturer, Ms Phindile Shangase, added: ‘Active participation in this panel enabled our students to recognise the importance of young people’s involvement in Community Development initiatives that aim to tackle complex local issues. They have also experienced the enthusiasm of attending a scholarly conference for the first time, and networking with various stakeholders.’

The following students also delivered presentations at the forum

Melissa Mungroo


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Honours Student Presents Research at College of Health Sciences Symposium

Honours Student Presents Research at College of Health Sciences Symposium
Professor Kriben and Ms Siddharthiya Pillay.

High achieving UKZN Honours Medical Biochemistry student, Ms Siddharthiya Pillay, delivered a presentation on the susceptibility of young Indian men to coronary artery disease (CAD) at a recent College of Health Sciences (CHS) Research Symposium.

The study by Pillay (22), the daughter of College of Law and Management Studies’ Dean of Teaching and Learning, Professor Kriben Pillay, was supervised by Professor Anil Chuturgoon and Ms Prithiksha Ramkaran,  and titled: “MicroRNA miR-27a rs895819 Polymorphism is Associated with Increased IL-6 levels in Coronary Artery Disease in young South African Indian Patients”.

‘I investigated the rs895819 SNP in young South African Indian males with early-onset CAD compared to Indian and Black controls, and correlated the polymorphism to various clinical parameters.’

Pillay said rs895819 SNP was a genetic variation that could alter the inflammatory process in the body, possibly causing cardiovascular disease. She said it was significant to conduct this study in a South African Indian sub-population because it had the highest incidence of CAD compared to other South African sub-populations, and also had an unparalleled incidence of CAD that occurred one or two generations earlier than in other sub-populations.

‘I chose this career path because it opens up a variety of fields such as genetics, epigenetics, metabolic diseases, cancer research, all of which are shaping the development of medicine and therapeutic interventions. I want to improve the healthcare of people and contribute to enhancing the treatment of diseases, especially for those people who cannot afford private healthcare and medical aid.’

Pillay obtained her Bachelor of Biomedical Science degree summa sum laude and received Dean’s Commendations and Merit certificates for her modules at UKZN in addition to receiving the prestigious Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship Award. She is a member of UKZN’s Golden Key Society and scooped the Zeiss Microscopy Award for scoring the highest aggregate in functional cell architecture as well as the LTC and Norma Beare Memorial Awards for the highest aggregate in third-year biology.

She was also awarded the National Research Foundation Innovations Scholarship for her Honours year of study.

Pillay said she was grateful to her supervisors, family and friends for their guidance and support. ‘Although I know my study has further to go, presenting at the symposium was an opportunity to gain insight into the work of other researchers in this field which may enhance my study.’

Passionate about transforming people’s lives from a medical and health care perspective, Pillay said she intended to pursue a Master’s degree in Medical Biochemistry at UKZN.

Lunga Memela


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Promoting UKZNTube in Health Sciences Education

Promoting UKZNTube in Health Sciences Education
UKZNTube promoted at the Medical campus.

College of Health Sciences (CHS) academics are impressed by the innovative teaching and learning early users of the Institution’s video platform, UKZNTube, have enjoyed.

‘This new technology, which can be accessed via http://ukzntube.ukzn.ac.za/, enables academics to engage with today’s techno-savvy students through stimulating interactive lecturers in ways like never before,’ said CHS Visual Learning expert and UKZN User Adoption and Training Specialist, Ms Lyn Whiteley.

UKZNTube is a software platform which delivers a great viewer experience for the University community as it integrates with a multitude of other collaboration and communication tools like Moodle and provides powerful functionality to a broad spectrum of use cases.

These functions include training of dispersed students, live broadcasting of lectures, engaging of employees and students in rich collaboration efforts and recording of video based conversations taking place in other applications within the University.

Speaking at a UKZNTube workshop on the Medical campus, Whiteley said students could watch lectures on or off campus with pause, rewind and catch up to live features as well as bi-directional questioning.  Lecturers could assign on-demand videos to students with optional question gateways which gauge their understanding as they progress through the series or before class attendance,’ she added.

Whiteley’s presentation at the workshop was titled: “Visual Learning: Extending the Classroom in Mobile Date Delivery”.

In 2013, the CHS invested in new Proline Tablet PCs as part of a cutting-edge Visual Learning Project  being piloted at UKZN in order to achieve a number of goals in the University’s Teaching and Learning space; particularly providing a mechanism to stream lectures live, and record lectures for later on-demand viewing.

UKZNTube features include live broadcast (either video and PPT or audio and PPT); pre-recorded content; flipped learning; playlists and question gateways, as well as interactive questions. To date more than 1 300 videos have been recorded.

Occupational Therapy Senior Tutor, Mrs Debbie Fewster, and the School of Clinical Medicine’s Professor Ted Sommerville, said the possibility of pre-recording material for prior viewing and using flipped learning would allow students to deal with difficult questions during lectures.

