Large MeerKAT Data Release Reveals Beautiful New Cosmic Puzzles

Large MeerKAT Data Release Reveals Beautiful New Cosmic Puzzles
Radio evidence of a powerful merger taking place between two or more massive groups of gas and galaxies.Click here for isiZulu version

An international team led by young South African researcher and UKZN alumnus, Dr Kenda Knowles, has just announced a comprehensive overview paper for the MeerKAT Galaxy Cluster Legacy Survey (MGCLS).

The paper, that will be published in the Astronomy & Astrophysics journal presents exciting, novel results, and is accompanied by the public release of a huge trove of curated data now available to astronomers worldwide to address a variety of challenging questions, such as those relating to the formation and evolution of galaxies throughout the Universe.

Using the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (SARAO) MeerKAT telescope located in the Karoo region of the Northern Cape province, this first observatory-led survey demonstrates MeerKAT’s exceptional strengths by producing highly detailed and sensitive images of the radio emission from 115 clusters of galaxies. The observations, amounting to approximately 1 000 hours of telescope time, were done in the year following the inauguration of MeerKAT in 2018.

‘In those days we were still characterising our new telescope, while developing the further capabilities required by numerous scientists,’ said Dr Sharmila Goedhart, SARAO head of commissioning and science operations. ‘But we knew that MeerKAT was already very capable for studies of this sort, and we observed galaxy clusters as needed to fill gaps in the observing schedule.’

This was only the start. More than two years’ work followed to convert the raw data into radio images using powerful computers, and to perform scientific analysis addressing a variety of topics. This was done by a large team of South African and international experts led by Knowles, currently a Research Fellow at Rhodes University and a former SARAO Postdoctoral Fellow at UKZN.

The force of gravity has filled the expanding Universe with objects extending over an astounding range of sizes, from comets that are 10 km (one thirty-thousandth of a light-second) across, to clusters of galaxies that can span 10 million light-years. These galaxy clusters are complex environments, host to thousands of galaxies, magnetic fields, and large regions - millions of light-years across - of extremely hot (millions of degrees) gas, electrons and protons moving close to the speed of light, and dark matter. These “relativistic” electrons spiralling around the magnetic fields produce the radio emission that MeerKAT can see. Thus MeerKAT, particularly when adding information from optical and infrared and X-ray telescopes, is exceptionally well-suited to studying the interplay between these components that determine the evolution of galaxy clusters, the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity.

We live in an ocean of air, but we can’t see it directly. However, if it is filled with smoke, dust or water droplets, then suddenly we can see the gusts and swirls, whether they’re a gentle breeze or an approaching tornado. Similarly, the motions of the X-ray-glowing plasma in galaxy clusters are usually hidden from us.

Radio emission from the sprinkling of relativistic electrons in this plasma can uncover the dramatic storms in clusters, stirred up when clusters collide with each other, or when jets of material spew out of supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies. The MGCLS paper just accepted for publication presents more than 50 newly-discovered such patches of emission. Some of them we can understand and others remain a mystery, awaiting advances in our understanding of the physical behaviour of cluster plasmas. A few examples are shown below, some associated with the bright emission from so-called “radio galaxies” powered by the jets of supermassive black holes. Others are isolated features, illuminating winds and intergalactic shock waves in the surrounding plasma. Other types of science enriched by the MGCLS include the regulation of star formation in galaxies, the physical processes of jet interactions, the study of faint cooler hydrogen gas - the fuel of stars - in a variety of environments, and yet unknown investigations to be facilitated by serendipitous discoveries.

The MGCLS has produced detailed images of the extremely faint radio sky, while surveying a very large volume of space. ‘That’s what’s already enabled us to serendipitously discover rare kinds of galaxies, interactions, and diffuse features of radio emission, many of them quite beautiful,’ explained Knowles. But this is only the beginning. Knowles said that the findings provided new answers to some existing questions, but had also ‘unveiled a whole new set of mysteries to conquer, which is thrilling.’

