Disability and Online Learning at UKZN – an Overview by Jessica Freedman

Disability and Online Learning at UKZN – an Overview by Jessica Freedman
Due to the pandemic, students with disabilities are experiencing new struggles which require novel and different forms of support.

It is sometimes difficult to know what support is available for students with a disability/disabilities and how they can access the help on offer.

UKZN’s Disability Support Unit (DSU) assists a vast number of students with a range of disabilities, including visual and hearing impairments, epilepsy and arthritis, among other health issues.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year and the nationwide lockdown which followed soon afterwards, the type of premises needed for online learning has changed dramatically.

With assistance from the Information Access Officer at the DSU, Dr Ashley Subbiah, some of the struggles currently faced by disabled UKZN students and the support available to them are outlined below:

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to entrench itself in our society, students with disabilities are experiencing new struggles which require novel and different forms of support. The transition from in-person learning to online learning impacted all students, especially those who relied on access to WiFi and devices on campus. According to Subbiah, these issues are exacerbated for students with disabilities because the university environment provided them with a space that was more conducive to learning than their home environment.

Another problem has been a lack of connectivity resulting in many students being out of contact which has impacted on their mental health.

A further serious concern is the computer literacy level of students who arrive at UKZN from the special school sector. Speaking on the issue, Subbiah said: ‘While the University offers basic computer literacy at entry level and the Disability Support Unit offers training for students with disabilities on assistive devices and software, the level of computer literacy of students was also a significant limiting factor in the level of participation of students in online learning during the lockdown.’

With regards to premises available to students during online learning, Subbiah explained: ‘UKZN has employed the use of Moodle as its principal learning management system. Fortunately, it is very accessible for students using a wide array of assistive devices and software. This has seen online learning at UKZN provide an opportunity for students with disabilities to participate equitably as well as providing academics with a platform to supply students with widely universally accessible content,’ he said.

‘While the use of Moodle has been positive, some students may require time concessions to adequately participate on a level playing field and DSU Disability Coordinators on all the campuses are able to help in that regard.’

Subbiah said the DSU promoted a policy of advocacy and self-representation resulting in many students liaising directly with academics when necessary to have access to premises which enable them to participate fully in online learning. Furthermore, the Reformatting Service of the DSU had been integral in ensuring that students were able to access their information in formats available throughout this period.

‘A DSU Moodle page has also been established with a wide variety of basic computer literacy and online learning specific training materials and resources. This, coupled with the virtual instruction provisioned by the DSU Information Access Officer during the lockdown, has seen students participate fully in the online learning project, enjoying unprecedented successes in semester one, despite some of the challenges faced,’ he said.

‘The South African sign language (SASL) service also continued to provide ongoing support to deaf students at UKZN throughout the lockdown, albeit through the use of online platforms such as Zoom Conferencing, Loom and WhatsApp messenger. Nevertheless, this has also seen significant improvements in the overall progress of the students, despite no contact session over this period, and has led to some key developments in terms of strategies for provisioning a more efficient SASL service going forward.’

Academic staff play an important role in students being able to access learning materials. Said Subbiah: ‘Academics have been very willing to engage with the DSU in order to appropriately use the breadth of the accessibility features available on the Moodle system to supply universally accessible content to students with disabilities. The DSU has produced guides for the development of accessible academic materials and web-based content. A major success was the DSU collaboration with UKZN’s Information and Communication Systems division, to advise on the implementation of accessibility in the development of the University self-screening web-based application.’

Sabbiah felt keeping lines of communication open with the DSU to advise on accessibility related issues pertaining to online content would go a long way towards make the online experience a universally accessible and equitable platform for all students at UKZN.

Fellow students without disabilities also impact on the university experience of students with disabilities. Subbiah says the student bodies representing students with disabilities, such as the Differently Abled Students Association (DASA), must have representation within the Students Representatives Council to give them representation at that level and a voice speaking to the greater University community.

Transitioning to online learning has not been an easy task for all UKZN students and in this regard, Subbiah advises students to take advantage of the opportunity to engage with online learning as much as possible through online forums.

UKZN aims to promote a more inclusive Higher Education environment as it looks forward towards embracing a new normal in education.