The Dean and Head of the School of Health Sciences, Professor Mahmoud Soliman, agreed that keeping abreast with the latest global trends in teaching and learning was of benefit to both academics and students.

A presentation was delivered by School of Nursing and Public Health technician, Ms Fiona Walters, who highlighted the benefits of using the eLearning platform, Learn@UKZN, during the workshop.

 Lunga Memela


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Centre for Visual Art hosts 30th Annual Art Historians Conference

Centre for Visual Art hosts 30th Annual Art Historians Conference
Works exhibited at the Centre for Visual Art included The Bride; MANtis; and Ms Faye Spencer’s Employee of the Week.

UKZN’s Centre for Visual Art (CVA) on the Pietermaritzburg campus hosted the 30th Annual Art Historians Conference which featured a staff and postgraduate art exhibition in the Jack Heath Gallery.

The exhibition was curated by MAFA-R candidate at the CVA, Ms Anda Dodo.

The theme of the Conference was Power and Visual Culture with research papers being delivered by art historians from all over South Africa.

Conference sessions included reports on research findings about the vested power in visual culture, mass culture, pedagogies, and museums and their mediation role.

Dr Anthony Downey, Author and Director of MA Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, delivered the keynote address.

Works by staff artists included three by Ms Faye Spencer from her Office Politics installation series - His Tiny Eye, Daily Dose and Early Retirement - which were completed in oil and mixed media.

‘These pieces speak of both the idiosyncratic and typical behaviors of people in the workspace, and of dynamics within large groups of individuals, of power relationships, plays for territory and reference the disturbing - sometimes quirky - interactions between individuals with varying agendas,’ said Spencer.

Dr Louise Hall’s Becoming XVII, which forms part of an installation of works on paper, was also on show, while digital artist, Ms Michelle Stewart, exhibited stills from her animation, the creative component for her PhD (under examination).

Senior Research Associate, Professor Juliette Leeb du Toit, displayed her piece, Not All Those who Wander are Lost, while Ms Michelle Rall exhibited Shattered Landscapes, which explores the devastation of the landscape as a result of war and the destruction of the environment due to human activity.

Shroud, a work by Professor Ian Calder, an internationally renowned ceramicist, was also on display.

Postgraduate student Ms Jessica Steytler presented her artwork titled, “The Bride”, which interrogates the perceived boundaries between “art” and “craft”, while exploring the potential meanings embodied by the media of porcelain and fabric.

Student Mr Rory Klopper presented his work titled MANtis which deals with his anxiety regarding his personal identity as a concept in flux (Who am I?).

Students Ms Caroline Birch and Ms Natasha Hawley also exhibited their works.

Birch’s work, Landscape, is a reference, through the unreality of solid matter, to a shared and ubiquitous space inhabited by all. ‘What appears to be solid is essentially space and energy. Space becomes a metaphor for inter-connectedness, and thus breaches the (perceived) boundaries between identities - individual, gender, cultural,’ she said.

Hawley exhibited her ceramic vessels which she creates through deconstruction and re-assembly, stylized responses and using elements to create patterns thus taking form as a three dimensional collage.

Asked about the exhibition and conference, Spencer said: ‘The event allows our students to showcase their work and provides an opportunity to hear and consider ideas about power in its visual manifestation and theories relating to how it is expressed or countered.’

Work by postgraduate students included:

•   Ms Paula Hulley’s My Armageddon, which explores the self and shadow in relation to her inward journey and life transitions

•   Ms Jo Smart’s Fevered Dreams, exploring culture and identity

•   Mr Modisa Motsomi’s Threshold, examining diaspora and identity

•   Ms Amanda Bucknall’s Backwaters of Evolution, examining the notion of power and visual culture

•   Ms Roz Cryer’s sketch of Izzy, an ‘exercise in finding a balance between spirit, spontaneity and likeness’

•   Mr Muzi Gigaba’s two pieces, Ligcwala izibungu and Manyoni, displaying his interest in the figure and an exploration of current value systems

•   Ms Anda Dodo’s ceramic bowl collection allowing her to document memories of her youth and upbringing

•   Ms Nina Calder’s work Recollect, which played with the concept of forgetting versus remembering

•   Eight individual pieces by Ms Fahmeeda Omar’s which were hand coiled using miniature threads of clay.

Melissa Mungroo and Merusha Naidoo


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UKZN Students Organise Casual Day for the Mentally Challenged

UKZN Students Organise Casual Day for the Mentally Challenged
UKZN presents Casual Day in Durban North.

Third-year Occupational Therapy (OT) students championed a fun-filled Casual Day for residents in the Durban North community who have mental impairments.

Whether genetic or acquired birth defects, the mental impairments were surpassed by crafty and colourful artworks produced by participants and exhibited on the day as a result of UKZN-run sheltered workshops in Durban North.

