Virtual Candlelight Ceremony Remembers Lives Lost to COVID-19 and other Pandemics

Virtual Candlelight Ceremony Remembers Lives Lost to COVID-19 and other Pandemics
Panellists at the UKZN HIV and AIDS Programme’s virtual annual candlelighting ceremony clockwise from top left: Mr Sakhile Xaba, Professor Fikile Mazibuko, Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Mr Siyabonga Nzimande and Mr Mnikeni Phakathi.

UKZN’s HIV and AIDS Programme recently held its first virtual annual candlelight ceremony and webinar to show solidarity and support to individuals infected and affected by the AIDS pandemic, and to remember those who lost their lives, not only to HIV and AIDS, but to other pandemics including COVID-19.

Themed: Breaking Down Barriers of Stigma and Discrimination and Giving Hope, the aim of the webinar was to honour frontline and healthcare workers including peer educators for their selfless contribution in minimising the spread of HIV and AIDS as well as COVID-19.

This annual ceremony is a community mobilisation campaign to raise social consciousness of HIV and AIDS. It also serves as an intervention for global solidarity, breaking down barriers of stigma and discrimination, and giving hope to the new generation.

Facilitating the webinar, Interim Senior Director: Student Services Division, Professor Fikile Mazibuko said the campaign is the product of a partnership between UKZN and relevant stakeholders. ‘KwaZulu-Natal is still the epicentre of the pandemic and with the University situated in the province, it saw it as necessary to align with the international health calendar in driving various initiatives of which the candlelight ceremony is one.’

Panellists included South African infectious diseases epidemiologist and Associate Scientific Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim; Mr Sakhile Xaba, Chairperson of the Uthukela District Civil Society Forum; Mr Siyabonga Nzimande, District AIDS Council Co-Chair for eThekwini District; and Mr Mnikeni Phakathi, Acting Director for Strategic Special Projects and Stakeholder Management - KwaZulu-Natal Department of Treasury.

Delivering the keynote address, Abdool Karim shared the scientific experience in relation to the dual pandemics of HIV and COVID-19, highlighting the challenges and opportunities.

She said that while her talk focussed on HIV and COVID-19, the webinar was also an opportunity ‘to remind ourselves that while we are dealing with COVID-19, we also have several pandemics we are dealing with including Ebola, HIV, Malaria, TB and so on.’

Presenting recent statistics, Abdool Karim said that in 2019, 38 million people were living with HIV, and there were 690 000 HIV related deaths, and 1,7 million new HIV infections. With COVID-19, there are 167 million cases and 3,4 million deaths. She added that South Africa had seen two surges (June/July and December/January) and with the rising number of new cases, we could be at the beginning of a third wave. ‘We need to bear in mind that with both HIV and COVID-19, there is absolutely no room for complacency.’

Unpacking the 2019 HIV statistics, Abdool Karim said the most concerning are new HIV infections. She noted the 2020 global target was 500 000 and ‘we are three times more than where we should be’ and added that of the new infections, which stand at about 4 500 each day, ‘70% are in sub-Saharan Africa and one in four new infections are in young women aged 15 to 24’.

However, Abdool Karim said with the release of the recent United Nations AIDS Programme’s new 2025 targets, on treatment there have been great strides in changing AIDS from being a fatal condition to one that is chronic and manageable.

She noted that Africa has a young population with more than 65% of the population being under the age of 35 but she said when you have at age 31, 70% of the women and 40% of men infected, this gives some indication of the devastation and the impact AIDS is having on our communities, our society and our populations.

Turning to discrimination and stigmatisation, she said: ‘Globally as we walk this last mile, we have seen how stigma and discrimination impede our efforts and if you look at who is being left behind, it is populations that are discriminated or marginalised in some way or the other.’

In conclusion, Abdool Karim said as South Africa prepares for the third wave and continues to live with COVID-19 and balances saving lives and livelihoods, this is an opportunity to address the inequalities that underpin some of the vulnerabilities that we see generally to pandemics whether HIV, Malaria, Ebola, TB or COVID-19.

‘Unless we work together, respect everyone, deal with stigma and discrimination and work in true partnerships across all levels, we will not achieve this last mile and the opportunity to end AIDS as a public health threat.’

Xaba, who was infected with HIV at the age of 20, shared his experiences in relation to HIV and the COVID-19 pandemic while promoting positive living. He spoke of the challenges he faced in disclosing his status to his immediate family and friends. What encouraged him to disclose was the number of friends and people close to him who were dying of AIDS because they were in denial and not receiving treatment.

Nzimande spoke on the mental health and psychological support needs of people living with HIV and AIDS. He commended the UKZN peer educators programme and said that it allowed the University to use young people to influence the youth. He noted that, in his work, he is not pushing for people to disclose their status, but is pushing for the environment to be more conducive for people to be able to live freely whether or not they want to disclose. He encouraged social science experts to conduct research on whether young people are receiving the resources that they need.

Phakathi commended the speakers on their eye opening presentations and shared his experiences of being a student leader and his involvement in the peer education programme.

He said: ‘We need to start seeing the HIV pandemic as a normal chronic illness that needs to be taken care of, and the person infected or affected needs to be taken care of and supported. We also need to deal with the psychology of those who are infecting people deliberately as this contributes to increased infections.’

Mazibuko thanked all the speakers. She noted that the lighting of candles was to salute frontline workers’ contribution to the fight against COVID-19 and to mourn the lives that have been lost.

Words: Sithembile Shabangu

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

CCA to Host Inaugural Cabaret and Beyond Festival 2021

CCA to Host Inaugural Cabaret and Beyond Festival 2021
The CCA calls for submissions for the inaugural Cabaret and Beyond Festival 2021. Click here for isiZulu version

The Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) within the College of Humanities has announced the launch of the new Cabaret and Beyond (CAB) Festival in 2021. This annual event aims to bring together musical theatre creatives from across South Africa. It will promote, develop, and commission new compositions and writing within the broad spectrum of musical theatre, cabaret, and music-related storytelling.

