International Study Establishes Link Between Depression and Food Insecurity in SA

International Study Establishes Link Between Depression and Food Insecurity in SA
UKZN collaborators, clockwise from top left: Dr Mitsuaki Tomita, and Professors Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, Rob Slotow, Busisiwe Ncama and Albert Modi.

An international study funded by the United Kingdom’s (UK) Wellcome Trust’s Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) project, has found a high incidence of depression amongst people living in food insecure environments in South Africa (SA).

The collaborative study which included scientists from the United States, the UK and SA was recently published in the prestigious journal, Nature Scientific Reports. It was the first study of its kind to link long-term depression with the public health challenge of food insecurity.

Food security is defined as having enough food at all times for an active and healthy life. In order to measure the incidence of depression in food insecure areas, data from the South African National Income Dynamics Study (SA-NIDS) wave 1 (year 2008), wave 2 (2010), wave 3 (2012), and wave 4 (2015) were analysed. SA-NIDS data provides unique insights into population trends in living conditions, and the well-being of the South African population.

An incident cohort was constructed to ensure that the observed study participants were initially free of depression and the risk of depression onset was then tracked over time between those exposed and not exposed to food insecurity. According to lead author, Dr Mitsuaki Tomita from UKZN, ‘The incident cohort consisted of 8 801 participants who were depression free at baseline.

‘Our study identified three major hotspots of food insecurity in the country. These included two clusters in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), and one overlapping KZN and the Eastern Cape (EC). An alarming finding was that a number of individual households in these hotspots experienced food insecurity with a significantly greater likelihood of depression.’

Whilst a biomedical approach has often been used to treat depression using psychotherapeutic and pharmacotherapeutic treatments, based on the study’s evidence, the scientists highlight the need to address the underlying social causes (eg poverty and hunger) in the community.

The study also found that a high rate of food insecurity existed in hotspots which were regarded as having the highest food producing potential. This is defined as the Food Insecurity Paradox, which is evident in provinces such as KZN and the EC with fertile soils that are suitable for commercial and small-scale/subsistence farming, are the best-watered provinces, and are home to many large agri-businesses.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science at UKZN, Professor Albert Modi is a leading authority in crop science as well as field crop management. As co-author of the study Modi stressed the importance of developing rural areas to ensure sustainable subsistence farming which not only provides a secure income but also nutrient enriched crops. He said, ‘The majority (if not all) people who are affected by poverty and food insecurity in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal reside in the former “homelands” – Transkei and Zululand. While colonialism is known for land dispossession, it also allowed people to continue with their indigenous culture of self-sufficiency derived from land cultivation of traditional staples and animal husbandry, which included utilisation of indigenous vegetables that are richer in essential micronutrients and vitamins than modern conventional vegetables. Traditional staple crops have varieties that can be produced organically and require low levels of rainfall – maize, beans, amadumbe, sweet potatoes, sorghum, etc. We need to help this population by enabling commercialisation, ensuring self-sufficiency and a stable income and thus creating food security in these hotspots.’

SHEFS is a global research programme funded by the Wellcome Trust (running from 2017 to 2022) with three country case study sites, the UK, SA and India. Its focus is to bridge the gap between science and practice to understand and solve current social and environmental problems.

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photographs: Supplied

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Current and Former Public Protectors team up to deliver Report Writing Skills Webinar

Current and Former Public Protectors team up to deliver Report Writing Skills Webinar
Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane (left) and Professor Thuli Madonsela.

Improving the reporting skills of African Ombudsmen and their staff was the focus of a recent webinar hosted by the African Ombudsman Research Centre (AORC) which is based at UKZN.

Attended by more than 700 participants, the webinar was facilitated by South Africa’s Public Protector and African Ombudsman and Mediators’ Association (AOMA) President, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane and featured a presentation by AORC Founding Chairperson and Former Public Protector, Professor Thuli Madonsela. It was the first in a series of planned webinars aimed at enhancing the capacity of African Ombudsman across the continent to prepare persuasive reports and contribute to the development of skilled resources within Ombudsman institutions.