OT Senior Tutor, Ms Chantal Christopher, said the Discipline had a six-year working relationship with the community and students were always hands-on, assessing the clients and finding means for individual or group treatment.

‘Our focus is on occupation,’ explained OT Senior Tutor, Ms Debbie Fewster. ‘The students help the clients to be as productive as can be with their time; improving their quality of life and social skills.’

Fewster said the day was a significant event and outreach initiative for the students. Not only did it put theory into practice but it was also a way of giving back to the community.

Casual Day is South Africa’s foremost fundraising campaign for persons with disabilities and is the flagship project of the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities.

Student Ms Nontuthuko Sibiya said she and her colleagues felt producing art was a good way for all participants to showcase their creativity, abilities and uniqueness. ‘The Durban North Challenge formed part of our on-going work with the community.’

In line with Casual Day’s theme, Spring into Action, participants celebrated the new season with much laugher, dancing, craftsmanship, treats and snacks.

Lunga Memela


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Developmental Lecturer Wins at CHS Research Symposium

Developmental Lecturer Wins at CHS Research Symposium
Prize-winning Lecturer Ms Bongiwe Ndlovu.

A Lecturer in the HIV Pathogenesis Programme in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences, Ms Bongiwe Ndlovu, won second prize at the annual CHS Research Symposium for her study titled: “Evolution of Neutralising Antibodies in HIV-1 Subtype C Infection”.

In her study, Ndlovu screened a group of HIV-1 infected people and identified individuals who developed broadly neutralising antibodies.  Her study revealed that some individuals develop strong and potent broadly neutralising antibodies that could be used in passive immunisation of HIV-1 negative people.

She said: ‘The study highlights important aspects in the development of neutralising antibodies which could contribute in the design of an antibody-based vaccine.’

According to Ndlovu, broadly neutralising antibodies are rare antibodies found in between 20% to 30% of HIV-1 infected people. ‘These antibodies bind to diverse virus strains and block HIV-1 infection, thus they can be used to provide sterilizing immunity,’ she explained.

The study screened a group of HIV-1 infected individuals in Durban and identified 4/20 people who developed broadly neutralising antibodies. These individuals were then analysed retrospectively and the researchers found that these antibodies developed about a year after HIV-infection.

‘We mapped the epitopes targeted by these antibodies and found that they target glycans at position 276 and 332 of the V2 and V3 loop on the viral envelope respectively,’ said Ndlovu. 

Further studies are underway to discover why these individuals developed the broadly neutralising antibodies and whether the virus could develop ways of evading these antibodies.

Ndlovu spent three months at National Institute of Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg, learning neutralising antibody techniques. She is grateful to her supervisor Professor Thumbi Ndung’u and his collaborators, Professor Lynn Morris and Professor Penny Moore for their guidance and support.

Ndlovu enjoys teaching, research, reading books and spending time with her family. ‘My faith in God keeps me going. I believe that he has a plan for our lives. Martin Luther King Jr once said “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase”.’

She previously won the Women in Science PhD fellowship award from the Department of Science and Technology (2012).

 Nombuso Dlamini


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Study by Young Health Scientist in Peer-Reviewed Journal

Study by Young Health Scientist in Peer-Reviewed Journal
Ms Yashodani Pillay.

A study conducted by young doctoral candidate, Ms Yashodani Pillay (25), has been published in the interdisciplinary journal on the toxins derived from animals, plants and micro-organisms, Toxicon.

The study, Patulin Triggers NRF2-Mediated Survival Mechanisms in Kidney Cells, was co-supervised by Medical Biochemistry Head, Professor Anil Chuturgoon, and Dr Alisa Phulukdaree. It investigated the effects of patulin (PAT) – a toxic antibiotic that is derived from the metabolites of certain fungi – on antioxidant (AO) response survival pathways in human embryonic kidney cells known as HEK293.

Patulin is produced by moulds that contaminate apples and apple products. Pillay says literature shows these foods are most popular among children who are susceptible to toxic outcomes because their defence systems are still developing.

‘Our findings revealed that PAT depleted glutathione which is an agent pivotal to the cellular AO defence system,’ said Pillay. ‘This action increased levels of damaging pro-oxidants (ROS) and triggered the up-regulation of Nuclear erythroid 2-related factor (NRF2) mediated AO mechanisms. This suggested that innate cell survival mechanisms involved with NRF2 signalling were activated in response to acute Patulin exposure. A recent study in animals showed Patulin is a potential initiator in tumorigenicity though its mechanistic role remains unclear. Our study may assist in understanding the part Patulin may play, though further work is needed to fully elucidate this mechanism.

‘I am interested in disease manifestation, their impact on public health, and the development of counteractive methods. Mycotoxins contaminate various food products impacting and their mechanistic role in health and disease is poorly defined.’