Music theatre composers, lyricists and book writers are invited to apply for the Festival. The deadline for applications is 6 June.

The organisers recognise the impressive local industry and will use this platform to champion new work to empower writers and provide opportunities to showcase material that is socially relevant and retains the entertainment value inherent in the genre, while at the same time engaging in audience development on the festival’s theme: Cross-wired.

CCA Director Dr Ismail Mahomed said, ‘Cross-wired provides musical theatre writers with the latitude to experiment with the intersection between genres as well as the several social and identity intersections that can inspire the crafting of their songs. It invites a no-holds-barred approach to innovation and creativity.’

The Centre has appointed UKZN music lecturer Dr Roland Perold to curate the inaugural CAB Festival. Perold holds a Licentiate in Musical Theatre Performance and an M.Mus in Songwriting from Bath Spa University, UK. He has written and produced four original chamber musicals and is a strong proponent of new writing development for the genre.

‘The CAB Festival is open to submissions that are experimental and push the boundaries of the genre, as well as more traditional music theatre works,’ said Perold.

Those wishing to participate should complete the online form before 6 June. Shortlisted candidates for the inaugural CAB Festival will be announced on 21 June. Successful applicants will be paid a fee of R2 500 for a song that is selected for a showcase performance during October 2021. If a lyricist and composer wish to work collaboratively, they will receive R1 800 each for each collective work created.

The CAB Festival organisers will provide support and encouragement for the writers during July, August and September. The final song(s) need to be submitted by 12 September. A Durban-based creative team will then stage the CAB Festival Showcase, presenting all the new material on 16 October during an event at the 25th edition of the Poetry Africa festival.

Writers may compose for up to four voices, should they so choose. There will be a cast of four; two men and two women. Casting will be finalised by the artistic director after entries have been finalised. A Durban-based creative team, consisting of a director and musical director/pianist, yet to be confirmed, will mount the showcase production. Should a writer wish to incorporate elements such as soundscape, or a specific production element, these requirements can be discussed with the creative team.

Following the showcase, two winning composers/writers will be announced whose work has potential for continued development. Each will receive a grant to develop their ideas into a longer format theatrical production which will be produced in conjunction with the CCA in April 2022.

Interested persons should complete the form found here.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

UKZN Academic Part of Ground-Breaking Language Research

UKZN Academic Part of Ground-Breaking Language Research
Professor Jochen Zeller. Click here for isiZulu version

Professor Jochen Zeller, Associate Professor in Linguistics in the College of Humanities, is part of an international research team, led by experts from the University of Birmingham and the Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics (ZAS), Berlin, that discovered that iconic vocalisations can convey a much wider range of meanings more accurately than previously supposed. Zeller is also a co-author of the research paper.

The study reveals that the “missing link” that helped our ancestors to begin communicating with one another through language may have been iconic sounds, rather than charades-like gestures - giving rise to the unique human power to coin new words to describe the world around us.

It was widely believed that, in order to get the first languages off the ground, our ancestors first needed a way to create novel signals that could be understood by others, relying on visual signs whose form directly resembled the intended meaning.

The researchers tested whether people from different linguistic backgrounds could understand novel vocalisations for 30 different meanings common across languages and which might have been relevant in early language evolution.

These meanings spanned animate entities, including humans and animals (child, man, woman, tiger, snake, deer), inanimate entities (knife, fire, rock, water, meat, fruit), actions (gather, cook, hide, cut, hunt, eat, sleep), properties (dull, sharp, big, small, good, bad), quantifiers (one, many) and demonstratives (this, that).

The team published their findings in Scientific Reports, highlighting that the vocalisations produced by English speakers could be understood by listeners from a diverse range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Participants included speakers of 28 languages from 12 language families, including speakers of two African languages (Berber and isiZulu), and groups from oral cultures such as speakers of Palikúr living in the Amazon forest, and speakers of Daakie on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu. Listeners from each language were more accurate than chance at guessing the intended referent of the vocalisations for each of the meanings tested.

Said Zeller, ‘This study makes an important contribution to our understanding of language evolution. Regardless of their specific linguistic or cultural background, humans are able to produce and comprehend non-linguistic vocalisations that express a variety of meanings. This suggests that not only signed, but also spoken, language may have iconic origins. It’s fantastic that UKZN, as the only participating African university, and isiZulu speakers, contributed to this research.’

An online experiment allowed researchers to test whether a large number of diverse participants around the world were able to understand the vocalisations. A field experiment using 12 easy-to-picture meanings, allowed them to test whether participants living in predominantly oral societies were also able to understand the vocalisations.

The research team found that some meanings were consistently guessed more accurately than others. In the online experiment, for example, accuracy ranged from 98.6% for the action “sleep” to 34.5% for the demonstrative “that”. Participants were best with the meanings “sleep”, “eat”, “child”, “tiger”, and “water”, and worst with “that”, “gather”, “dull”, “sharp” and “knife”.

The researchers highlight that while their findings provide evidence for the potential of iconic vocalisations to figure in the creation of original spoken words, they do not detract from the hypothesis that iconic gestures also played a critical role in the evolution of human communication.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Study Suggests Africa has the Highest Death Rate Among Critically ill COVID-19 Patients

Study Suggests Africa has the Highest Death Rate Among Critically ill COVID-19 Patients
Lead authors, Professors Dean Gopalan (left) and Bruce Biccard.Click here for isiZulu version

A recent study based on 3 140 adults admitted to 64 hospitals in 10 countries between May and December 2020 suggests that Africa has a higher death rate among critically ill COVID-19 patients than any other region. This may be partly due to the shortage of critical care resources and underuse of those that are available. Professor Dean Gopalan, Head of UKZN’s Department of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care and former UKZN anaesthesiologist, Professor Bruce Biccard were the lead authors of the study that was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal The Lancet.