Madonsela highlighted the importance of drawing on the art of storytelling to present a report that clearly communicates its findings. She commented that sound investigations are often sabotaged by poor report writing skills.

‘Reports need to be clear, concise, accurate, professional and persuasive. When you write your report, consider who you are writing it for and how you want the case to be received, and make them believe that you have found the truth. Make sure it communicates the law, but still has an emotional impact,’ advised Madonsela.

She encouraged ombudsman to conduct a factual analysis when preparing a report.

‘Make sure that the investigation is regal, prompt and ethical, and find sources besides the complainant for a tight case. You can achieve this by asking yourself what the issue at hand is, what principles will be used to fix it, and what should have happened to avoid the issue as well as what the discrepancies are.’

In her address, Mkhwebane noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed everyone out of their comfort zones and calls for a new way of doing things.

‘The information shared today will help all of us to sharpen our expertise and have a fresh perspective in order to guide the investigative process. Let us find the positives from this time like this session and work hard moving forward,’ she said.

Speaking on behalf of UKZN’s Vice-Chancellor and Council, College of Law and Management Studies Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head, Professor Brian McArthur said he was delighted that the first webinar was delivered by such phenomenal women.

‘As August is Women’s Month, it is significant that we have Advocate Mkhwebane and Professor Madonsela here during a time that South Africa celebrates women for their invaluable contribution to the advancement of our democracy.

‘Today’s session was insightful and thought-provoking. It focused on practical measures that ombudsman and their staff can use to further strengthen their report writing skills.’

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga 

Photographs: Supplied

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The Body Politics Remembered During Women’s Month through Dance at JOMBA!

The Body Politics Remembered During Women’s Month through Dance at JOMBA!
JOMBA! 2020 performers.

South Africa honours and celebrates the role of women in society during Women’s Month and on Women’s Day (9 August), in commemoration of the march of about 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956 to petition against the country’s pass laws.

‘Sixty-four years later, at our annual JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience, taking place in August, women’s social, economic, and political struggles, challenges, hopes, and joys, are exposed and expressed through their work and bodies,’ said Dr Lliane Loots, Artistic Director of JOMBA!. ‘Dance is a visceral art form that gives space to a body politics and what better way to image defiant and powerful women than those dancing?’

JOMBA! will feature some of Africa’s (and the world’s) most powerful female voices in dance, including Senegal’s award-winning choreographer and dancer, Germaine Acogny, considered as the “mother of Contemporary African dance”. Her 2015 work Somewhere at the Beginning that will be streamed during the festival, is a remarkable solo featuring a 73-year-old Acogny dancing and narrating a journey of self-identity as Black, female, and African.

Flatfoot Dance Company choreographer and dancer Jabu Siphika’s solo piece Ya kutosha, created for JOMBA!, is an intimate and terrifying exploration of gender-based violence and what it means to be trapped in the home.

Twelve-year-old Lethiwe Zamantungwa Nzama teams up with her father Sifiso Kitsona Khumalo to make her professional debut in a piece called Walls, a deeply intimate exploration of a father-daughter relationship set against the separation imposed by COVID-19 and the lockdown.

Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre, under the direction of Nicole Clarke-Springer features in Parallel Lives, a dance narrative inspired by poor, working women who have shared life-changing events, both beautiful and tragic. Performed with robust power, this is a must-see at this year’s festival.

India’s Anita Ratnam, a highly respected performer, writer, speaker, arts entrepreneur, and culture mentor features in Stone ... once again that reveals the facets of gender through misrepresentation and misogyny. This work was conceived after Donald Trump’s election as US president. Ratnam’s main area of focus is the re-interpretation of traditional tropes from myth and legend through a feminist lens.

Power-house dance-maker, Robin Orlin who is known for her incisive wit and ability to confront issues head-on in the dance space, presents a work created for Johannesburg-based Moving into Dance Mophatong called Beauty remained for just a moment then returned gently to her starting position ...