Pillay said she had a passion for innovation in science and uplifting people. ‘I enjoy the pursuit of new knowledge and applying different tools and methods to the problems present in health.

‘In research, learning and innovation keeps us dynamic. I hope to bring this together with more community work and perhaps eventually go into public health field.

Pillay, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences degree, thanked her supervisors for remaining inspirational and always encouraging.

Lunga Memela


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College of Humanities Provides Major Input at 2015 World Social Science Forum

College of Humanities Provides Major Input at 2015 World Social Science Forum
UKZN academics at the World Social Science Forum panel session.

Academics and students from UKZN’s College of Humanities played an important role in the success of the 2015 World Social Science Forum held at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Durban.

Representatives of the University, which is a consortium partner of the WSSF, were on the local organising committee for the event.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, who chaired a session on Gender and Development, joined forces with the Dean of Research, Professor Urmilla Bob, for a presentation titled: “Assessing the Environment for Social Science Research: The Case of South Africa”.

Director of UKZN’s Centre for Civil Society (CCS)Professor Patrick Bond, chaired a session on Inequalities in Post-Apartheid South Africa and presented on the topic: “Durban’s Contested Infrastructure, Society, Economy and Ecology”, while Professor Brij Maharaj presented on: “The Quick Fix? Social and Economic Impacts of Mega-Events in South Africa”.

Ms Catherine Sutherland and Professor Dianne Scott focused on: “Durban, an African Post-Metropolis: Implications for Urban Policy and Practice in the City”; while Senior Politics Lecturer, Dr Lubna Nadvi, gave a poster presentation on “Apartheid still Exists in the Middle East: The Role of South Africa in Ending the Occupation of and Socio Economic Inequality in Palestine through Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)”.

Education academic, Professor Relebohile Moletsane, chaired a session on “Analysing the Obstacles - What is Structural and What is Personal? Initial Findings from a Longitudinal Study on Student Success in South African Universities”.

One of the plenary sessions led to discussions emerging under the topic: “Knowledge, Power, Space: Narratives from Africa presented by a panel of UKZN academics”.

The challenges discussed were inequality, poverty, and environmental ruination which are informed by various epistemologies, embedding various power, social, cultural, and economic relations.

According to the panellists, the ramifications are consequently, central rather than remote to everyday existence. This complexity is interrogated from social science, political science and political ecology/natural science perspectives.

Dean and Head of the School of Applied Human Sciences, Professor Nhlanhla Mkhizespoke on “Infusing African Perspectives into Social Sciences and Humanities, emphasising he felt the social sciences in Africa have historically relied on foreign paradigms, and epistemologies. ‘African perspectives on the social sciences remain on the margins of academic scholarship and research,’ he said.

Mkhize provided an overview of contributions of indigenous perspectives towards the social sciences.  ‘In recognition of the plural and multi-vocal nature of the knowledge domain, the project to develop Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) cannot be meaningfully pursued without taking cognisance of local languages, as it is in these languages that the cognitive, philosophical, and other frameworks of the local people are embedded. African languages and IKS are indispensable to the transformation of the Higher Education landscape.’

UKZN Senior Political Science Lecturer Dr Suzanne Francis discussed the ways in which studies neglect to consider the politics and ethics that underpin the process of knowledge production in post-conflict African states.

Posing a series of powerful ethical questions, Dr Francis said that ‘there is an urgent need for political scientists to put theories of the African state into the methodology through which knowledge is produced on Africa. If the theories of the state differ, then so does the process of knowledge production.’

She offered an alternative way to think about the elite interview in the African State and said, ‘What we do and the ways that we do it are decidedly political and ethical acts. Theorising questions of ethics, power and political space in the process of knowledge production is what makes our research valid.’

Academic Leader for Development Studies, Dr Mvuselelo Ngcoya, and SARCHi Chair in Applied Poverty Reduction Assessment, Professor Sarah Bracking, presented on their ongoing research on Climate Change Adaptation, Poverty Reduction and Food Sovereignty.

They looked at global policy agendas, including the Green Climate Fund, Green Bonds, the assembly of the

“entrepreneurial self” and the financialisation of climate change, noting that a new power knowledge system was needed.

Speaking about the Governance of Poverty using the water sector as a lens, Dr Sagie Narsiah of the School of Social Sciences said: ‘Knowledge(s) applied geographically and spatially are in many ways crucial to the exercise of power and rule over the poor, in a phrase, poverty governance.’

He derived a conceptual framework from Marxian crisis theory and New Public Management (NPM) to understand neoliberal techniques of governance in the water sector, demonstrating that neoliberal techniques of governance discriminate against the poor in particular.

Melissa Mungroo


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Study by Masters Student Wins Award at CHS Research Symposium

Study by Masters Student Wins Award at CHS Research Symposium
Mr Naeem Sheik Abdul.