Don’t forget to reach out to the DSU for assistance. Dr Subbiah’s email address is SubbiahA1@ukzn.ac.za.

Jessica Freedman is a journalism student at Rhodes University. She wrote this article in co-operation with the DSU.

Photograph: Julia Cameron

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Research Reveals Potential of Pre-Diabetes and COVID-19 Being a Deadly Combination

Research Reveals Potential of Pre-Diabetes and COVID-19 Being a Deadly Combination
PhD student Mr Aubrey Sosibo (left) and senior lecturer Dr Andile Khathi.

Pre-diabetes should be treated as a comorbidity for COVID-19 and all patients infected with the virus need to be screened for the diabetes condition to reduce deaths and provide optimal clinical care.

This is according to a paper written by researchers from UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences PhD student Mr Aubrey Sosibo and senior lecturer and physiologist Dr Andile Khathi.

The paper has been published in the Experimental Biology and Medicine Journal as a press release.

The researchers say pre-diabetes could be a silent-killer in the fight against COVID-19 as it is not traditionally viewed as a comorbidity.

Elaborating on the study, Sosibo said: ‘It is widely accepted that Type 2 diabetes patients infected with the virus tend to experience more severe COVID-19 complications. However, investigations into the association between pre-diabetes and COVID-19 are almost unchartered. If this association is left unattended, then the potential of missing a silent killer will persist. Therefore, using pieces of evidence from recent literature, we address why pre-diabetes and COVID-19 can be a deadly combination. We think it is plausible that similar COVID-19 induced complications observed in individuals with Type 2 diabetes may also occur in people with pre-diabetes.’

In the light of these results, there will be further discussions and investigations which are expected to ultimately play a significant role in how COVID-19 infected patients with pre-diabetes are managed.

The researchers explained that pre-diabetes (or intermediate hyperglycemia) was a state in which the blood glucose concentration was above normal but not high enough to diagnose Type 2 diabetes. ‘The condition is characterised by the reduction in insulin sensitivity which causes glycemic dysregulation. This impaired regulation of glucose concentrations causes moderate hyperglycemia and is associated with chronic microvascular and macrovascular complications, cognitive dysfunction as well as blood pressure changes. Nevertheless, the body can maintain this intermediate hyperglycemic state over a prolonged period through compensatory mechanisms. However, these compensatory mechanisms can reach a point of exhaustion, resulting in a more severe hyperglycaemic state that eventually leads to Type 2 diabetes.’

Said Khathi: ‘The severity of the COVID-19 symptoms has been shown to be increased by the existence of comorbidities such as diabetes mellitus. This is also accompanied by data that states that COVID-19 has a higher fatality rate in people with pre-existing Type 2 diabetes than in those without. Additionally, Type 2 diabetes has been proven to independently suppress the immune response as well as lead to chronic inflammation. Other experimental and observational studies have shown that pre-diabetes is associated with elevated C-reactive protein and interleukin-6.11,12 These biochemical markers contribute significantly to the cytokine storm development which has been detected in severe cases of COVID-19 infected patients.

Taken together, these observations suggest that pre-diabetes could be a silent-killer in the fight against COVID-19 as it is not traditionally viewed as a comorbidity.

‘This study therefore proposes that pre-diabetes be treated as a comorbidity for COVID-19. It further suggests that all COVID-19 infected patients be screened for pre-diabetes to reduce the risk of fatality and improve clinical care,’ he said.

This paper further recommends that scientific trials be conducted to assess drugs such as metformin and other antidiabetic drugs to establish their effects on blood sugar control and the resultant clinical outcomes of COVID-19 infection in people with pre-diabetes.

The prognosis of COVID-19 in hospitalised patients with pre-diabetes is yet to be established due to the minimal data currently available. However, the two researchers are confident that the current information presented in this commentary can assist researchers in endocrinology and virology as well as those caring for COVID-19 patients with pre-diabetes.

•    This commentary paper, which has been included in an Experimental Biology and Medicine press release, will be open for 90 days and is accessible here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1535370220973451

Words: Lihle Sosibo

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Physics Lecturer Selected for Future Professors Programme

Physics Lecturer Selected for Future Professors Programme
Dr Yaseera Ismail.