The study is ground-breaking as it is the first to offer evidence on how COVID-19 is affecting critically ill patients in Africa. The African COVID-19 Critical Care Outcomes Study (ACCCOS) aimed to identify which human and hospital resources, underlying conditions, and critical care interventions might be associated with mortality or survival in adults (aged 18 or older) admitted to intensive care or high-care units on the continent. The study was conducted in Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria and South Africa.

The researchers found that after 30 days, almost half (48%) of the critically ill patients had died. The study estimates that provision of dialysis needs to increase approximately seven-fold and Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) approximately 14-fold to provide adequate care for the critically ill COVID-19 patients in this study.

Furthermore, inexpensive basic equipment was in short supply, with only 86% of units able to provide pulse oximetry (to monitor blood oxygen levels) to all patients in critical care. Similarly, 17% of hospitals had access to ECMO, but despite evidence to support its use in COVID-19 patients with respiratory failure, it was offered to less than 1% of patients.

Biccard from Groote Schuur Hospital and the University of Cape Town, who co-led the research said, ‘Our study is the first to give a detailed and comprehensive picture of what is happening to people who are severely ill with COVID-19 in Africa, with data from multiple countries and hospitals. Sadly, it indicates that our ability to provide sufficient care is compromised by a shortage of critical care beds and limited resources within intensive care units.’

He explained, ‘Poor access to potential life-saving interventions such as dialysis, proning (turning patients on their front to improve breathing), and blood oxygen monitoring could be factors in the deaths of these patients, and may also partly explain why one in eight patients had therapy withdrawn or limited. We hope these findings can help prioritise resources and guide the management of severely ill patients - and ultimately save lives - in resource-limited settings around the world.’

The majority of patients were men (61%; with an average age of 56) with few underlying chronic conditions. According to Gopalan, ‘People with pre-existing conditions had the highest risk of poor outcomes. Having chronic kidney disease or HIV/AIDS almost doubled the risk of death, while chronic liver disease more than tripled the risk of dying. Diabetes was also associated with poor survival (75% increased risk of death). However, contrary to previous studies, being male was not linked with increased mortality.

‘The finding that men did not have worse outcomes than women was unexpected’, said Gopalan. ‘It might be that the African women in this study had a higher risk of death because of barriers to accessing care, or limitations or biases in receiving care when critically ill.’

According to co-author Dr Vanessa Msosa from Kamuzu Central Hospital in Malawi, ‘This cross-continental collaboration has provided much-needed data about our unique COVID-19 patient care needs. Although our younger demographic means that most countries in Africa have avoided the large-scale mortality seen in many parts of the world, in-hospital mortality is affected by a shortage of resources, with only half of referrals admitted to critical care because of bed shortages. Patient outcomes will continue to be severely compromised until the shortfall in critical care resources is addressed.’

The study was partially funded by a grant from the Critical Care Society of Southern Africa and was conducted by the African COVID-19 Critical Care Outcomes Study (ACCCOS) investigators.

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Study of an Epoch when Stars First Formed Earns her an MSc

Study of an Epoch when Stars First Formed Earns her an MSc
Ms Tankiso Moso on Marion Island.Click here for isiZulu version

The study of an epoch when stars first formed in the universe earned Ms Tankiso Moso an MSc in Applied Mathematics cum laude. ‘It is good to know about the history of the universe and its epochs as it touches on things that affect and appear in our everyday life,’ she said.

Her dissertation, titled: Low-Frequency Observations of the Radio Sky from Marion Island, was supervised by Professors Cynthia Chiang and Kavilan Moodley.

Moso conducted her research on Marion Island as this is where the antennas she used are based. ‘We only have one access window per year which makes it extremely challenging to do work there but Marion Island has significant characteristics which are exceptional for our research,’ she explained. ‘Research at low frequencies is especially rare as there are very few locations that have very low to no interference on the radio spectrum.’

For her undergraduate Engineering degree Moso specialised in radio frequency and microwave engineering. ‘When a friend of mine introduced me to the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP) UKZN node scholarship, it grabbed my attention because the way he explained it made me realise that if I major in Instrumentational Astrophysics, I’ll still apply my engineering specialities and grow my experience and career in both science and engineering,’ she said.

Moso explained the significance of her area of specialisation: ‘Very few experiments have done this kind of research, especially on very low frequencies. We are working towards discovering what existed, but no longer exists, on the very low frequencies, using new technology and techniques to capture the data.’

Chiang was full of praise for Moso’s research: ‘Words are not enough to describe Tankiso’s brilliant MSc work,’ she said. ‘She has designed and successfully fielded novel astronomical instrumentation on Marion Island, which is one of the harshest locations on Earth. This is no small feat and certainly not for the faint of heart! It has been a pleasure and a privilege working with someone as talented as Tankiso, and her achievements will continue to inspire those around her.’

Moso expressed sincere thanks to all those who supported her during the course of her studies: ‘God always comes first. My ancestors and my parents’ prayers kept me going in difficult times. The support I get from my whole family and my partner is highly appreciated. I can’t leave out my friends, acquaintances and colleagues. A few words of acknowledgement to my supervisor Professor Chiang for her supervision in the planning and implementation of both my honours and master’s research projects. And I thank Professor Siva Venkataraman (UKZN node NASSP Director) and Professor Jonathan Sievers for their support.’

On balance, Moso gave her MSc experience the thumbs up: ‘It hasn't been an easy ride, but I made it out stronger than before.’ She intends to continue on the academic path and complete her PhD. Moso is also considering taking up the opportunity to live on Marion Island for a year. ‘I’ll see where the greener pastures lead me,’ she said.

‘UKZN is one of the highly ranked universities in the country but most importantly, love for my research is what made me stay after finishing my BSc Honours. I consider it as a very rare opportunity and skill to be science and engineering-oriented and qualified.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Masters Graduate Looks at Female Leadership in Schools

Masters Graduate Looks at Female Leadership in Schools
Ms Sbongimpilo Mdabe and her grandmother.