Masters student in UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Science, Mr Naeem Sheik Abdul, presented a study examining the effect of a fungal toxin, fusaric acid, on metabolism in cells at the 2015 CHS Research Symposium.

The study titled: “Fusaric Acid Induces Mitochondrial Stress in Human Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HepG2) Cells”, earned Abdul third place in the Masters Oral presentation category.

The study on the effects of fusaric acid on metabolism in a human liver cell line, aimed to determine whether fusaric acid can mimic nicotinamide, in order to inhibit an enzyme (Sirtiun3) that allows for energy production and detoxification of reactive oxygen species (a mechanism of protection) in these cells.

Abdul said: ‘This toxin is neglected in terms of research and as a result not much is known about its effects.’

The results showed that fusaric acid does induce mitochondrial stress. ‘Damage to mitochondria is at the crossroads between normal metabolism and cell death. The interplay between apoptotic regulators and mitochondrial energy metabolism should therefore be considered during the search for novel anticancer drugs,’ explained Abdul.

According to Abdul, his study is novel in terms of elucidating a mechanism of action for this toxin to provide a better understanding of its implications in health and disease.

He said the study may form the basis for further work to translate fusaric acid from a bench top anti-cancer compound to a clinical setting.

Abdul said the application of the research - conducted in the Medical Biochemistry and Chemical Pathology laboratory in the George Campbell building at Howard College – was twofold. ‘Maize is the staple diet of many South Africans - that being said fungi parasitizing food and feed often produce toxins such as fusaric acid. This study shows a mechanistic dysregulation of mitochondrial function by fusaric acid and shows how this mycotoxin can be implicated in illness and other socio-economic settings.’

‘The results also reveal that fusaric acid may possess tumoricidal capabilities by increasing mitochondrial stress and the generation of reactive oxygen species resulting in cell death. However, further work must be done to determine its efficacy.’

He said although this study had shown promising results more work was needed, particularly in in vivo models, to determine the toxicity of fusaric acid holistically as well as further studies to fully evaluate its efficacy as a possible chemotherapeutic agent.

Abdul is currently working on the effects of fusaric acid to inhibit mitochondrial biogenesis thus further affecting cell functioning. He plans to complete his PhD and thereafter get into drug development.

The “eat an elephant one bite at a time” principle keeps Abdul going. ‘This makes the often complex and unceasing methodology of scientific research more manageable,’ he added.

‘I am grateful to all those who played a role in my success, including UKZN’s Department of Medical Biochemistry, especially Professor Anil Chuturgoon and Ms Savania Nagiah, as well as my family and friends. I did not expect the award. I just tried to do my best under the nervous pressures of presenting.’

 Nombuso Dlamini


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Isikole SezoMthetho Sase-UKZN Sihlele Ngokuhlanganyela Umcimbi i-Town and Gown

Isikole SezoMthetho Sase-UKZN Sihlele Ngokuhlanganyela Umcimbi i-Town and Gown
Kusuka kwesobunxele uMnu Justice Luthuli, uMnu Khulekani Khumalo, uMnu Mpumelelo Mchunu, uNksz Nandipa Ndlovu noNksz Mbali Mtshali.

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Umcimbi waminyaka yonke i-Town and Gown bewuhlelwe ngokuhlanganyela phakathi kweSikole SezoMthetho neNhlangano YabaMmeli YaseMgungundlovu i-Pietermaritzburg Attorney’s Association.

ITown and Gown umcimbi  onikeza abasebenza emkhakheni wezomthetho ithuba lokuhlangana nabafundisi beSikole sezoMthetho. 

Usihlalo we-Pietermaritzburg Attorney’s Association uNkz Ashika Singh, uthe lo mcimbi uveza ithuba lokucobelelana ngolwazi nemibono.

‘Izinkinga, izinselelo, izingqinamba zomkhakha wezomthetho kuxoxwa ngazo ngenhloso yokuthola izixazululo,’ kusho uSingh.

USolwazi waseSikoleni  sezoMthetho uShannon Hoctor uthe kubalulekile ukuthi iNyuvesi ibe nokuxhumana nalabo abasebenza emkhakheni, iningi labo elineziqu zase-UKZN.

‘Kubalulekile ukuthi sithole ulwazi kulabo asebesebenza mayelana nesimo sezomkhakha siphinde sizwe abakubonayo kubafundi bethu abaneziqu. Lokhu kusinika ithuba lokuhlinzeka abafundi bethu ngabazobhekana nakho uma sebesebenza ngoba basuke bengazi ukuthi  ukusebenza kulomkhakha kuyinto enjani,’kusho u-Hoctor.

Lo mcimbi uphinde waveza ithuba lokuthi abafundisi bahlangane nababengabafundi  ukuze bezwe ngasebekuzuzile.