Dr Yaseera Ismail, a senior lecturer in the School of Chemistry and Physics (SCP) and a member of the Centre for Quantum Technology, has been selected for the second cohort of the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) Future Professors Programme (FPP), an initiative aimed at accelerating the development of senior researchers at universities to help them become full professors.

Also selected was Dr Candice Moore of the College of Humanities while Professor Lembe Magwaza of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) was chosen for last year's cohort.

The national FFP is building capacity in South Africa's academic institutions by preparing early career academics, across disciplines, to advance to professorship, focusing on transformation through targeting women and Black scholars. It uses the National Research Foundation’s rating system to identify promising candidates who then participate in a series of highly structured seminars in South Africa before being placed in laboratories or seminar sessions abroad. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 cohort will engage in virtual seminars with further in-person and international engagements to hopefully take place next year.

Ismail completed her Master of Science degree cum laude in 2011 while based at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research National Laser Centre, and obtained her PhD in Physics from UKZN in 2015, focusing her research on quantum communication. She has been a lecturer in Physics at UKZN since 2017.

Ismail specialises in the development of quantum technologies, particularly in quantum information science where she is experimenting with quantum optical tools to advance free-space long-range secure quantum communication. By applying the laws of physics, quantum communication ensures the security of information by transferring information from point to point, implemented by employing quantum carriers to form the key used to secure sensitive information.

Ismail works in the realm of quantum communication by applying Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) - an advanced quantum process which involves transmitting a secret key between two individuals to secure data transfer for more prolonged periods by taking advantage of nature’s laws to guarantee the secrecy of the generated key. Ismail is currently involved in a BRICS multilateral collaboration to develop a Quantum Satellite and Fibre Communication (QuSAF) network in South Africa to establish a quantum network with a joint intercontinental satellite-based quantum key distribution link utilising the Micius satellite. QuSaF will drive the development towards a quantum internet in South Africa by deploying quantum communication technology in the first real-world Quantum Satellite demonstration in the country, comprising a secure quantum link over satellite and a long-range fibre network.

During her career, Ismail has received a TechWomen Emerging Leader Award from the USA's Department of State, and in 2018 was selected as an Ambassador of the Optical Society of America (OSA). She previously served as the founding president of an OSA student chapter at UKZN and is on the executive committee of the OSA Non-Linear Optics technical group, as an advisor to the UKZN OSA Student Chapter, and an OSA travelling lecturer. She is also a member of the Editorial Board of the Scientific Reports journal.

‘Ismail’s selection confirms that our College deserves credit for its performance and putting UKZN on the map for the right reasons,’ said the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Albert Modi.

Words: Christine Cuénod

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UKZN Professor Addresses African University Week

UKZN Professor Addresses African University Week
Professor Vannie Naidoo.

UKZN’s Professor Vannie Naidoo presented a paper titled: Digitalising Higher Education - The Case of E-learning During COVID-19, at the African Universities Week held annually to commemorate the birth of the Association of African Universities (AAU) in 1967 in Rabat, Morocco.

The AAU is the voice of Higher Education in Africa and serves as a forum for consultation with the aim of improving the quality of Higher Education on the continent. The AAU is also the technical implementing arm of the African Union Commission in Higher Education.

The African Universities Week celebration took place online under the theme: Digital Transformation of Higher and Tertiary Education.

Distinguished speakers from a variety of universities including South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan shared their insights and experiences on Virtual, Distance or E-Learning during COVID-19.

Professor Naidoo of the School of Management, Information Technology and Governance said in her address that E-learning had been what African universities were leaning towards as they embraced the 4th industrial revolution. ‘In 2020, COVID-19 was a sudden and unexpected pandemic now registered as one of the biggest humanitarian crises confronted by mankind in our present history.’

‘The pandemic has caused the shutdown of many activities worldwide with the education sector being severely affected. The sudden emergence of COVID-19 forced African universities to migrate from traditional learning to on-line learning platforms.’

Naidoo pointed out many challenges faced by both students and academics in e-learning/distance learning during COVID-19. ‘However, in spite of these challenges many universities are forging ahead with their curriculum and programmes, trying to bring as much normalcy to the university community as possible to help make a success of what will probably be another very difficult academic year,’ she added.