Ms Sbongimpilo Mdabe, of Umbumbulu was awarded her Master’s in Education for her research that explored how gender-related barriers affect and influence female principals’ leadership experiences.

‘Being a woman from a rural area, where women are educated purely to find a job and not to contribute to the academic world through furthering their studies, this achievement goes to other rural women. I want them to know that your background is not a limit, but a stepping stone to greater things,’ she said.

The study found that female principals’ leadership experiences are influenced by their upbringing, their school context, and the level of development they received as post-level one educators. It also showed that poor implementation of gender policies in education contributes to the hurdles that women encounter in educational leadership.

‘Women also need mentorship to enhance their leadership experiences. Female principals experienced the glass ceiling at three levels: societal, organisational and individual. Despite the barriers, they were resilient leaders who found ways to mitigate the obstacles,’ noted Mdabe.

The findings suggest the ‘need to create more support platforms for female principals to reduce contextual factors that contribute to women’s difficulties in their leadership practices.’

Mdabe is the founder of a social sciences club called Sisterhood Club at Our Lady of the Rosary Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mdabe thanked her family, friends and supervisor for their support and encouragement. She plans to pursue her PhD at UKZN and continue to serve as a source of inspiration to women.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Twins Graduate Cum Laude with Education Degrees

Twins Graduate <em>Cum Laude</em> with Education Degrees
Twins Sajil (left) and Sonil Ramharak.

Twenty-two-year-old twins Sonil and Sajil Ramharak of Phoenix, who graduated cum laude with their Bachelor of Education degrees from UKZN describe this as their most significant academic achievement. They dedicated their degrees to their father, who passed away earlier this year.

‘We are inseparable, doing everything together and being with each other all the time, so it made sense that we’d do the same degree,’ said Sajil. ‘Life has a funny way of making sure that we do things together. This degree has been no different.’

Sonil, the older of the two, added, ‘We would always help each other study for tests and share notes after lectures. It’s magical and unbelievable to share this experience with my sister. There’s nothing quite like having your twin by your side through everything.’

The twins are passionate about education and teaching. ‘We want to help shape and mould young people. There’s no greater joy than being able to help,’ said Sajil.

Sonil added, ‘UKZN was always our first choice. There’s no doubt about that. We were really under pressure to complete all our modules on time so we could graduate together. We finally did! And it feels so amazing. I love my sister and I am so glad we are on this academic journey together.’

They thanked their family and friends for their ongoing support and encouragement and advised other students to work hard, stay motivated and pursue their post-graduate studies.

The twins are currently registered for Honours degrees in Education at UKZN.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Tackling Rice Yellow Mottle Virus in Tanzania

Tackling Rice Yellow Mottle Virus in Tanzania
Dr William Suvi collecting data in the field.

A burning desire to improve the lot of small-scale farmers like his parents inspired Dr William Suvi to pursue a career in plant breeding.

Suvi hails from Mngeta village in Kilombero district in the Morogoro region in Tanzania.

‘My family were peasants cultivating rice, maize and other crops like sweet potato and vegetables,’ he said. ‘I was motivated to study plant breeding in order to improve yields for farmers. In my village, most farmers including my parents use landraces that produce low yields, and there is not enough for food and to sell as surplus. Because of this, farmers are unable to pay for basic items like clothes, school fees and health services.’

Suvi’s tertiary education includes a BSc in general agriculture and an MSc in crop science, specialising in agriculture and plant breeding, respectively, at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania.

‘I selected my topic based on the research gap affecting farmers in rice production,’ he said. ‘The title was: Breeding for Resistance to Rice Yellow Mottle Virus and Improved Yield in Rice in Tanzania.’

Despite the fact that rice production and consumption have increased steadily in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), rice is the largest imported commodity crop in the region, due to domestic farmers’ low productivity.

Suvi’s thesis notes that this is due to a number of biotic and abiotic stresses and socio-economic constraints, with rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV) the most important biotic challenge in SSA, causing yield losses ranging from 20% to 100%.

According to Suvi, ‘current RYMV disease management through generic crop protection chemicals is not economically viable, nor is it successful due to the large number of vector species disseminating the virus. In addition, cultural practices are ineffective against RYMV because the virus is spread by several agents, including insect vectors.’

He said the use of RYMV-resistant cultivars remains the most effective, economically viable and environmentally friendly method for resource-poor farmers, but these resistant varieties have not yet been developed and deployed in SSA.

The first step in his research, which began in 2018, was to conduct a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) in order to assess farmer’s preferences, production constraints, and choice of rice varieties.

‘I then screened rice germplasm based on agronomic traits and resistance to RYMV under field hotspot conditions, and after that I assessed the genetic diversity and population structure of a selected population of rice genotypes,’ he said.

‘Finally population development and evaluation was done to determine the combining ability and gene action for RYMV disease resistance and agronomic improvement.’

The challenges faced in the course of his field work included a scarcity of rain and limited access to technology, such as a rice emasculator, to do crossing work.

Suvi, whose studies were funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, is currently working on cotton and rice breeding programmes in Tanzania.

Words: Shelagh McLoughlin

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Young Mathematician Continues to Shine

Young Mathematician Continues to Shine
Maths boffin, Mr Ntokozo Khuzwayo.

Having graduated with his Honours degree in Mathematics summa cum laude, Mr Ntokozo Khuzwayo came back for more. This year he earned his Master’s - again, with distinction!

‘I was motivated to do my MSc at UKZN because of its reputation in research and because it has one of the best experts in my chosen field, Professor Fortune Massamba, who was willing to be my supervisor. After completing my Honours degree summa cum laude and being awarded the Hanno Rund mathematics prize for the best project in mathematics, it became clear to me that UKZN also recognises students who strive for excellence and that is the kind of the university I like to be a part of,’ he said.

Khuzwayo’s research was on the geometry of locally conformal almost Kähler manifolds. Its relevance relates to the fact that it lies at the intersection of complex analysis, differential geometry, algebraic geometry, partial differential equations, microlocal analysis, probability and topology. Some of the most important examples in the above-mentioned fields are derived from Kähler structures.