Knowles began leading the project in 2019 while a SARAO Postdoctoral Researcher at UKZN. ‘I obtained my PhD from UKZN and the support and mentorship I received during my time in its Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC) provided me the platform from which to lead this major project,’ she said.

Knowles commented that MeerKAT is making massive contributions to radio astronomy, and that the data generated by this project provides a lot of scope to train the next generation of South African astronomers.

One such person is Mr Kabelo Kesebonye, a UKZN PhD student supervised by the ARC’s Professor Matt Hilton. Kesebonye contributed to the study by checking the accuracy of the MeerKAT source positions against optical galaxy catalogues and providing redshift estimates for galaxies detected by MeerKAT. He also contributed a brief investigation of the star formation activity of galaxies in the cluster Abell 209 to show how the MGCLS data will help further our understanding of the effects of galaxy environments on star formation. ‘Most of the galaxies that live in clusters are no longer forming stars, but how long it takes to shut off star formation for galaxies that fall into clusters, and how it happens, is still an open question,’ said Kesebonye.

‘Due to the large field of view of MeerKAT, and it’s sensitivity, we are able to estimate star formation rates for both galaxies that are in clusters, and which are in the surrounding environment, encountering the influence of a cluster for the first time.’

Kesebonye is currently working on a follow-up study of star formation in many of the MGCLS clusters as part of his PhD thesis work.

A number of additional studies that delve more deeply into some of the initial MeerKAT discoveries are already underway by members of the MGCLS team. Beyond that, the richness of the science resulting from the MGCLS is expected to grow over the coming years, as astronomers from around the world download the data from the SARAO MeerKAT archive, and probe it to answer their own questions. 

The Paper:

Knowles et al,“The MeerKAT Galaxy Cluster Legacy Survey. I. Survey Overview and Highlights”, accepted for publication inAstronomy & Astrophysics

The Collaboration:

It takes more than a village to create this astronomical bonanza. MeerKAT was conceived, designed, and built over 15 years through the dedicated effort of hundreds of people in South African research organisations, industry, universities, and government. Some 100 of these colleagues that built, operate and maintain MeerKAT are co-authors of the MGCLS paper.

A team of 40 South African and international scientists was involved in the detailed analysis presented in the paper and associated data release. They represent 19 institutions, including 10 in South Africa: UKZN; Rhodes University; the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory; University of the Witwatersrand; University of Pretoria; University of Cape Town; North-West University; University of the Western Cape; African Institute for Mathematical Sciences; Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy; National Radio Astronomy Observatory; University of Minnesota; Italian National Institute for Astrophysics; York University; University of Hamburg; University of Nigeria; Naval Research Laboratory; University of Bonn; and Sapienza University of Rome.

The Telescope and Observatory: 

The MeerKAT telescope is operated by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, which is a facility of the National Research Foundation, an agency of the Department of Science and Innovation.

Words: Sally Frost

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Durban International Film Festival Launches Student Film Festival

Durban International Film Festival Launches Student Film Festival
The DIFF is calling for applications from student filmmakers to submit their projects.Click here for isiZulu version

The inaugural Isiphethu International Student Film Festival (IISFF) hosted by the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) within UKZN’s College of Humanities will be launched during the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF).

The Festival intends to highlight and celebrate the work of student filmmakers who are producing human stories that offer fresh insights.

Student filmmakers are invited to submit their projects for the first edition taking place from 21 to 30 July 2022. The deadline for submissions is 28 February 2022. For eligibility, submission fees, and to submit, visit the IISFF profile on FilmFreeway:

The theme for this year’s IISFF is Migration. Migration serves to prove that instincts like hibernation, re-assessment and behavioural adaptations exist to preserve life.

‘The inaugural Isiphethu International Student Film Festival intends to highlight the cause of migration and its effects on human life and all other species by celebrating bravery and stimulating debate through images and sound. The positive outcomes of our evolution breed new ways to conduct business and also challenge people to learn and adopt new ways of living,’ said project manager Mr Sakhile Gumede.