Words: NdabaOnline

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Jazz Lecturer Launches Fifth Album

Jazz Lecturer Launches Fifth Album
Jazz lecturer Mr Sibusiso Mashiloane releases new album. Click here for isiZulu version

UKZN Jazz lecturer Mr Sibusiso Mashiloane has released his fifth album titled iHubo Labomdabu, a solo piano set featuring music composed during the lockdown period.

‘This album is informed by an imagination of my personal life experiences, political climate and imposed lifestyle,’ said Mashiloane. ‘The music tells of social awareness and interprets our daily life as it has changed. I hope my album offers introspection, peace and love.’

The 11-track album starts at a fast pace; however, the pulse changes as it takes the listener on an imaginative journey. This solo piano album sounds meditative, like a prayer, leaving headspace for the listener to decipher and interpret the music in their own way.

Mashiloane, now well known both in the South African jazz scene and on international music stages, produced four earlier albums, which were all well received. He is a multi-award winning and nominated artist at prestigious ceremonies and events such as the SAMAs, the AFRIMA awards and the International Urban Music Awards.

Currently, he is studying towards a PhD in which he aims, through the lens of South African jazz, to focus on the nostalgia-seeped themes of home he finds himself instinctively returning to.

His music is steeped in rich, indigenous history and scholarship that doesn’t try to erase the West’s influences in shaping how we see ourselves and our individual and collective relationship to music.

‘I have an aspirational view in raising awareness about the value of our works as Africans and I aim to be one of the influences in a new generation of musicians, music collectors and live music audiences proud of their African heritage,’ said Mashiloane.

iHubo Labomdabu is available on all digital platforms with a limited supply of hard copies available through email: info@isupportdoyou.com

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Image: Simanga Zondo

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Easing the Transition from University to the World of Work

Easing the Transition from University to the World of Work
A variety of professionals presented at the College of Health Science’s exit orientation programme.

UKZN’s College of Health Science’s (CHS) Student Support Services team (SSS) held an Exit Orientation and Graduate Recruitment workshop to prepare final-year students for the world of work.

The programme featured a variety of professionals including healthcare workers and medical and human resources specialists.

Speaking at the event, SSS Manager Dr Saloschini Pillay urged CHS students to always consider their mental well-being, saying: ‘With the onset of COVID-19, CHS students have been assisting on the frontlines and this has placed tremendous strain on their mental health. This comprehensive programme provides you with the necessary tools to make a smooth transition into your full time careers as healthcare workers.’

UKZN’s Director of Human Resources Development Mr Michael Cloete encouraged students to pursue lifelong learning, stressing that workplaces were becoming increasingly diverse and complex, making it important for professionals to keep up to date in their respective fields. ‘An important aspect of a healthcare worker’s profession is ensuring strict adherence to the highest ethical codes of their respective professional bodies.’

Dentistry’s Professor Shenuka Singh, who has served for many years on professional bodies, highlighted the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions as a practitioner. ‘Ensure you always respect others, recognise human rights, have integrity and professional competence, and protect the public through the regulations of your statutory bodies.’

Motivational speaker Ms Cindy Norcott addressed students on: Image and Branding in the Workplace, encouraging them to ‘put your best foot forward if you want to be successful’, while student counsellor Ms Wulganithi Thaver, facilitated a session on Financial Literacy for Graduates. This topic is seen as essential for new graduates, especially those going into lucrative paying occupations after graduating unaware of how to manage their income. ‘Don’t become a victim of lifestyle inflation. Always live within your means,’ said Thaver.

Helping to get the message across clearly was UKZN alumnus and Medical doctor Dr Sibongiseni Malinga, who is currently employed as a Medical Officer at the Vryheid Hospital. ‘Once you earn your first salary you will be offered credit cards from banks, car finance packages, insurance policies, and more. It is essential that you prioritise how you spend your income and do not allow yourself to be pressurised by anyone.’

Malinga said he was currently 95% debt free with just a housing loan to pay off – a situation he achieved by living within his means and not being influenced by peer or family pressure. ‘Remember banks are not in business for the best interest of their clients. They exist to make money!’