‘What motivated my interest in this study is its abstract nature and the fact that it includes most of the fields in mathematics,’ said Khuzwayo. ‘So rather than focusing on one mathematical field, it allowed me to broaden my skills in different fields.

‘The significance of my research is the new results that my supervisor and I came up with during the course of my study,’ Khuzwayo explained. ‘We presented and proved the conditions at which a locally conformal almost Kähler manifold admits a globally defined Kähler metric in terms of curvature tensors. We also presented new results in terms of foliations.

An article based on Khuzwayo and Massamba’s research was published in the prestigious International Journal of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences. The young mathematician is currently enrolled for a PhD.

Khuzwayo acknowledged a number of people who helped him on his academic journey: ‘My parents Thabi and Mbongiseni Khuzwayo; my sister and brothers Sindiswa, Bandile and Lethukuthula for their unwavering support when I was conducting my research at home because of lockdown; UKZN for awarding me the Talent Equity Scholarship; my research supervisor Professor Fortune Massamba; my scholarship mentor Dr Simo Mthethwa; Mr Yougan Aungamuthu who was my mathematics lecturer in the access programme and is now helping me broaden my skills in teaching and learning; and most importantly my life partner Sanele Mhlongo with whom I share a wonderful son Ntokozo Junior Khuzwayo.’

‘They are the reason I keep striving for excellence.’

Said Khuzwayo: ‘I would like to encourage learners from disadvantaged backgrounds to work hard, chase their dreams and change the situation they come from. But most importantly, I would like to encourage them to see mathematics as a universal language.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

UKZN Co-hosts 2nd Virtual International Conference on Biotechnology

UKZN Co-hosts 2nd Virtual International Conference on Biotechnology
Professors Anil Chuturgoon (left) and Dileep Tiwari collaborated to co-ordinate the 2nd International Conference on Biotechnology.

UKZN partnered with HeriCure Pvt. Ltd (India) to host the 2nd Virtual International Conference on Biotechnology.

President of the conference and acting Dean of Research in the College of Health Sciences (CHS), Professor Anil Chuturgoon noted that the conference aimed to inspire, innovate, and engage with the scientific community around the world on natural bioactive compounds for infectious diseases. Recently, scientists around the globe have begun investigating the possibility of plant-based alternatives to therapy for the control of these diseases.

Professor Dileep Tiwari, conference chair and chief organiser who is the founder and CEO of HeriCure Healthcare Ltd. in Pune-India stated that the conference’s objective was to present innovative research on the theme of Prevention is better than Cure. Tiwari, who is an honorary associate professor in UKZN’s Discipline of Pharmaceutical Sciences has more than 15 years’ experience in research and development, diagnostics, clinical research, bio-therapeutics research, product development and the manufacturing of diagnostic kits and bio-therapeutics products. Several of the chairs and presenters at the conference are senior professors at UKZN including Tricia Naicker, Gert Kruger and Fernando Albericio.

Professor Busisiwe Ncama, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the CHS delivered the welcome address. ‘I wish you well as you journey through this conference looking for healthcare solutions that are affordable and based on creativity and innovation. Billions of people around the world are affected by non-communicable diseases with respiratory diseases featuring at the top of the list. Low and middle-income countries have the highest burden of these diseases, many of which are preventable. We look to you, as the experts, to find solutions to tackle this health challenge and others.’

Professor Sangeeta Shukla, Vice-Chancellor of Jiwaji University in Gwalior, India delivered one of the key-note addresses. ‘COVID-19 represents one of the biggest challenges facing the world today,’ she said. ‘Scientists are at the heart of eradicating this pandemic through research into diagnostics, treatment and vaccines. This catastrophic human crisis is a result of scientific warnings not being adhered to as well as the constant mutation of the virus.’ She added, ‘The use and discovery of natural biotechnology compounds are essential in the development of new therapies and drug discoveries.’

Central to the vision of the conference; come, create and collaborate, were the three categories under which the technical presentations, including awards, fell. These were Best Innovative Research Award, Best Oral Presentation Award - Research Scholar & Post-doc and Best Oral Presentation Award - Post Graduate.

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Human Security, Conflict and Peace Discussed at Africa Month Celebration

Human Security, Conflict and Peace Discussed at Africa Month Celebration
From left: Professor Sihawukele Ngubane, Dr Musa Kika and Ms Normah Zondo.

In celebration of Africa Month, UKZN’s Corporate Relations Division (CRD) hosted a webinar on the theme: Intensifying the Fight for Peace and Security in Africa Amidst a Global Pandemic.

With Africa and the rest of the world grappling with dealing with the impact of COVID-19 and given the continent’s vulnerability, lack of preparedness and economic challenges, the webinar created a platform for discussion and possible solutions.

Facilitating the webinar, professor of isiZulu, language literature and culture Professor Sihawukele Ngubane from the School of Arts, said COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on Africa’s socio-economic activities.

Africa Day celebrates and acknowledges the achievements of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) since its creation on 25 May 1963 in the fight against colonialism and apartheid, as well as the progress that Africa has made, while reflecting on the common challenges that the continent confronts in a globalised world.

‘Organisations such as the United Nations and African Union have worked so hard to combat the spread of COVID-19 but now with the third wave looming, it is evident that the war is far from over. The fight against COVID-19 has delayed the implementation of peace agreements and has affected mediation efforts,’ said Ngubane.

Guest speaker, UKZN alumnus and Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Dr Musa Kika said the webinar tackled an ambitious yet vital topic. Kika is a lawyer who is passionate about human rights, constitutionalism, and the rule of law, judicial independence and good governance.

He highlighted that, ‘For Africa, peace and security are best achieved through achieving human security in the form of equitable access to basic needs for survival and development as opposed to the defence form of security.’

Kika’s talk centred around five issues of human security, namely, (1) understanding and contextualisation of peace and security, (2) war, governance deficits and leadership legitimacy, (3) peer accountability among African nations, (4) youth in relation to COVID-19, and (5) the role of the academy.