The IISFF is also introducing a number of new awards to encourage and incubate young talent in film, such as the Awards for Best Film and Best Director.

The IISFF alongside a diverse workshop and seminar programme are the pulse of the Isiphethu industry-focused programme at the DIFF that aims to educate and up-skill aspirant young filmmakers, instil confidence in them, and share information that is relevant to the film industry and empowers young people.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Image: Supplied

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Calamitous Year for the Class of 2021 and Business

Calamitous Year for the Class of 2021 and Business

The best word to describe the extraordinary events that have befallen this year’s matric pupils and business, is “calamitous”. While numerous efforts have been made by all stakeholders to save 2021 and achieve respectable results, circumstances got in the way. The same applies to business. A substantial number of businesses, particularly small concerns closed their doors permanently even after the lockdown was eased.

For almost two years, learners have been denied decent schooling time, largely due to COVID-19 and now load shedding. The economy, which was already ailing due to the pandemic, has also been hard hit by load shedding. I argue that this should have been avoided. This article examines the ways that disruptive Stage 4 load shedding could have been avoided in order to enable learners to better prepare for their examinations. This is not to say that load shedding is not necessary, but the schedules are poorly planned and the timing and the speed at which its stages are imposed are fundamentally flawed.

Indeed, the issue of load shedding has now become a political one, so much so that when one tries to be objective about it, one is labelled as factional or pro so-and-so in the bigger political scheme. Load shedding has caused anxiety, anger, and disillusionment amongst citizens. If the politicians are playing political games with Eskom, they must know that they are playing games with citizens’ livelihoods. The issue of Eskom is a serious one that can make or break the country’s future. While I focus on matrics and business as the two are intertwined, there is a plethora of issues around load shedding that cannot be covered here.

The matric examination timetable is published way in advance. Given that matric results are often used to boost South Africa’s image and prospects, nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of success. As with elections, all efforts should be geared towards achieving better results. Matric learners are the country’s future. While we all dream of a prosperous South Africa with highly skilled individuals, those in charge are so reckless in their planning that they jeopardise this future.

The new reasons provided for load shedding by the Board of Eskom led by Chief Executive Officer Andre de Ruyter in a media briefing on 9 November are extremely implausible. The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us since March 2020, the long procurement process is not new, and to suggest that municipalities are not observing load shedding instructions is simply preposterous. Why did the CEO not raise procurement problems with Treasury much earlier? Why was efficient risk management not in place to reveal maintenance problems? Can the board provide a list of the municipalities that are not cooperating?

What can be done to remedy the situation? While I am no energy expert, in the first instance, a meticulous, detailed, long-term maintenance plan is urgently required. Secondly, more funding should be pumped into properly maintaining existing Eskom infrastructure; its lifespan is still worth saving. Third, Eskom’s communications team needs to be beefed up or reskilled to provide effective communication 24/7 to enable businesses, schools, clinics, and all citizens to plan their lives. Fourth, Eskom must hire people on merit; the sector is too critical to have incompetent employees. There are many well-trained retired or independent engineers with international experience that could be roped in as board members and managers at various levels 

*Mr Khumbulani Mngadi is an independent analyst based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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UKZN Convocation - Shaping the University’s Present and Future

UKZN Convocation - Shaping the University’s Present and Future
Ms Thembalethu Shange and Mr Msizi Khoza at UKZN’s informative webinar on the roles and responsibilities of Convocation.Click here for isiZulu version

‘Your relationship with the University does not end on the day that you attend your Graduation ceremony.’

These were the words of UKZN alumnus Mr Msizi Khoza at UKZN’s webinar on the roles and responsibilities of alumni.

Khoza is a member of the UKZN Alumni Network. He serves on the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Convocation Executive and is the Principal: Structured Finance at the ABSA Group. He stressed that alumni should remain involved and invested with the University. ‘The weight of your qualification is intricately linked to how people view the University,’ he said. He encouraged alumni to ‘shape the University’s present and also its future.’