Medical specialists also presented, including psychiatrist Dr Juby Vidette of King Dinizulu Hospital in Durban who encouraged students to develop line management skills - something that is not taught at university.

Scientist Dr Richard Lessells of UKZN gave advice to students on living healthy during the pandemic, highlighting the need to avoid super-spreader events and always #StaySafe.

Surgeon and trauma specialist Professor Timothy Hardcastle spoke on maintaining professional wellness and always taking note of the ethical/legal ramifications of being a professional. Hardcastle encouraged students to document all their cases, write clearly, make copious notes and know the system they find themselves in.

The final presentation was delivered by Dr Upasana Singh of UKZN who addressed the students on how to be a good digital citizen. She mentioned that in this era of social media, it was important to always maintain a professional image. ‘You can achieve this by not engaging in cyber bulling, not feeding the trolls, being responsible, not taking credit for other people’s work, being careful with personal information and not believing everything you read online,’ said Singh.

Student counsellor Ms Suzanne Stokes conducted a survey after the session, requesting feedback from the students. ‘Almost all the students reported that the programme had made quite an impact on their journey as future healthcare practitioners,’ said Stokes. ‘The majority felt it had been relevant and of value and benefit, with 100% recommending the exit orientation and graduate recruitment programme to colleagues.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis

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UKZN Academic takes over the Airwaves on Power FM

UKZN Academic takes over the Airwaves on Power FM
Mr Lukhona Mnguni.Click here for isiZulu version

UKZN academic and political commentator, Mr Lukhona Mnguni has taken over as the new host of Power Perspective on Power FM 98.7.

Mnguni will be on the airwaves Monday to Thursday from 20h00 to 23h00 and promises his listeners a mix of education and entertainment during his slot.

The talk show mainly focuses on forming a new conception of Politics, Economics, Education, Development, Innovation, Science, Art and many other issues that the country is facing - to have listeners engaging in meaningful conversations looking at the state of the country.

‘I wish to educate, conscientise and spark people into action about their society. If I manage half of this, I would be happy. Of course, I would love to be the go-to show for informative conversations about the state of our nation and the world around us. I wish to bring value to the time people give up listening to this show and attract new listeners to the show,’ said Mnguni.

He feels positively overwhelmed for being afforded the opportunity to be responsible for curating content to a large audience which consists of different kinds of people from different backgrounds.

One of his first guests was President Cyril Ramaphosa where they tackled issues around renewal and unity in the organisation, which has always been a constant motion in the years of the ANC being the leading party in our country.

‘I have a great invention on the show where I will be interviewing many prominent South Africans on Thursday evenings to get their take on our country and the world,’ he said.

He will be continuing with his political commentary and return to teaching at the University after the completion of his PhD.

Words: Sinoyolo Mahlasela

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Education Student’s Poem Selected for Anthology

Education Student’s Poem Selected for Anthology
Poet Ms Jennifer Sheokarah.

PhD in Education student Ms Jennifer Sheokarah’s poem I Know a Woman was selected out of 400 entries to form part of an anthology titled Yesterdays and Imagining Realities that was published recently.

The announcement of the selected poems was made at the Poetry Africa Festival in Durban, with authors receiving cash prizes.

‘My first poem being published, especially in a publication of this magnitude, is reason enough for me to believe I am a good poet and that my work is worthy of being read,’ said Sheokarah.

The French Institute of South Africa, in partnership with Impepho Press, a Pan-African feminist publisher, and Poetry Africa Festival, published a call for poetry submissions last year. South African poets between the ages of 18 and 30 were invited to submit poems on the theme: Archiving of Imaginary Stories.

‘The competition had guidelines in terms of themes so I decided to pick the competition’s questions that dealt with how history is conveyed and the means through which it is conveyed, as well as what we can learn from the past,’ explained Sheokarah. ‘I then based my poem on different kinds of women from the past and of today. It was inspired by women’s month as the call for submission was during August. The aim was to create awareness of the power we have as women and the kinds of things we should fight against.’

Sheokarah says her mother encouraged her writing from a very young age, advising her to write more!