He said the pandemic poses a significant threat to human security, adding that the poor are becoming poorer as there is no socio-economic cushion. It has also increased conflict within nations, pitting governments against their own citizens.

‘Most African governments deployed their security apparatus to deal with COVID-19 because they have such poor healthcare systems, knowing very well the risks of civil and social unrest,’ said Kika.

He added that, despite the challenges, there is hope for the youth and the continent. Ten of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa, creating opportunities for young people to participate in the economy.

CRD Acting Executive Director Ms Normah Zondo thanked the audience for being part of the celebration. She thanked Kika for his inspirational input and Ngubane for facilitating the session and urged the audience to keep the conversation going. She also thanked the CRD team for putting the webinar together.

Entertainment was provided by UKZN alumnus and poet, Khwezi Becker, with a musical rendition by School of Music lecturer and Jazz artist, Sibu Mash Mashiloane.

Words: Sithembile Shabangu

Photographs: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Summa Cum Laude for Astrophysics Expert

<em>Summa Cum Laude</em> for Astrophysics Expert
Summa cum laude graduate Ms Noeleen Naidoo.

Applied Mathematics is not a subject for the faint-hearted, but for MSc graduate, Ms Noeleen Naidoo, it is what she eats, breathes and sleeps. Her thesis titled: Lie Symmetry Analysis of Differential Equations Arising in Radiating Stars, earned her a summa cum laude pass.

Naidoo was supervised by Professors Kesh Govinder and Sunil Maharaj.

‘Noeleen worked on the model of a radiating star in general relativity for her MSc degree,’ said Maharaj. ‘This is an important problem in relativistic astrophysics and little is known about the physical processes at the boundary of the star. Her results have thrown new light on the problem and highlighted the importance of systematically studying the equation of state for the first time.

‘We are very pleased that she has chosen to continue her PhD on this topic at UKZN, and her early results are revealing important trends.’

‘Noeleen was one of those rare students who showed during her honours degree that she would excel at research. She was given an involved project which she handled with great fortitude. She is a natural researcher!’ added Govender.

Naidoo explained why UKZN was her institution of choice: ‘The research done by the Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC) seemed very interesting and appealing. The members of staff and academics are also very kind, and this created a conducive learning environment.

‘We live in the universe; it is so vast and beautiful, yet it is so mysterious,’ said Naidoo. ‘Even if my contribution is small, it’s nice to know that I can help to add knowledge to this area, seeing that I find it so fascinating.’

Naidoo has her sights set on a career in research and completing her PhD will be the first step. ‘My research is important as it will hopefully provide new insights on radiating stars.’

Naidoo thanked her grandmother for the role she played in getting her to where she is today: ‘She was always there when I needed support. This past year has been difficult for most people, including myself. There were times where I felt like completing this degree would not be possible. I am grateful and appreciative that I have managed to do so.’

She also had a word of appreciation for her furry friends: ‘I have a lot of pets and I enjoy spending time with them. They keep me company while I do my research and are my best friends.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Municipal Public Policy Growth Explored in Masters Study

Municipal Public Policy Growth Explored in Masters Study
Mr Mphathesithe Mkhize.

Mr Mphathesithe Mkhize graduated with his Master of Social Sciences degree.

His research on Localising the Sustainable Development Goals in Rural Municipalities through Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships: A case study of Nkandla Local Municipality investigated the role of local government in localising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve long-term municipal objectives.

‘The United Nations’ (UN) goals’ primary intent is to help institutions such as small municipalities to address global problems within their local areas. In South Africa, most municipalities are faced with development related challenges, such as unemployment, low levels of economic growth, poverty, and weak infrastructure, with the worst affected municipalities being rural ones,’ he said.

He strongly believes that the global problems confronting society can be solved through efficient application of public policy. ‘My research will contribute to research on the SDGs and will contribute to the growing area of research on localising them and the role of partnerships.’ He recommends that small municipalities improve such partnerships in order to achieve the goals of Agenda 2030.

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged him during his research but support from his loved ones kept him going, ‘I juggled studies with work even though it wasn’t easy. My family’s love and interest in my academic career means that today they are enjoying the fruits.’

Mkhize plans on pursuing his PhD. ‘My advice to master’s and PhD students is to conduct research on what you like. It makes life easier for your research career. If you research what you like, you become more determined to shine in it.’

Words: Sinoyolo Mahlasela

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Student Fulfils Grandmother’s Prophecy

Student Fulfils Grandmother’s Prophecy
Dr Thobeka Gumede dedicates her PhD to her late grandmother.

‘I was a UKZN fan since I was in high school,’ says newly capped Dr Thobeka Gumede. ‘My grandmother was a domestic worker in Westville and every time we went to her workplace she would say: “One day you will be a student at UKZN.” And here I am today!’

Gumede graduated with a PhD in Ecological Sciences at the Autumn Graduation Ceremony for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. She was supervised by Professor Colleen Downs, and Drs Dave Ehlers Smith and Yvette Ehlers Smith.

‘My research focused on the impact of forest fragmentation on avian (birds) communities in the mist-belt forests of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape,’ said Gumede.

‘Fragmentation is often defined as a decrease in some or all types of natural habitats in a landscape, and the dividing of the landscape into smaller and more isolated pieces. As the fragmentation process develops, the ecological effects change.

‘Fragmentation can be caused by natural processes such as fires, floods, and volcanic activity, but is more commonly caused by human impacts. It often starts with what are seen as small and harmless impacts.

‘Since birds are a most important part of our lives and play a big role in ecosystem services that we as humans benefit from, I looked at how the fragmentation of their forest habitat is affecting them in terms of habitat size and the vegetation structure.

‘From my findings I was able to provide recommendations on how we can promote suitable habitats to save our forest avian species and have a paper published from my PhD,’ she said.