Convocation, which is UKZN’s largest constituency, is composed of graduates (from UKZN and its predecessors, the Universities of Natal and Durban-Westville), academic members of staff, various members of the University Executive (including the Vice-Chancellor and Principal and the Registrar), professors emeriti and retired academic employees.

Khoza noted that the Convocation Executive (Convex) includes members who represent alumni on Council, the University’s highest decision-making body. ‘Convex is the official face of Convocation,’ he said. He emphasised that Convex members are not merely elected to attend meetings but to implement programmes for their constituency and the wider University community.

It is vitally important to elect the right people to Convex. Khoza recommended that Convex members have the following qualities: passion, stewardship (wanting to leave something in a better state than you found it in), and diverse skills and viewpoints.

He added that the Convocation President should ‘take Convocation to the next level and make it a force for good at the University.’ He emphasised that the incumbent should be ethical and have integrity, adding, ‘We need somebody we can relate to who is a better version of ourselves.’

Host and UKZN alumnus Ms Thembalethu Shange said that the common misconception that Convex members should have served as members of the Student Representative Council is not true. 

Khoza said that UJ’s Convex sets key goals to work towards during its term of office. These include addressing graduate unemployability and shaping programmes run by the University’s Alumni Office geared at leveraging the decision-making powers of Council to address matters of importance to alumni and students. Convex is also raising funds for a women-only first-year student residence to address gender-based violence and female students’ security concerns.

He added that, ‘Convocation needs to be an engine in the University's fundraising efforts’ and noted that Ivy League universities such as Harvard and Stanford are successful due to their alumni's financial contributions and life-long relationships.

Shange thanked Khoza for his ‘monumental insights’ into Convocation and acknowledged UKZN for providing the platform for the discussion. She encouraged all alumni to add value to the Institution and to vote in the upcoming Convocation elections.

Echoing Shange, UKZN’s Executive Director for Corporate Relations, Ms Normah Zondo urged alumni to stay connected to the Institution as they play valuable roles such as building and growing the University brand through their contributions in various spheres of society. She also appealed to the alumni community to attend the upcoming Convocation AGM, which will be held virtually on 19 November.

To view the dynamic and informative webinar, click here.

Words and image: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

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UKZN Students Take Second Place in Youth Innovation Challenge

UKZN Students Take Second Place in Youth Innovation Challenge
From left: Ms Nitasha Pillay, Mr Nathan Pillay, and Mr Jirah Moodley from team Tagged AI scooped second place at the Youth Innovation Challenge Awards hosted at the Botanical Gardens on 10 November 2021.Click here for isiZulu version

A group of inventive and civic-minded UKZN students bagged second place in the 2021 Youth Innovation Challenge (YIC) run by Innovate Durban.

The competition brought together 60 participants and 23 teams from across KwaZulu-Natal to address this year’s theme: Response to Crisis.

Innovate Durban (RF) NPC is a registered non-profit company set up in 2017 as a special purpose vehicle by eThekwini Municipality to support innovation, innovators and the innovation ecosystem through programmes, research, capacity building and skills development. 

The YIC is Innovate Durban’s flagship programme. It seeks to take youth through the innovation pipeline centred around finding innovative solutions to challenges faced by communities and businesses. Implementation includes upskilling workshops, coding training, pitching sessions, and group solution demonstration events.

Team UKZN focused on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, which is about sustainable cities and communities. Ms Nitasha Pillay, Mr Jirah Moodley and Mr Nathan Pillay who formed the team Tagged AI (Artificial Intelligence) developed a solution to promote child safety and prevent human trafficking using their own technology.

The team walked away with a cash prize of R25 000. They will also receive 12 months’ support and assistance from Innovate Durban to upgrade and launch their solution. In addition, Ms Pillay was awarded the Zutari Woman in Design Award for her ‘engagement, enthusiasm, enquiring mind and positive attitude as well as continued engagement on platforms’ in the YIC.