‘UKZN’s Creative Network Magazine also encouraged my writing and I have submitted numerous pieces of work. What started as “writing for leisure” became so much more. I always tell other students to chase their dreams indefatigably. I think it is so important to grow as an individual in many ways, and the only way to achieve this is to have more than one dream!’

What are her plans for the future? ‘I will definitely pursue poetry and writing generally from this point onwards. In fact, my children’s book, The Abandoned Bicycle, is being published by Beyond the Vale and will be released by March 2021. Additionally, I am working on a poetry anthology to be submitted to another publisher, hoping for good news.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

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UKZN Academic Chairs Virtual Inception Meeting for COVID-19 Research in Rural Areas

UKZN Academic Chairs Virtual Inception Meeting for COVID-19 Research in Rural Areas
UKZN’s Chair of the South African Research Chairs Initiative on Sustainable Local (Rural) Livelihoods, Professor Betty Mubangizi.Click here for isiZulu version

Scientists, including four from UKZN, have held a virtual inception meeting with local partners to design the implementation strategy for a new study it is hoped will provide insights into understanding the COVID-19 pandemic from a variety of perspectives with the focus on rural livelihoods.

The research targets two levels of analysis, households and municipalities.

UKZN’s Chair of the South African Research Chairs Initiative on Sustainable Local (Rural) Livelihoods Professor Betty Mubangizi, who is the project’s Principal Investigator, chaired the meeting. Mubangizi was accompanied by co-principal investigators from UKZN, Dr Okem Andrew Emmanuel of the School of Life Sciences, Dr Londeka Ngubane of the School of Applied Human Sciences and Dr Sokfa Francis of the School of Governance, IT and Management.

International collaborators included Dr Ibrahima Barry of the National Agro-Food School of Nantes in France and Mr Niyi Adekanla of AIDLINE Research Ventures in Nigeria. 

The two-year project being undertaken by the team of researchers who were awarded the COVID-19 Africa Grant to help fund their investigations, is titled: Understanding the Interplay Among Vulnerabilities, Livelihoods, and Institutional Dynamics in the Context of COVID-19: A Case Study of Selected Rural Communities in South Africa.

Funding is being provided through the Science Granting Councils Initiative in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is hoped the study will provide insights into understanding the COVID-19 pandemic from a variety of perspectives, focusing on rural livelihoods.

The inception meeting, which brought the researchers and local partners together to design the implementation strategy, was also attended by the Municipal Manager of Matatiele, Mr Matiwane Lizo, and his counterpart in Bizana, Mr Luvuyo Mahlaka; and the Community Liaison Officer of Bizana, Ms Nyameka Ngejane.

The project is expected to attract local stakeholders as part of the co-creation of knowledge and local capacity building, an approach which is in keeping with Goal 3 of UKZN’s Strategic Plan, which seeks ‘to promote high-impact societal and stakeholder community engagement’.

Both municipal managers expressed support for the project, offering to help ensure the involvement of the local stakeholders needed for the project’s success.

Mubangizi thanked the project partners and expressed confidence that the programme would be successfully completed and have real benefits for hard pressed rural communities battered by negative factors such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Words: NdabaOnline

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Humanities Academic Awarded Prestigious VC Research Award

Humanities Academic Awarded Prestigious VC Research Award
Professor Hangwelani Magidimisha-Chipungu. Click here for isiZulu version

Professor Hangwelani Magidimisha-Chipungu of the School of Built Environment and Development Studies has been awarded the prestigious UKZN Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award in recognition of her outstanding achievements and the international reputation she has earned in her discipline.

‘I am very excited about the award. I would not have made it without the conducive environment UKZN provided for me to grow and excel,’ said Magidimisha-Chipungu. ‘I am also indebted to my husband and children who are always there when I need them most. This award is a huge motivation for me to continue working hard.’

‘It also a reminder that South Africa is full of possibilities and opportunities open to all those prepared to work hard and be consistent which is the best way to achieve excellence.’

Dean and Head of the School Professor Ernest Khalema said: ‘We are all proud of her trailblazing research leadership and thank the University and our VC for recognising her efforts.’