Umfundisi Omkhulu waseSikoleni sezoMthetho uNkz Nicci Whitear-Nel uthe:’Ngazi abantu abaningi lapha njengozakwethu nababengabafundi ngakho lo mcimbi uveza ithuba lokuxoxa. Bekumnandi kakhulu,’ enezelela.

UMnu Valentine Marion, ongummeli osegcotshiwe wakwa-Anthoo, Marion & Associates uthe u-Whitear-Nel wayengumfundisi wakhe futhi ukuthokozele kakhulu ukuxhumana naye.

ITown and Gown inikeza ithuba abammeli abasebasha ithuba lokuxhumana nabanye.

 IMantshi uNkz Junnifer Anthoo uveze ukuthi wayeyingxenye yomcimbi i-Town and Gown okokuqala eminyakeni engama-25 esakhiweni esifanayo nalesi okuhlanganelwe kuso namuhla!

-Ngu-Merusha Naidoo


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PhD Students Present Research at Symposium in Austria

PhD Students Present Research at Symposium in Austria
Ms Atsile Ocwelwang and Ms Vezekile Zungu, presented part of their PhD research findings in Vienna, Austria.

UKZN Forestry PhD students, Ms Atsile Ocwelwang and Ms Vezekile Zungu, presented part of their PhD research findings at the 18th International Symposium on Wood, Fibre and Pulping Chemistry (ISWFPC) in Vienna, Austria.

The ISWFPC is a prestigious congress for scientists who work mainly on lignocellulose and biorefinery-based research.

Ocwelwang and Zungu, both registered in the Discipline of Chemical Engineering under the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES), are based at the CSIR Forestry and Forest Products (FFP) Research Centre.

These two budding research scientists work under the supervision of Professor Bruce Sithole, and co-supervision of Professor Deresh Ramjugernath. Their research projects are based on dissolving pulp, which is a raw material used in the production of high value cellulose derivatives such as viscose rayon, cellulose esters and cellulose ethers for the clothing, pharmaceutical and packaging industries.

‘Attending the Symposium was a humbling experience for us as young and developing researchers,’ said Zungu. ‘We met and made contacts with established researchers in the field and we’re now looking forward to doing collaborative research with them. One of the highlights of our trip was meeting and interacting with the people we always cite as we read and write scientific reports - they gave us positive feedback and comments for our presentations as well.’

The duo, due to complete their research by the end of next year, intend to do post-doctoral work. They acknowledged their supervisors and thanked the CAES, CSIR and the NRF for financial support.

UKZNDabaOnline


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Physics Student Wins Best Poster Award at International Conference

Physics Student Wins Best Poster Award at International Conference
Mr Jean-Pierre Mulumba.

PhD candidate in the School of Chemistry and Physics, Mr Jean-Pierre Mulumba, won the prize for the best poster presentation at the 4th International Conference on Earth Science and Climate Change in Alicante, Spain.

The Conference brought together leading academics, scientists, researchers and students from the fields of geosciences, geology, meteorology, volcanology, atmospheric science, global warming, environmental sciences, remote sensing, among others in which the aim is to promote earth science education at school, college and university levels, and to the general public.

Mulumba said benefits of attending the conference included the opportunity it presented for learning and sharing knowledge on new topics.

He was impressed by a presentation on the Blue Green Dream, a new scientific concept that can help cities and countries manage scarce natural resources, and information on climate change resilience strategies from other eminent scientists.

Mulumba’s poster presentation, taken from his PhD research, was titled: Modeling Tropospheric Ozone Climatology and Meteorological Parameters over Irene (South Africa) using Southern Hemisphere ADditional OZonesondes (SHADOZ) data.

SHADOZ is an initiative by NASA to co-ordinate information gleaned by ozonesonde stations collecting data in the subtropics and make it available through their website for research purposes.

Delegates at the conference were impressed with the quality of Mulumba’s work and pleased to see an African student attending the Conference given the challenges the continent is experiencing regarding climate change.

Mulumba, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, holds a BSc Honours in Meteorology from the University of Kinshasa and a Masters degree in Environmental Science from UKZN, which focused on air pollution.

He said he chose to pursue postgraduate studies at UKZN because of its reputation as a leading African university striving for excellence in science.

The aim of Mulumba’s research is to provide comprehensive characteristics of the tropospheric ozone layer over southern Africa and its effect on regional climate. He is interested in tropospheric ozone, which is a secondary pollutant generated from the reaction of primary pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrous dioxide from anthropogenic and natural activities and ultraviolet rays from sunlight. 

‘Ozone in the troposphere is harmful for human, animal and plant health as well as the environment. It causes pulmonary diseases and has a negative impact on plant growth, and is also a greenhouse gas that has negative impact on the earth radiation budget.’

Mulumba plans to go on with research on atmospheric pollution and climate change after completing his PhD, and also hopes to lecture.