From New Orleans, Leslie Scott and the BODYART Dance Company return to the JOMBA! “stage” with several works, all of which show huge courage and bravery in pushing the boundaries of the dancer’s relationship with audiences.

Other women dance-makers on the programme include Kristi-Leigh Gresse, Leagan Peffer, Nomcebisi Moyikwa, Tegan Peacock, and Zinhle Nzama presenting works on the opening night, which have been commissioned by JOMBA!.

Digital JOMBA! will stream online from from 25 August to 6 September 2020.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Supplied

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UKZN Alumnus Nominated for Sebenza Women Awards

UKZN Alumnus Nominated for Sebenza Women Awards
UKZN alumnus Ms Thabile Buthelezi has been nominated for the Sebenza Women Awards. Click here for isiZulu version

School of Arts alumnus, Ms Thabile Buthelezi has been nominated for Community Builder of the Year in the 2020 Sebenza Women Awards.

The Awards honour women who possess innovation, entrepreneurial drive, selfless leadership, individuality and tenacity and who present as role models for other women and society.

‘All I wanted was to change the world one person at a time. My vision is never to serve the masses but to serve individuals through social transformational initiatives in the hope of encouraging them to serve others,’ said Buthelezi. ‘The greatest reward is seeing people taking charge of their lives through the expanded work I do with the Thabile Buthelezi Foundation and other endeavours, however, such nominations and awards come with so much gratitude as it means that others see your contribution towards the betterment of humanity.’

Vote for Buthelezi by SMSing Thabile to 44344 - 50 cents per vote.

Buthelezi will also be hosting a three-day Woke Queen Arts Festival that celebrates women in the arts and their contributions in the creative economy. The festival will run from 28-30 August at a cost of R450 per person.

For more information, email:

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied

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Virtual Film Screening Explores Transformative River Management in Durban

Virtual Film Screening Explores Transformative River Management in Durban
The Changing Course explores how transformative climate adaptation is exemplified by river management programmes in Durban.

The recent virtual screening to launch a mini documentary titled Changing Course: A look into transformative river programmes in Durban explored how transformative climate adaptation is exemplified by river management programmes in Durban and stimulated discussion on what transformative climate adaptation looks like in southern African cities.

Close to 40 participants joined the event, led by researchers and practitioners from various institutions involved in the collaborative Leading Integrated Research in Africa for Agenda 2030 (LIRA) initiative that provides opportunities for early career researchers to investigate global sustainability.

As part of its efforts to support transformative climate change adaptation, LIRA is investigating responses to climate change that promote equality, inclusiveness and justice. Researchers in Cape Town, Durban and Harare are involved in the initiative to examine the increased intensity of extreme events leading to shifting water availability, floods or droughts in these cities, and what this means for their water resource management.

Changing Course is the culmination of a collaboration between UKZN through the Durban Research Action Partnership, the University of Cape Town’s Climate System Analysis Group and the Chinhoyi University of Technology, funded by LIRA through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Network of African Science Academies, and the International Science Council.

The documentary was directed by Mr Hans Pretorius from UKZN’s Centre for Communication, Media and Society and Dr Lulu van Rooyen, both of whom produced the feature together with Principal Investigator Ms Alice McClure.

The screening formed part of a series of learning labs hosted by the LIRA team, and comprised an overview of multiple transdisciplinary, joint scientific and societal projects exploring aspects of four river management programmes in the Durban area: Wise Wayz Water Care, Sihlanzimvelo, the Palmiet Catchment Rehabilitation Project, and the Aller River Pilot Project. Changing Course is aimed at decision-makers, researchers and members of civil society interested in taking up the call to transform cities and adapt to climate change.

Durban has 7 400km of rivers and streams, many of which are degraded and require management programmes which follow different models to reduce the effects of environmental disasters that follow the rivers’ pathways and affect those who live nearby or rely on the rivers.

McClure noted that eThekwini has prioritised ecological infrastructure in dealing with climate change, and that this research evaluates the successes and challenges of the river management programmes.