Gumede explained what motivated this area of interest: ‘At first, I was all about a career that is going to pay me more money. Things took a turn after my honours degree when I started to have more questions on how we can promote a habitable planet for all of us. That is when my passion for research began. Since that day I have never looked back.’

Gumede’s research provides new knowledge on the interdependence between people and nature that is vital to sustain biodiversity in a changing climate. ‘Healthy terrestrial ecosystems are vital for human welfare and survival, as they provide us with essential products and benefits,’ she said.

Currently, Gumede is funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) under the supervision of Downs as a UKZN post-doctoral research fellow. ‘My dream is to work for an organisation that will allow me to grow and flourish in research,’ she said. ‘Maybe someday I will start consulting.’

She thanked her family for being the reason that she always pushed herself to be a better person every day. ‘I am the eldest of seven kids, therefore, I cannot afford not to be a good example to my siblings,’ she explained. ‘All I want is a better life for my own family.’

Gumede dedicated her PhD to her late grandmother - the initial spark that set her on the road to university.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Large-Scale Structure of the Universe Focus of PhD Research

Large-Scale Structure of the Universe Focus of PhD Research
Dr Ayodeji Ibitoye (far right) with his supervisor, Professor Yin-Zhe Ma’s research group.

In 2017, when Ayodeji Ibitoye watched a newsclip celebrating the efforts of UKZN Professor Yin-Zhe Ma to solve the “missing baryons” problem, he decided that this was the supervisor he wanted for his PhD. And so began his association with UKZN ….

Now Ibitoye has graduated with a PhD degree in Physics. His study focused on the cross-correlation of the large-scale structure of the universe.

‘Dr Ayodeji Ibitoye’s thesis works on the cutting-edge observational probe of large-scale structure,’ explained Ma. ‘He used the thermal Sunyaev Zel’dovich effect to study the effect of hot-ionized gas around galaxy clusters, and galaxy density field from Infrared survey to probe the galaxy bias and the cross-correlation properties.

‘He cross-correlated thermal Sunyaev-Zel’dovich maps derived from Planck cosmic microwave background maps with the galaxy density field traced by infrared emission in WISE maps and with maps of the integrated Sachs-Wolfe effect derived from Planck cosmic microwave background maps as a second study.

‘He found the best-fitting value for the hydrostatic bias, to be broadly consistent with the literature, and found the linear galaxy bias to be the tightest to date.

‘In his project, he equally introduces a new parameter that quantifies the contamination of the cosmic infrared background to tSZ-cross correlation studies with galaxy and ISW which is a first estimate of such studies.’

Ibitoye was motivated by a desire to involve his home country, Nigeria, in astronomy research. ‘Nigeria would be a good site for a 25m deep radio spectrum deep space observation telescope for carrying out radio pulsar studies, spectroscopy and planetary research in space science,’ he said. ‘I hope to collaborate with the international community to make astronomy more intensive in Nigeria in the near future.

‘I embarked upon a PhD to gain sufficient knowledge to be able to communicate intelligently with my colleagues in the rest of the world who are astrophysicists, that GOD indeed exists,’ added Ibitoye, who recently released a book - 7 Astronomical and Cosmological Wonders in the Bible - in an attempt ‘to find the balance between Science and the God of Science.’

Ibitoye’s research has made a number of contributions: ‘The estimate I achieved in my work for the bias-parameter amongst other cosmological parameters helps to release the tension between CMB-based and cluster-based constraints of cosmological parameters,’ he said. 

Ibitoye is currently working with Ma, exploring data from the MeerKAT telescope.

He gave thanks first and foremost to God for his sound health and ‘the Grace he gave me to finish this degree’; as well as to his supervisor, ‘who believed in me and gave me the space to fly’; and to postdoctoral fellows Drs Denis Tramonte and Wei-Ming Dai.

‘I would also like to appreciate my darling and precious wife Mrs Yimika-Ayo Ibitoye who graduated from the College of Health Sciences with an MSc in Medical Science summa cum laude. From her I learned that the success secured in marriage guarantees 78% success in other areas of life.

‘Lastly, I appreciate my wonderful parents Mr and Mrs Ibitoye and siblings Mrs Banke Oladipo née Ibitoye, Akinlolu Ibitoye and Seyi Ibitoye for believing in me; and all the other members of my research team.

‘I would like to encourage my other colleagues who are still students that the academic journey is not a frictionless path, but your resilience and doggedness are major lubricants,’ said Ibitoye.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Student Overcomes Odds to Graduate Summa Cum Laude

Student Overcomes Odds to Graduate <em>Summa Cum Laude</em>
Mr Ntokozo Vundla.

Mr Ntokozo Vundla was ecstatic to graduate with his Bachelor of Social Sciences Honours degree from UKZN. He overcame financial difficulties, academic hurdles and stigma at home to graduate summa cum laude. ‘At home no one really knows about things like this. My grandmother is uneducated and old, my mother is no more and my uncles want me to work and provide for the family. But UKZN staff always motivated me to study further to better myself. I did not let them down and they are so proud of me.’

Vundla spent time in student leadership at the University but battled academic exclusion which ultimately led to him leaving the Institution in 2017. This did not deter him. Through motivation from UKZN staff and his former employer, he came back to study in 2019 but faced financial difficulties.

His grandmother’s small income wasn’t enough to pay his registration fees. UKZN staff banded together and raised enough money to cover his fees so that he could have a chance to study and uplift his family. ‘In September 2020, I completed my Bachelor’s degree after spending more than six years on it and joined the honours class with the help of Dr Janet Muthuki.’

His research, supervised by Dr Balungile Zondi, examines Pietermaritzburg campus students’ experiences and the challenges they faced transitioning from traditional face-to-face to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Students, especially those who come from undeveloped rural areas, faced far more challenges with online learning. This revealed the widening gap between the rich and poor, rural and urban.’ His findings indicate that poor Internet connectivity, and a lack of devices and a conducive study environment for students were some of the factors that hindered online learning for students from rural areas.