An NRF-rated researcher, Magidimisha-Chipungu is UKZN’s Chair on the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) on Inclusive Cities making her the youngest chairholder at the University. She made history as the first Black South African-born female to graduate with a PhD in Town and Regional Planning from UKZN, and the first Black South African-born female to be appointed as the University’s Associate Professor in Town and Regional Planning with a masters in the same field from UKZN.

Magidimisha-Chipungu’s awards include being among the 2018 Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans, UKZN’s 2018 Best Young Academic, the College of Humanities Teaching Excellence Award, and the International Society of City and Regional Planning Award of Excellence for the outstanding role she played during the Young Professional Planners’ workshop and her participation in organising the Congress in September 2016.

The author and co-author of more than 50 book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles, she recently published a work titled Housing in the Aftermath of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme in Zimbabwe.

In 2019, she co-authored the book Spatial Inequalities in South African Cities: Towards Redistributive Justice and was awarded funding by National Research Foundation to undertake research on spatial inequality - a project she recently completed.

Magidimisha-Chipungu served on the City Planning Commission for the eThekwini Municipality with a strategic responsibility of advising the executive committee and councillors in the municipality. She has served on the advisory committee of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA-KZN) with a focus on spatial equity in the province.

She is a board member of SACPLAN - a national professional body that governs the teaching and practice of town planning in South Africa. As a professional town planner, she also served on the KwaZulu-Natal Tribunal which had a mandate to resolve town planning disputes in the province. 

Magidimisha-Chipungu was one of only a few people invited to take part in a 24-Hour City project with the University of Politecnico di Milan DAStU - Department of Architecture and Urban Studies in Florence, Italy.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

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UKZN Shines at Annual Entrepreneurship Awards Event

UKZN Shines at Annual Entrepreneurship Awards Event
From left to right: Ms Lilly Njila, Mr Sihawu Kunene, Mr Jabulani Nyembe and Dr Thea van der Westhuizen.

Former UKZN Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) of Research Professor Deresh Ramjugernath has been recognised for his ‘exceptional institutional support for entrepreneurship development in 2020’.

Ramjugernath, now Deputy Vice-Chancellor Learning and Teaching at Stellenbosch University, received the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) DVC award at the annual EDHE awards ceremony live streamed on the organisation’s Student Entrepreneurship Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages from the Premier Hotel in Gauteng.

DVCs at the Universities of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Venda, and Limpopo as well as those at the Mangosuthu University of Technology in Durban and the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein were also nominated as finalists for the award.

Nominees were required to demonstrate excellence in advocacy, enablement, national leadership and physical support.

Ramjugernath, a contributing speaker at 2020’s virtual EDHE Lekgotla which attracted more than 1 000 delegates from all over the world, took up his new position at Stellenbosch University on January 1 this year.

Another UKZN representative who received an EDHE Award at the ceremony was Dr Thea van der Westhuizen, a senior lecturer and student entrepreneur mentor in the School of Management, Information Technology and Governance. Van der Westhuizen received recognition for her four years of service as the national convenor of the EDHE Entrepreneurship Development in Academia Community of Practice.

Awards were presented in various categories including the four category winners of the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2020, and other awards recognising the promotion and exceptional support for entrepreneurship development in 2020.

Two UKZN College of Law and Management Studies students reached the final round of the Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition which was open to all registered undergraduate and postgraduate students. The event drew 1545 entries from 26 universities - 250 of the entrants were from UKZN.

The UKZN finalists were Mr Jabulani Nyembe, who is enrolled for a Bachelor of Business Sciences in Finance and Economics, and Mr Sihawu Kunene who is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce in the School of Management, Information Technology and Governance.

Nyembe entered in the category: Existing Business in Technology. His business, Clinalytics, provides technology and business solutions to medical professionals in private practice to help them reduce workload, digitise medical records and improve efficiency in operations.

Kunene entered in the category: Innovative Business Idea for his concept of an envisioned technology company. He developed NENE Tech - a panic button designed specifically for university and college students to counteract crime on campus.

Both students had to deliver robust business pitches during the internal university rounds, and continued with them into the regional section and then on to the national finals.

Nyembe and Kunene acknowledged the importance of their academic studies in contributing to their success.