The documentary featured several experts and practitioners, including Honorary Professor at UKZN Debra Roberts (Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group II); Dr Catherine Sutherland of UKZN’s School of Built Environment and Development Studies; Manager of the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department at eThekwini Municipality Ms Jo Douwes; and Senior Manager of Catchment Management at the municipality Mr Geoff Tooley. Representatives of groups working on river management programmes also spoke, including the Gcina Arts and Culture Co-Op at Sihlanzimvelo, and consultant Ms Luci Coelho on the Aller River project.

Roberts highlighted that transformative adaptation is a major systemic, proactive change, while Douwes emphasised the necessary fundamental changes to economic and governance structures to change cycles of environmental degradation and inequity.

‘Rivers provide a major service in the city and cannot keep being a buffer for the failure of other systems,’ said Sutherland. ‘If we rehabilitate our rivers and build climate adaptation around them, we create jobs and reconnect people with nature. Rivers are a fundamental opportunity for transforming our city throughout its economic, political, social and environmental life.’

The film can be viewed at

For more information contact Lulu van Rooyen ( or Alice McClure (

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Hans Pretorius

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A Digital Edge – Nine New Works by KZN Dance-makers for 22nd (DIGITAL) JOMBA!

A Digital Edge – Nine New Works by KZN Dance-makers for 22nd (DIGITAL) JOMBA!
Performers for A Digital Edge.

The free online 22nd JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience, presented by the Centre for Creative Arts within the College of Humanities has a packed programme of 10 US dance films and 22 dance works including some created during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Nine of these were commissioned through grants to Durban and Pietermaritzburg dance-makers for a platform called JOMBA! Digital Edge, which will open the festival on 25 August at 19h00, and be available online for the duration of JOMBA!

The dance-makers, who continue to make waves on the local dance scene, were asked to create short dance films around the theme of Intimacies of Isolation. They include Durban dancers Jabu Siphika, Kristi-Leigh Gresse, Leagan Peffer, Nomcebisi Moyikwa, Sandile Mkhize, Sifiso Kitsona Khumalo, Tshediso Kabulu, and Zinhle Nzama, and Pietermaritzburg’s Tegan Peacock.

Flatfoot Dance Company’s Siphika’s solo piece Ya kutosha, is an intimate and terrifying exploration of gender-based violence and what it means to be trapped in the home.

Another solo work Fellow… created by award-winning and edgy dance-maker Gresse explores an artist’s state of mind in isolation and is a journey through this maze in search of light.

Neo-classical wonder-person Peffer’s Kairos presents a personal journey in a solo that delves into the confluence of passion and purpose. The work interrogates how life enables us to confront struggle in love, anger, deceit, and loss as well as in failure.

Moyikwa’s work, U n g a n y a k u m, is an experimental multidisciplinary ‘contemplation; a devotion and a prayer decomposed. It is an engagement with silence – demonstrated by blank spaces, an intentioned meditation that seeks evidence for the question: What does it mean to insist not to die?’

One of Durban’s hidden dance gems, Mkhize (Phakama Dance Company) seeks “history, forefathers, revolution, and ways of being under COVID-19 and our humanity” in his work, Time which he performs with Cue Ngema.

Walls is a deeply intimate exploration of a father-daughter relationship set against the separation imposed by COVID-19 and the lockdown and created and performed by Khumalo (Flatfoot Dance Company) and his daughter, Lethiwe Zamantungwa Nzama. Lethiwe has been a regular at many JOMBA! Youth Fringes and makes her professional debut in this work.

Pietermaritzburg dance stalwart, Peacock has created a short film called Control – Alt – Delete which offers intimate insight into the struggle with control or the loss of it. ‘Both internally and externally our lives have been radically altered and everyone is fighting to regain control and find a new normality,’ she said. For this piece, she collaborated with artist Jono Hornby.

Dynamic dancer and choreographer, Kabulu’s work, Space of Colour is an unflinching look at race and its intersection with class and poverty, and the uneven distribution of power and resources in South Africa, set against the backdrop of isolation and the COVID-19 pandemic. Kabulu and Motlatsi Khotle perform this work with poetry by Khwezi Becker and music by Anelisa Stuurman.