Mulumba’s supervisors are Professor Sivakumar Venkataraman of the Atmospheric Pollution Research Group in the School of Chemistry and Physics, and Professor Thomas Afullo of the School of Engineering. He thanked them for their guidance.

Mulumba’s trip was funded in part by the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science as well as uMoya- Nilu Consulting, who sponsored his stay in Spain.

Christine Cuénod


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Students Experience Life in the Workplace

Students Experience Life in the Workplace
Supply Chain Student Association members.

The Supply Chain Student Association (SCSA) recently facilitated various initiatives in an effort to bridge the gap between academia and the business world. 

The SCSA was founded by Supply Chain Management postgraduate students after an observation that final-year and postgraduate students are uninformed about what is expected of them in the working world.

One of the association’s initiatives was a site visit to shoe manufacturing business, Villa Footwear, to give second, third and fourth year students a realistic view of the value of their qualification in the supply chain industry.

‘The experience gave students an idea of the practical aspect of supply chain operations. They were able to see their study theories work in the shoe company’s operations,’ said the SCSA’s Research and Development Officer, Mr Kwanele Duma.

‘This opportunity allowed for the enlightenment of students in terms of the practical aspect of supply chain operations as they were able to transit their theory to practical aspects through practical involvement in the company operations,’ said Mr Kwanele Duma, the Associations Research and Development Officer.’

The Association also hosted a three hour seminar which created a platform for students to engage with industry experts from Standard Bank, Eduloan, Shoprite, Transnet and Vector Logistic to keep on the latest industry trends.

SCSA Mentor and Lecturer, Dr Patmond Mbhele, said the initiatives were important as they encouraged students to take ownership of their education and find solutions to the challenges faced in their studies.

‘The initiatives also allow the students to debate about global challenges facing the country such as the value of the rand and how it impacts on the supply chain. Discussions with industry experts do not only concern hearing about recruitment opportunities but are also about getting to know how the skills they learn can be used in the working world,’ said Mbhele.

Thandiwe Jumo


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Executive Editor of eLife Speaks at UKZN

Executive Editor of eLife Speaks at UKZN
From left: Professor Jonathan Blackledge, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Mr Andy Collings and Professor Salim Abdool Karim.

The Executive Editor of the eLIFE Journal, Mr Andy Collings, spoke at a gathering on UKZN’s Westville campus as a guest of the Research Office and Caprisa. 

The title of Collings’s talk, held in the Research Office’s Common Room, was: “Enabling Consultation and Transparency in the Review Process: A Perspective From eLIFE”. 

eLIFE is a journal for outstanding research in the life sciences and biomedicine which is categorised in four main areas: biochemistry, cell biology, neuroscience and plant biology. 

Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Jonathan Blackledge, said: ‘We are privileged today to have the Executive Editor of eLIFE - a novel, peer reviewed, journal established by Nobel Laureate, Randy Scheckman - to share his insights and thoughts on this topic and demystify the eLIFE process.’

‘It provides an excellent opportunity and motivation for UKZN to deliberate science publishing, the peer review system and to learn about and receive feedback on a novel approach being used by eLIFE,’ said Blackledge. 

eLIFE Sciences is a unique, non-profit collaboration between the funders and practitioners of research to improve the way important results are published and shared. The open-access eLIFE journal is the first step in this initiative to make science publishing more effective for the benefit of science and scientists. 

eLIFE Sciences is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust. It has published more than 1200 research papers.

Collings said the goals of eLIFE were to create more efficient publishing, exploit digital media, provide an open access forum, and inspire change. 

Blackledge said knowledge generation processes were rapidly evolving amid increasing globalisation and technological advances, while at the same time expanding with inter-and multi-disciplinary teams with growing north-south and south-south partnerships.  

He acknowledged that there was a need to start deliberations on how to enhance the peer review process and establish processes and metrics that took into account the changing knowledge generation landscape. 

Collings said there were several positive reasons why researchers should submit to eLIFE - the journal made prompt decisions and provided timeous feedback, there were no restrictions on the number of illustration figures that could be included, there were, for now, no fees, there was a limited round of revision, the articles were made more accessible, and the journal provided letters of recommendation.

Collings said the inclusion of fees would not affect the openness of articles nor should it be a barrier for researchers around the world.  

Caprisa’s Professor Salim Abdool Karim said the journal was comparable to any other on the market, being among the world’s prestigious biomedical and life sciences publications. 

Sithembile Shabangu


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Ground-Breaking Study Published in Top Immunology Journal

Ground-Breaking Study Published in Top Immunology Journal
Dr Zaza Ndhlovu.

Leading international peer-reviewed medical journal, Immunity, has published the findings of ground-breaking research led by Honorary Senior Lecturer at UKZN’s HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP), Dr Zaza Ndhlovu.