‘Knowledge I have gained studying for my degree helped me develop my concept into an actual business,’ said Nyembe. ‘Skills I acquired in the fields of basic accounting, finance, management and marketing, were invaluable in the creation of Clinaytics.’

The aspiring entrepreneurs are part of InQubate’s ENSPIRE programme, the Entrepreneurship Skills Programme at UKZN aimed at equipping students with entrepreneurial skills. The programme facilitates entrepreneurship training for students across all disciplines, in collaboration with academic faculty members.

Said Student Entrepreneurship Manager at InQubate Mr Khutso Ramontja: ‘We are proud of the achievement of Jabulani and Sihawu. They really gave of their best and kept the UKZN flag flying high from the regional section all the way to the national finals. We hope their example inspires more students at UKZN to participate in similar events.

‘Their journey began in July during the regionals where they won their respective categories, and continued with training they received through ENSPIRE. The level of commitment, enthusiasm and passion they displayed during this period was laudable. We look forward to assisting them in their quest to realise their entrepreneurial dreams,’ said Ramontja.

The EDHE Studentpreneur of the Year 2020 award was won by Promise Nyalungu of the University of Venda, the EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity champion was the University of Venda, while the best institutional contribution to the national Student Entrepreneurship Week was adjudged to have been from Goldfields TVET College.

EDHE is a division of Universities South Africa (USAf) and the awards are presented as an incentive to inspire the youth in the area of job creation.

Nyembe had this advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: ‘Get started ASAP. The sooner you begin the sooner you will be able to identify what you need, whether it is resources or skills. We are in the world of agile business, where you must test every assumption with lightning speed so you can adjust quickly and get to where you want to be without wasting too many resources.’

Words: Derek Griffin

Photograph: Supplied

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Postdoctoral Researcher Selected for Global Women in STEMM Programme

Postdoctoral Researcher Selected for Global Women in STEMM Programme
Dr Céline Hanzen.

A postdoctoral researcher in the School of Life Sciences, Dr Céline Hanzen, is one of 100 women selected to participate in the global Homeward Bound programme, an initiative to promote leadership among women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM).

Hanzen, who was selected from a pool of 376 applicants, will become part of an international network of more than 400 Homeward Bound alumni, her membership involving participation in a year-long online programme, starting in March 2021 and followed by a three-week expedition to Patagonia and Antarctica for which she is raising funds through crowd-funding.

Using a mixture of online and face-to-face coaching, participants will receive training in leadership, science, strategy, visibility, and well-being from an international group of experts.

Selectors looked for applications that demonstrated a clear understanding of Homeward Bound’s vision and purpose, which is to enhance women in STEMM’s participation in global leadership and proactive contributions to building a sustainable world and managing the planet. Selectors also recognised participants’ evident leadership capabilities and skills and their interests in making collaborative, collective contributions to the programme.

Hanzen’s application demonstrated her strong scientific background and academic qualifications as well as her interests in components of the programme, including women in STEMM, gender equality, and climate change.

Homeward Bound selectors noted that Hanzen’s expertise in the area of freshwater ecology and her potential to lead and enact change, made her a natural choice for the highly sought-after leadership programme.

‘I want to train the next generation of women in sciences, to be fierce and strong but also to produce and communicate sound and reliable science,' said Hanzen, who has set up Facebook and Instagram accounts to share her Homeward Bound journey.

She graduated with a PhD in 2020 after doing research into four species of elusive African freshwater eels, conducting pioneering research on their spatial ecology, thus contributing to the conservation of the Anguillids.

Her research showed that the eels might be declining in number at an alarming rate, raising concern about the connectivity of rivers in South Africa and the plight of these creatures as they are prevented from following their migratory paths. Her doctoral research, supervised by UKZN’s South African Research Chair in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Professor Colleen Downs as well as Dr Martyn Lucas and Dr Gordon O’Brien, resulted in the publication of papers and a book chapter.

Hanzen - a recipient of a postdoctoral fellowship from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust - now conducts research in Downs’s laboratory, focusing on the migratory and spatial ecology of African freshwater eels.

The work forms part of a multi-country project funded by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA).

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied

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