Finally, Nzama (Flatfoot Dance Company) performing with Kirsty Ndawo offers Shadow that looks at friendship and the validation of always having someone there for you, even when you cannot hold hands in a world that now asks for distancing.

‘We cannot wait to share these new commissioned works with dance-lovers and dance-makers from across the globe,’ said Artistic Director Dr Lliane Loots. ‘It has been a difficult time for human beings on this planet. Artists have been deeply affected, but there is one constant, and this is that even in times of struggle and extreme hardship, artists are able to make, create and share their most intimate stories; nothing can keep us from this.’

Recently appointed Director of the Centre for Creative Arts, Dr Ismail Mohamed will welcome the audience, and Loots will deliver an address prior to the streaming of the Digital Edge films on Tuesday, 25 August at 19h00.

The festival runs from 25 August until 6 September off the website The programme will be streamed at 19h00 each evening. From 27 August, the previous evening’s programme will be repeated each day at 12 noon. All platforms for 2020 are free of charge and a full programme is available via the website.

For more information and programme updates visit Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Supplied

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Policing through Violence in South Africa’s Lockdown: Citizen Rights Vs Police Responsibilities

Policing through Violence in South Africa’s Lockdown: Citizen Rights Vs Police Responsibilities
From left: Professor Sadhana Manik, Dr Bronwynne Anderson and Professor Nirmala Gopal.

The College of Humanities’ public webinar on Policing through Violence in South Africa’s lockdown: Citizen Rights Vs Police Responsibilities formed part of the College’s Transformation and Leadership Lecture Series.

The webinar featured Director Mbali Mncadi of South African Police Services (SAPS) Visible Policing, Professor Sadhana Manik (UKZN) and Dr Bronwynne Anderson (UKZN). It was chaired by Professor Nirmala Gopal (UKZN).

Mncadi discussed the role of SAPS during the lockdown and COVID-19 and misconceptions about its members’ behaviour/practices during and post COVID-19. There was a national public outcry about the militarisation of policing behaviour during the earlier months of the lockdown.

In response to this and the theory that there are “bad apples” in SAPS, Mncadi touched on ethical conduct. ‘If someone is not complying, they’ll be reported and submitted to disciplinary hearings. When it is brought to our attention, we do take steps.’ She stressed the need for members of the public to report wrongdoing. ‘It is very difficult for us to investigate without reports on specific cases.’

In terms of gender-based violence (GBV), it was suggested that specialised training and the employment of gender specialists be part of SAPS’ culture. Mncadi assured the public that its members undergo basic training when they enter the service as well as regular “refresher” and “capacity building” courses. ‘It is policy for victims of intimate crimes to be attended to within a private space we call a victim-friendly room (whether or not it is designated as such). Some stations that were established some time ago cannot accommodate population growth and require bigger accommodation.’

Mncadi pointed out that, ‘a key aspect in the current process is for the victim to indicate the imminent harm that is feared in the violation of the protection order. For the offender to be arrested, the officer must be of the opinion that the victim is in danger. For example, if the offender called the victim an idiot and there is nothing else to support a dangerous, threatening situation, it leaves a lot to interpretation and may not take into account what may be a dire situation.’

She added that all complaints regarding SAPS should be filed with the Station Commander of the relevant police station, ‘Station Commanders must take responsibility and there must be consequences. The Criminal Procedure Act must be implemented across the country.’

Gopal who is a Professor in Criminology and Forensic Studies in the School of Applied Human Sciences observed that, ‘In a democracy, the citizenry chooses to be policed and policing strategies must adhere to democratic tenets. Unfortunately, many South Africans are unhappy with the manner in which SAPS delivers on its core mandate.’ She reminded participants that the former South African Police Force had to be completely transformed to shed the culture of a militarised police. ‘Unfortunately, SAPS continues to struggle to achieve a demilitarised service. It’s a long journey and if we collaborate we should achieve this goal even if it takes a few more decades.’