Tagged AI leader and final-year Computer Science student Moodley said it is important that the youth are actively involved in finding solutions to challenges. ‘The youth of South Africa are the future of the country. If all youth can engage in innovative and creative thinking to solve the problems faced by South Africa, then the only way for our country is UP and we will have a brighter and more successful future,’ he said. 

Third-year BCom Marketing and Information Systems student Ms Pillay was motivated to enter the competition as she wants to change the world and inspire others along the way. ‘Don’t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits,’ she said.

Ms Pillay, who is the project manager at Enactus UKZN, a UKZN Peer Academic Mentor and Youth Ambassador for Women in Tech South Africa, said that technology is a powerful instrument in modern-day society. ‘From the time I was little I would always participate in challenges that would require me to think out of the box. When I was in Grade 7, I participated in the First Lego League robotics competition. I’ve always had an interest and a heart for innovation and making an impact through my work. I believe that when you commit your work to God, he establishes your thoughts and vision.’

First-year BSc Computer Science student, Mr Pillay (who happens to be Nitasha’s brother) joined the YIC as a way to challenge himself. ‘I enjoy embracing new adventures - especially if it’s tech-related. Challenge yourself to do better and be better every day. Remember, growth starts with a decision to move beyond your current circumstances,’ he said.

‘I have a strong passion and love for technology. This competition taught me many new skills and techniques to tackle problems and come up with innovative ideas,’ Mr Pillay added. He encouraged the youth to improve the society we live in. ‘It’s all a matter of taking up the space and getting geared up to make a change.’

As part of the challenge, the team attended a workshop during the semester break in September where they learnt about design thinking, intellectual property, the importance of the SDGs and solution development. ‘I met the most dynamic and energetic innovators. It didn’t feel as if it was a competition because all the teams had a vision to make a difference through their solution,’ said Ms Pillay. She and Moodley also won prizes at the workshop question and answer session.

While their polished presentation skills made it look easy, the team faced numerous challenges including finding the time to balance tests and assignments. ‘Getting the tech required for our innovation was the biggest task. After much research, we came up with workarounds and obtained the hardware we needed for a fraction of the price,’ said Moodley.

The team thanked everyone that supported them during the month-long challenge. ‘A special thank you to Mr Kyle Bryce Khedun (third-year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) for assisting the team in the design thinking phase. We appreciate our UKZN facilitator Mr Joash Govindsamy (founder of Green Gold Technology and Youth Innovation Challenge winner 2016) for mentoring all our teams at UKZN.’ They also thanked Innovate Durban and their team including Ms Susanne Ramsunder (Programme Lead) and Mr Sakhiwo Rewu.

Ms and Mr Pillay acknowledged their parents, Pam and Terence Pillay ‘for supporting us, always challenging our thinking and praying with us.’

The Durban University of Technology team took first place for their eco-friendly alternative to feminine sanitary wear and hygiene, while Mangosuthu University of Technology students placed third for a public transport App to promote local users and tourists’ safe use of public transport.

The judges for the finals included:
Aurelia Albert - CEO Innovate Durban
Justice Matarutse - eThekwini Municipality
Vishen Pillay - Adams & Adams
Shaun Tait - Domini Foundation
Richard Ahlschlager - Zutari

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photograph: Innovate Durban

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World Planning Day Event Examines Government and Citizen Partnerships

World Planning Day Event Examines Government and Citizen Partnerships
The World Planning Day virtual event.

UKZN’s School of Built Environment and Development Studies in partnership with eThekwini Municipality hosted a World Planning Day virtual event under the theme Strengthening the Co-Production Paradigm in Planning: Promoting government and citizen partnerships.

Town Planning lecturer, Professor Hangwelani Magidimisha-Chipungu said,:‘World Town Planning Day aims to advance public and professional interest in the planning profession and is dedicated to giving focused recognition to the ideals of community planning, which brings professional planners and communities together. The day has been marked since 1949, and it continues to present an opportunity to look at planning from a local and global perspective and celebrate the profession’s achievements as well as showcase planning evolution.’