Vundla argues that, ‘students should have a voice and never be left behind in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and University’s planning, as they are the major stakeholders in education and even in the fight against this pandemic.’ He recommends ‘returning students to their residences as the amicable solution that will stop all of the other challenges.’

Vundla thanked his family, friends, supervisor Dr Zondi and UKZN staff for being his support system during his studies. He is grateful to Ms Vuyi Thabethe, UKZN PMB Finance, Mrs Thandi Sibisi, Ms Thandeka Ngubane, Ms Londiwe Zondo (Office of the Premier), Professors Stephen Mutula, Albert Modi, and Khondlo Mtshali and Mrs Rogan Joseph.

His advice to other students is, ‘The more you work, the more rewards come your way.’

Vundla is currently registered for his Masters in Social Sciences in Anthropology.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Twins Celebrate Bachelor of Education Degrees

Twins Celebrate Bachelor of Education Degrees
Twins Panaso (left) and Pamela Ntanzi.

Twin sisters, Ms Panaso and Pamela Ntanzi graduated from UKZN with Bachelor of Education degrees. The pair registered for the same modules, and managed to complete on time.

‘It feels so great because we like doing things together and attaining this degree alongside my sister is a dream come true,’ said Pamela.Their journey was not easy at times but they supported each other and did not want to let the other down. ‘We made it, my sister and I!’ she added.

Besides the inconvenience caused by some modules requiring group work for formal assessments, staying off campus sometimes created difficulties in getting to university on time. ‘We had to take taxis to town, from town catch another bus to campus. Sometimes we would miss buses due to taxis going around collecting people,’ said Panaso.

However, their father made sure that they had all the time they needed to study so they could produce good results during school practicals. ‘Dad (Mr Vusi Radebe) made sure that we always arrived early on campus, he used to transport us with his bike.’

Their advice to other students is ‘Once you start something, make sure you finish it and do not let anyone’s negativity shift your focus.’

They plan to teach and further their studies in the field of education leading to a PhD. They hope to one day build their own school which will be based in a rural area for the development of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Words: Sinoyolo Mahlasela

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Exploring Prostate Cancer Treatment earns Graduate Summa Cum Laude Pass

Exploring Prostate Cancer Treatment earns Graduate <em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Pass
Ms Oluwayimika Eunice Ibitoye is not ‘ashamed to be called a woman’.

Ms Oluwayimika Eunice Ibitoye (nee Akinsiku) graduated with a Master of Medical Sciences degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry summa cum laude. Her study, which was supervised by Professor Mahmoud Soliman, Head and Principal Investigator of UKZN’s Molecular Bio-Computation and Drug Design Laboratory, was titled: In-silico investigation of CREB-binding protein on Castration-Resistant Prostrate cancer (CRPC): Insight from Molecular Dynamic Simulations and Computer Aided Drug Discovery. The study, which used computational techniques, focused on a CREB-binding protein as a therapy for CRPC.

Ibitoye said, ‘Prostate cancer has evolved over the years despite various treatments and therapy. Despite therapies involving chemical, surgical or hormonal treatment, the cancer cells in CRPC, which is an advanced form of prostrate cancer, have been found to continue to grow and develop at an alarming rate. The basis of this study, which was funded by the National Research Foundation, was the novel compound (Y08197) which aimed towards CREB-binding protein and was reported to have anti-cancer properties and a therapeutic effect on CRPC.’ The study produced two articles that were published in peer-reviewed journals.

Ibitoye holds an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from the Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo State, Nigeria and an honours degree in Biochemistry from UKZN. She said, ‘My time at UKZN was a dream come true as I searched for an institution with the hallmarks of academic excellence, innovative research, entrepreneurship skills, and social integrity and I found UKZN to be the best.’ Towards the latter part of her studies, she was inspired to write a book titled, I am not Ashamed to be Called a Woman.

According to Ibitoye, ‘This book unveils the divine secret of the woman’s super-power within and describes an awakening into total well-being despite the daily hurdles of womanhood. I dedicate it to every woman who believes in being above average, and leading and living life purposefully. I wrote it out of passion and faith in woman and as a seed of motivation and hope for the unmeasurable height a woman can achieve. I also authored a woman’s magazine, entitled Awaken, with two editions published as e-copies.’

Ibitoye’s future plans are to pursue a doctoral degree under the supervision of Soliman.

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .

Supporting Good Governance and Improved Service Delivery

Supporting Good Governance and Improved Service Delivery
UEL is supporting good governance and improved service delivery.

The ability to monitor and evaluate implemented projects is particularly crucial for employees in the public sector, as their activities affect the lives of those in their surrounding communities. Civil servants need to have a relationship of trust with the community they serve. In community development, good intentions are not enough; accountability is necessary to build trust. If activities and projects are not implemented and managed efficiently, communities will lose confidence in public services.

The first block of UKZN Extended Learning’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Skills Programme commenced on 24 May. This programme aims to equip delegates with the necessary skills to strengthen their capacity and develop a pool of professionals with substantial knowledge and skills in assessing activities and projects.

By the end of the six-month programme, delegates will be able to provide consolidated sources of information and confidently explain best practice through Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) systems that showcase progress. They will learn from one another’s experiences throughout the programme, building on their expertise and knowledge. The course content is designed to strengthen delegates’ ability to manage appropriate integrated M&E systems within available resource constraints to achieve desired strategic outcomes in specific fields in organisations. Gaining M&E knowledge enables an assessment of the crucial link between implementers, beneficiaries on the ground and decision-makers. Overall, this programme is relevant in addressing areas of inexperience, highlighting challenges, and imparting new skills for delegates to use and recommend for their systems on return to work.

This programme is aimed at civil servants, and private sector or civil society organisations interested in developing an understanding of current issues in M&E, and conceptual skills to manage M&E processes.

For more information, please click here.

Or contact: Percy Sishi on T: +27 31 260 1234 or E: SishiS@ukzn.ac.za

Words: Nkosingiphile Ntshangase

Photograph: Supplied


author : .
author email : .