Manik noted that police, who are designated law enforcement officers, should be “peace officers” during a state of disaster. ‘They are obliged to use the least possible force where necessary. Social media is replete with cases of civilians being assaulted by the police for non-compliance with lockdown measures. The lockdown has created further opportunities for police violence to manifest itself in communities. The pandemic created a space for the police to flex their muscles, targeting what researchers are pointing to as “soft targets”, namely, poor Black South Africans and immigrants.’

Manik added that, ‘During the pandemic, xenophobia did not abate and immigrant owners of spaza shops bore the brunt of attempts at political purging coupled with communities plundering their shops, being threatened by mafia-style syndicates and experiencing police brutality and corruption.’

Manik believes that COVID-19 presents a watershed moment for the police to engage in introspection: ‘This must be perceived as an opportunity to be self-critical to assess the weaknesses in law enforcement before the pandemic and during COVID-19 and to use this to transform policing in South Africa. In South Africa, as in the United States, there is no faith in the police.’

She suggested that collaborative efforts be launched to strengthen law enforcement in South Africa and highlighted the need to move away from policing through violence, and harness university researchers to undertake studies and work with non-governmental organisations and schools to promote the good efforts of the police.

Anderson focused on GBV, policing during, and post COVID-19. ‘The pandemic has exacerbated the situation of female victims of GBV. While the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and police are actively monitoring people in terms of wearing masks, curfews and social distancing, what measures are in place to ensure the protection of victims of GBV? Even before COVID -19 South Africa experienced extremely high rates of GBV including the murder of women and children.’

She suggested that SAPS should remain sensitive to and increase reporting and that female police should be assigned GBV cases. ‘Victims need to feel that they are being taken seriously and this means that perpetrators are “brought to book”, charged and incarcerated. Victims should be able to report cases in private and not in charge offices amidst the gaze of other people.’

Anderson noted that many women that are subjected to intimate partner violence have to return to their homes with no protection, often with dire consequences. ‘With more effective policing, much more can be done to reduce the scourge of GBV.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs: Supplied

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UKZN Co-Hosts Dialogue on Transitioning towards a Circular Economy Post COVID-19

UKZN Co-Hosts Dialogue on Transitioning towards a Circular Economy Post COVID-19
The WRC, UKZN’s CTAFS, and the ARC hosted a dialogue on transitioning towards a circular economy post COVID-19.Click here for isiZulu version

The Water Research Commission (WRC), UKZN’s Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) hosted a dialogue on the topic of transitioning towards a circular economy post COVID-19 that featured input from staff, researchers and students in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the CTAFS.

More than 30 participants attended the virtual dialogue, which was opened by WRC Executive Manager Professor Sylvester Mpandeli. He introduced the topic and the WRC’s history in producing policy-relevant research on the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus. Mpandeli said the WRC was proud to work alongside strategic partners including the ARC, UKZN and the CTAFS.

‘The purpose of this dialogue is to map the way forward and ensure that we develop pathways that build resilience in the water and energy sector in order to improve service delivery,’ he said.

WRC Group Executive Dr Stanley Liphadzi thanked participants for contributing to building a knowledge base to prepare for life after the pandemic and prioritise the recycling, redesign and reuse of resources to efficiently meet the need for increasingly scarce water, food and land for South Africa’s growing, predominantly poor population.

Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi of the CTAFS presented on the role of transformative approaches in informing policy and decision-making post COVID-19, noting UKZN’s instrumental role in helping the WRC to develop its WEF focus. He said that disruptions caused by the pandemic indicated that fundamental societal shifts are required to address the vulnerabilities it has exposed, calling for transformative adaptation approaches with multiple foci.

Mabhaudhi thanked the WRC for supporting UKZN’s research in this field, and introduced postdoctoral researchers Drs Sithabile Hlahla and Vimbayi Chimonyo who had benefited from the WRC’s capacity building efforts. Hlahla and Chimonyo presented on why transformation is needed, what is needed for that transformation, whether this transformation is for everyone in every sector, and the challenges associated with adopting transformative adaptation.