Dean and Head of the School Professor Ernest Khalema added: ‘Because we live in unprecedented times, more than ever, we need to be intentional about strengthening government and community engagement and participation. Planning as a discipline plays an important role in this process.’

The event focused on the institutional framework for co-production and its ability to deliver sustainable infrastructure; planning and economic development; promoting healthy cities; balancing community needs with planning and the environment; and building resilient cities (climate change, disaster reduction and mitigation; and city adaptation measures).

In his keynote address, Acting City Manager in eThekwini Municipality Mr Musa Mbhele remarked that Built Environment practitioners across the globe have joined forces yet again to understand the importance of citizen engagement.

‘It comes as no surprise that governments have also rediscovered the citizen as an essential factor in designing and implementing public policies and urban infrastructure. This partnership makes the provision of public infrastructure and service delivery more efficient, effective and democratic; and also restores trust and satisfaction with government and politics,’ he said.

Mbhele noted that national planning legislation in South Africa requires that municipalities prepare Integrated Development Plans and Spatial Development Frameworks. These are prepared every five years and are reviewed annually. ‘Bringing communities on board and listening to their concerns, needs and dreams is of paramount importance as it shapes forthcoming budgets and plans,’ he said.

Mbhele added that planners in South African municipalities also prepare different levels of plans with varying information. ‘This dilutes the co-production paradigm, because communities just want services - infrastructure or social services, or an opportunity to change their lives. Constantly engaging the community with different levels of planning on the same matter is futile. Thus, the planning tools we use often compromise the end-product and communities’ revolt via protest action, or learn to distrust their planners.’

In his concluding remarks, Mbhele said: ‘Planners across the globe can make a change in people’s lives by delivering services and infrastructure in a more effective and efficient way; as well as developing plans that communities and governments can design and implement together.’

Mr Seana Nkhahle of South African Local Government Association (SALGA) presented a nuanced understanding of the governance landscape, stating that such clarity has led to more efficient service delivery mechanisms across municipalities.

‘It has been a difficult institutional journey - fragmented, much contestation and difficult issues between provinces themselves. However, a stable institution has been developed despite the three key systemic and structural problematic issues, namely, strengthening governance and governance institutions; planning economic development that improves delivery of services; and spatial transformation,’ he said.

Chief Executive Officer of the South African Council of Planners (SACPLAN) Mr Martin Lewis also called on government, civil society, and planners to achieve sustainable development while Professor Piotr Lorens (International Society of City and Regional Planners) posited that planners’ shaping of urban spaces should be built around knowledge exchange. Ms Nosipho Hlatshwayo (Executive Manager of Programmes: South African Cities Network (SACN)) encouraged planners to become advocates and better planners through listening and engaging with one another.

In line with this, Planact Senior Programme Co-ordinator Mr Mike Makwela discussed street naming in Skoonplaas, an informal settlement in Etwatwa Township near Benoni, which will be a step towards formalising illegal establishments. ‘These street names will improve the lives and status of shack dwellers.’

Other partners for the webinar included SACPLAN, SACN, and SALGA. The International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) also endorsed this event. World Town Planning Day 2021 took place at the same time with the 57th ISOCARP virtual World Planning Congress being held under the theme of Planning Unlocked: New Times, Better Places, Stronger Communities.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

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Development of Innovative Applications in African Languages Explored

Development of Innovative Applications in African Languages Explored
Seen at the symposium are, from left: Professor Sandile Songca, Dr Lolie Makhubu-Badenhorst, Mr Njabulo Manyoni, Mr Luke Vorster, and Mr Chee Wai Mak.Click here for isiZulu version

The fourth Biennial Language Research Symposium organised by the University Language Planning and Development Office (ULPDO) was hosted virtually.

The symposium aims to promote and develop indigenous languages, particularly isiZulu.

Titled, The Development of Innovative Applications in African Languages: Efficacy and Innovation, the symposium featured guest speaker, Mr Chee Wai Mak from Western Digital Storage Technologies in Thailand.