‘We wanted to understand how the body defends itself during the first stage of HIV disease called “acute HIV infection”. We also wanted to understand why the immune system, which seems to initially control the virus, fails to completely eliminate it resulting in progressive HIV disease,’ Ndhlovu said.

The two-year study titled: “Magnitude and Kinetics of CD8+ T Cell Activation during Hyperacute HIV Infection Impacts Viral Set Point”, was conducted in Umlazi, Durban, where Ndhlovu’s team discovered that despite HIV being characterised as an immune suppressive disease, the initial immune response to HIV infection was much larger than previously appreciated.

‘We also discovered that the strength of the initial response mediated by killer white cells called “killer lymphocytes” - also called CD8 T lymphocytes - play a crucial role in controlling HIV replication during the early phase of the disease,’ said Ndhlovu. ‘More importantly we discovered that the reason the initial immune response fails to completely eliminate the virus is because HIV induced killer lymphocyte die before completely eliminating HIV infected cells allowing the disease to progress.’

Ndhlovu said: ‘To have a paper published in such an important journal is an endorsement of the significance of my discovery by the wider scientific community. This is a great achievement not only for me and my team but for UKZN as well.’

Ndhlovu worked on the study with HPP Scientific Director, Professor Thumbi Ndungu, and HPP Principal Investigator, Professor Bruce Walker, from Harvard University as part of the larger longitudinal work to identify and analyse people immediately after they are infected with HIV.

‘The study is called FRESH, which stands for Females Rising through Education, Support and Health, and has two interlinked objectives. The intensive 12-month core training programme aims to adequately empower participants to gain and keep meaningful employment education as well as to screen participants twice for evidence of acute HIV infection.’

Ndhlovu said he was passionate about contributing to the fight against HIV because despite considerable prevention efforts, new HIV transmissions continued to establish life-long infections.

‘The ultimate goal of ending the HIV epidemic will require development of an effective and affordable HIV vaccine. By investigating how HIV attacks the body and how the body defends itself, my research seeks to identify molecular targets that can be exploited for a rationally designed HIV vaccines,’ Ndhlovu said.

Ndhlovu is an Instructor in Medicine at the Ragon Institute of Massachusatts General Hospital, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School. He said his research interests included other infectious diseases such as TB and malaria.

His team acknowledged FRESH participants, international funders, and the FRESH and HPP laboratory staff who all helped make the study a success.

Lunga Memela


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Research-led Universities not Superior to those focused on Teaching and Learning - Habib

Research-led Universities not Superior to those focused on Teaching and Learning - Habib
Professor Renuka Vithal (left) and Professor Adam Habib at the Teaching and Learning Conference.

Research-led universities are not inherently superior to those focused primarily on teaching and learning, says the Vice-Chancellor of Wits University, Professor Adam Habib. And, further, they are not necessarily more deserving of additional funding based on their status and hierarchy.

Habib was speaking at the 9th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference in Durban on the topic: “Developing a Differentiated System in South African Higher Education”.

He said a differentiated Higher Education system enabled responsiveness to the diverse and multiple needs of an economy and a society. ‘A differentiated Higher Education system is a prerequisite for both economic competition and inclusive development.’ While emphasising that all universities needed to be engaged in research, he said ‘we need to disabuse ourselves of our obsession with status: that research-led universities are inherently superior to those focused primarily on teaching and learning’. 

Habib also cautioned against the assumption that research-led universities were more deserving of additional funding, linked to their status and hierarchy. Universities needed to partner and work with one another.

‘The transformation struggle and the transformation upsurge on our campuses have been long overdue and must be welcomed,’ said Habib.  However, he warned against equating radical with violent. ‘Achieving progressive, radical outcomes need not be violent.’

Universities needed to establish a culture of caring, he said, through the curriculum, echoing the welcome address delivered by Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Professor Renuka Vithal. ‘The challenge was how to establish caring in an uncaring society?’

Stressing the importance of creativity within the production of knowledge, he interrogated the issue of quality saying courage was needed amongst leadership and academics to address the challenges of quality in Higher Education.

In her welcome address, Vithal, said UKZN had ‘tinkered on the edges of curriculum’ change. She examined how universities could better facilitate students adjusting to being at university. ‘We know that the first semester and first year curricula are sometimes packed with the potential gatekeeping “killer” courses, resulting in a year or more being added by failing even a single prerequisite module in the first semester,’ said Vithal.

She stressed the importance of community engagement being undertaken by all students and said students need to be properly prepared for a ‘rapidly changing’ globalised world.

‘We continue to live in an important historical moment and students have opened a critical window of opportunity through the current ferment, which offers universities possibilities to significantly re-imagine our undergraduate curricula for substantially better learning outcomes to serve society.’

The three-day conference, hosted by UKZN’s Teaching and Learning Office, provided a platform for academics and researchers from around the world to reflect on teaching and learning strategies and approaches, with particular emphasis on reimagining Higher Education.

Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer


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