‘The pandemic creates an opportunity for us to implement transformative change or to start mapping the pathway through which we can transform our society in terms of changing the direction towards more sustainability and building resilience in communities,’ said Mabhaudhi, emphasising the need to move towards transdisciplinarity.

Senior Lecturer in Crop Science Dr Alfred Odindo outlined the principles of the circular economy, addressing different pathways to achieving it, particularly in terms of nutrients as current agricultural systems deplete non-renewable resources.

Odindo, who is the Principal Investigator for South Africa on the international, transdisciplinary Rural-Urban Nexus: Establishing a Nutrient Loop to Improve City Region Food System Resilience project, provided local examples of opportunities for waste minimisation and nutrient recovery in a circular economy in both food and sanitation systems, and emphasised the need for transformative approaches to create sustainable and resilient systems for the recovery of nutrients.

Professor Sue Walker from the ARC spoke about the implications of COVID-19 for food security and livelihoods, describing the changes that occurred during the pandemic that doubled hunger rates. She provided an overview of South African agriculture, and projected the likely impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity in the country.

WRC CEO Mr Dhesigen Naidoo closed the proceedings, re-emphasising the need for a fundamental restructuring to combat inequality.

‘It’s up to the research and innovation sector to give guidance on what kind of mechanisms can be empowered to effect this change in a meaningful way,’ he said.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Image: Supplied

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UKZN’s Young Academics Society Hosts Webinar Series on Consent

UKZN’s Young Academics Society Hosts Webinar Series on Consent
FRIES Workshop facilitators and presenters. Click here for isiZulu version

In celebration of Women’s Month, UKZN’s Young Academics Society (YAS) is hosting a weekly webinar series titled "FRIES: How to place an order?"

An acronym derived from the Planned Parenthood Association, FRIES describes consent as Freely-given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic and Specific.

The webinar series will feature facilitators and speakers from UKZN’s Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Committee, Social Work, the School of Law and Management Studies, Student Support Services, Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ), Campus HIV and AIDS Support Units (CHASU) and the Jes Foord Foundation.

Founder of the YAS, Ms Nosipho Funeka said the idea of the talk series came about after a controversial story about two public figures surfaced, where one accused the other of sexual assault which allegedly took place years ago. ‘The aim of this series is to start a conversation around consent so that people understand what it means to say - “No! Stop! I’m not in the mood, I’m not ready, I’ve changed my mind” or even to identify and understand body language that indicates discomfort,’ she said.

Awareness Campaign Co-ordinator for the Jes Foord Foundation, Ms Nqobile Hlongwane kicked off the conversation with an introduction to consent titled FRIES Anyone? She examined the different types of consent, namely: informed, expressed, non-verbal and unanimous and noted that it does not include unwanted conversations, harassment, threats, cornering, stalking, grabbing, touching, use of a weapon and hitting. She emphasised that sexual activity without consent is a crime and urged students to understand that “no means no”.

Titled How to order your FRIES, the second webinar looked at consent through the eyes of the South African legislature. Facilitator, lecturer in the School of Law and Chairperson of the GBV Committee, Ms Janine Hicks highlighted the importance of consent in the law. She stressed that consent must be given voluntarily and that the persons involved must understand what they are consenting to. ‘Consenting to a drink doesn’t mean a person is consenting to sex,’ said Hicks. She added that consent can be withdrawn at any time and noted that a person with limited capacity like mental illness or intoxication cannot be of sound mind to do so.

UKZN student and SLSJ member, Ms Mayenziwe Khoza also highlighted the importance of understanding the legal concept of consent. She noted that the legal age for minors to grant consent is 16 and examined the legal ramifications for persons found violating consent, including: common assault, intimidation, sexual assault and rape.

Lecturer in the School of Law, Ms Zamankwali Njobe discussed the ways in which consent can be justified in a court of law and classified these as being able to show that; a person was willing, consent was implied in a clear and obvious way, it was given prior to conduct, consent was given freely and that the participant knew what they were getting themselves into.

The FRIES webinar series will run every Wednesday at 12h30 during the month of August. Participants have the chance to win a cash prize of R500 in an exciting competition.