In his welcome address Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Professor Sandile Songca asserted that the promotion of indigenous languages should not be a Eurocentric project, but should be spearheaded by those that own them.

Addressing the topic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in Relation to Language from an Application Perspective Wai Mak said: ‘It is important to recognise that all languages, including indigenous languages have a big role to play in driving, organising and applying the 4IR.’

He highlighted the four industrial revolutions comprising of: 1IR in the 1800s which focused on the mechanisation of manufacturing; 2IR in the 1900s that resulted in mass production; 3IR in the 1970s which centred on automated production; and the present day 4IR that uses autonomous decision making.

Wai Mak reviewed the link between language and thought and explained that speech is required for a word to possess meaning, while thought is necessary for it to communicate a general theme or concept. Examining the functionality of language and organisations he said that ‘language can be defined as a system of communication and reasoning that makes use of representations, metaphors and grammar.’

He discussed the workforce and the difference between the division of labour and the current 4IR which connects the divides. Wai Mak focused on the importance of developing the necessary multi-disciplinary skills in order for machine learning to take place and added that ‘for the syntactic, semantic and sentimental analyses of things, words and speech to occur we need to impress upon the rest of the world that structure, grammar, metaphors and representations are of utmost importance when we try and implement this in the 4IR.’

Dr Ashley Subbiah an Information Access Officer at UKZN’s Disability Support Unit (DSU) shared the University’s progress in adopting a digital framework for the delivery of South African Sign Language (SASL) interpreting services. Highlighting the Unit’s role in supporting students with diverse disabilities and how they benefit from specialised services he added that UKZN currently employs six sign language interpreters.

Subbiah commented on the steady increase in enrolment in deaf students, with 11 currently registered across three campuses. Turning to the technical and academic challenges confronting interpreters in using sign language - as a language that is still developing - he noted that online learning has assisted interpreters to gain access to the teaching and learning material. He also added that interpretation services/ interpreters are available on the UKZN Moodle/LEARN 2021 site; PowerPoints encoded with SASL; live lectures accessed on Zoom; and through WhatsApp texts or video calls.

Mr Njabulo Manyoni from the ULPDO and the programme director for the opening and closing sessions, explored integrated approaches to IsiZulu terminography and lexicography. He said that terminology development, which is one of the building blocks for language advancement consists of five stages, namely, harvesting, consultation, verification, standardisation and dissemination.

Highlighting the importance of lexicography (dictionaries) and its various uses in understanding Language for General Purposes and Language for Special Purposes, he referred to UKZN’s Language Policy which promotes both English and IsiZulu and noted that ‘bilingual dictionaries are able to meet the needs of users of both languages.’

Dr Lolie Makhubu-Badenhorst, Acting Director: ULPDO discussed the development of a user-friendly Mandarin-English-IsiZulu trilingual dictionary, as a joint project that is still underway, having been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Showing a sample of the dictionary, she explained that it aims to provide users with an elementary level of the three languages and to assist them with a specific need or problem.

Other topics explored during the symposium included the intellectualisation of isiZulu as an African language in Higher Education Institutions; the importance of language in the 4IR: A case study of UKZN’s Bua Le Nna project; procedures applied in UKZNdaba Online translations; Python computer programming; and perceptions of the use of the IsiZulu Termbank Technology.

Mr Luke Vorster a researcher and lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, closed the symposium by thanking all those in attendance and guest speaker, Wai Mak. He also extended his thanks to the ULPDO, the Corporate Relations Division and the Information and Communications Services Division for making the symposium possible.

To watch the webinar, click here.

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela

Images: Supplied

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A Passion for Science

A Passion for Science
Master’s student, Mr Lehlohonolo Lekesi.

Mr Lehlohonolo Lekesi has entered his research project entitled: Investigating the structure, morphology, optical, and thermal behaviour in a TiO2/MAPbI3 heterogeneous film for solar cell applications for the Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS 2021) to be hosted by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) from 9 to 10 December.