For more information on forthcoming themes, facilitators and presenters, visit the Young Academics Society Facebook page (@YASUKZN).

To join the Zoom meeting, click on the link below: 

Meeting ID: 642 026 7585

Passcode: FRIES2020

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela

Image: Supplied

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Chemistry Lecturer Dreams of a New Passion for Science in Africa

Chemistry Lecturer Dreams of a New Passion for Science in Africa
Dr Bongiwe Mshengu, senior tutor in the School of Chemistry and Physics.Click here for isiZulu version

To commemorate National Science Week and National Women’s Month, the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science is honouring its female scientists through a Wonder Women In Science campaign, highlighting women who are passionate about their fields, are pioneering innovative research and development, and are examples to women following in their footsteps towards careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Dr Bongiwe Mshengu, a senior tutor in the School of Chemistry and Physics and in UKZN’s Science Access Programme, dreams of a day when she will see an African child appreciating and relating to the science underpinning everyday life, and hopes to be remembered as an African woman dedicated to science.

Mshengu believes that if students in Africa could better relate to the theories taught via principles seen in everyday examples and through research that betters the lives of communities; this would ignite a new enthusiasm for the subject. She said that underperformance in scientific subjects in South Africa is partly due to a lack of resources and facilities to add a practical aspect to theoretical learning.

‘We (Africans) need to embrace science,’ said Mshengu.

Mshengu’s own interest in science began in her childhood through treatment she received for a painful boil from a traditional healer. The healer’s use of herbs led Mshengu to wonder about the source of these healing powers.

A top achiever at school, she looked up to her uncle Mr Sibusiso Madlala, the most educated and successful member of her family whose footsteps she dreamt of following to university, and aimed to become a doctor. Despite not meeting the requirements for medical school, she realised the many options afforded by a BSc degree and enrolled for a BSc in Chemistry and Biochemistry, excelling and receiving Dean’s Commendations during her undergraduate studies, and going on to receive her Honours in Chemistry cum laude and later her PhD in Chemistry.

Mshengu is interested in phytochemical investigation of medicinal plants and synthesis of biologically-active natural products and their analogues, analytical chemistry of medicinal plants, and chemistry education. She also tutors Physical Sciences to Grade 12 learners from rural schools on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

The emerging researcher strives for balance in her life by working at her own pace and setting achievable goals. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a challenge in shifting her working hours from day to night to avoid her young children appearing unannounced in her teaching videos, but she has come up with creative ways to deal with the associated stress, such as baking and reading. She has also used the time to reform her teaching methods, incorporating more technology and developing a blended approach that she will maintain into the future.

Being a woman in her field and emphasising the importance of mentorship for professional development, Mshengu described finding collaborators or mentors for research and moral support amongst many male colleagues as challenging, with few women available to fill this role.

She believes that women bring with them a crucial personality trait to combat the impression of scientific careers as difficult or boring, that of nurturing those entering the field and supporting them as they progress in their careers.

Mshengu advised high school learners to spend time identifying their passion and talent, and then to work hard towards achieving the results required for their dream career, rather than studying for the sake of it and ending up in a job they do not enjoy.

She advised university students to make the effort to differentiate themselves through hard work and good marks, involvement in community outreach, and work experience.

Mshengu the Superhero

If she had a superpower, it would be to heal people; something she believes is part of her calling.

Her theme song would be Beyoncé’s I was here, and if she could order one gadget it would be the Marvel Quinjet, to get her wherever she needs to be at high speed.

‘My “Avengers” team to take on the world would be my husband Bonginkosi Mshengu, my mother Mrs Z Madlala, and my son Nkanyiso Mshengu.’

‘My secret lair would be my daughter’s bedroom, because she brings so much joy to my heart.’

And if Mshengu had a “kryptonite”, it would be cappuccinos and chocolate.

See Mshengu take on the #stopwaitaminute challenge, view the striking photos from her photoshoot and discover other Wonder Women In Science on our website:

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Sashlin Girraj

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