Free State-born Lekesi completed his matric in 2015 with outstanding results in Accounting, Natural Science, Mathematics, and Life Science at Kgola Thuto Secondary School where he was rated the 4th best performing student in natural science.

He is fascinated by the different disciplines of science that seek to find viable solutions to real-life problems. ‘This was the driving force that motivated me to pursue a Bachelor of Science majoring in Chemistry and Physics (2018) and Bachelor of Science Honours majoring in Polymer Science (2019),’ he said.

Lekesi is inspired by the impact that the new ideas and knowledge that his type of research is producing could have on the science community: ‘As researchers we work together through publications. This enables us to use the knowledge shared to creatively develop new technologies with an impact on the wider community.’

He is currently registered as a second-year Master's student in Physics working on the fabrication of 3rd generation solar cells in the School of Physics and Chemistry on the Westville campus.

‘The curiosity that characterises the natural sciences, motivates me,’ he said. Despite the draining nature of careful laboratory work to test theories and hypotheses, he finds pleasure in finally producing meaningful results and bringing the research to life. He is also motivated by young emerging scientists working hard to make a positive contribution to the science society.

This led him to participate in PRIS 2021. He has not published any of his research work yet and the symposium is the perfect opportunity to showcase his research. ‘I also see PRIS as a way of establishing myself in the research community,’ he commented.

To find out more about Lekesi’s research as well as other CAES researchers at PRIS 2021, visit

Words: Samantha Ngcongo

Photograph: Supplied

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Tackling Water Contamination

Tackling Water Contamination
Mr Mthokozisi Mnguni.

Mr Mthokozisi Mnguni has entered his research project entitled: Preparation of Hollow Carbon Nanospheres: Controlling the Internal Diameter and Porosity, for the Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS 2021) to be hosted by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) from 9 to 10 December.

The theme of PRIS 2021, Using Science to Solve Everyday Problems motivated Mnguni to sign up for the symposium. ‘I felt the need to share this fascinating research which uses nanotechnology to solve the problem of emerging contaminants in our water systems,’ he said.

Currently enrolled for a PhD at UKZN, Mnguni is working in the field of material science and analytical chemistry. He graduated with his MSc cum laude and completed a PhD Teacher Training Programme Levels 1 and 2 hosted by the CAES. Mnguni participated in the South African Chemical Institute (SACI) Postgraduate Colloquium 2021 and won first prize for his poster presentation.

His research focuses on the synthesis of hollow carbon nanospheres as a novel solid-phase extraction (SPE) packing material for the preconcentration of emerging contaminants from water. It is inspired by his awareness of the effects of pharmaceuticals and compounds derived from personal care products. These compounds contaminate water systems, with negative effects on human health, including endocrine disruptors and reproductive problems.

Mnguni’s research involves determining their concentration by preconcentration by SPE. ‘Some of the commercially available SPE packing materials have low performance levels. I saw an opportunity to help eradicate some of the drawbacks by synthesising hollow carbon nanospheres and utilising them as novel SPE packing material to improve extraction efficiency and the detection of emerging contaminants in our water systems.’

He draws his strength and motivation from his late mother. ‘She was the epitome of perseverance. I dedicate all my projects to her so that in challenging times I can regain strength by reflecting on her life.’

He looks forward to engaging with the audience, sharing his research and ‘learning what my colleagues are doing and how their work will help in solving problems in our community.’

To find out more about Mnguni’s research as well as other CAES researchers at PRIS 2021, visit

Words: Samantha Ngcongo

Photograph: Supplied

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Securing a Quality Water Supply for the Future

Securing a Quality Water Supply for the Future
UKZN PhD student, Ms Pooja Phillip.

Ms Pooja Phillip is a PhD candidate in the School of Chemistry and Physics and is part of the Catalysis Research Group.

She received her MSc cum laude in April 2021.

Phillip is currently in the process of publishing and has recently submitted her research papers. She has entered her research project titled, High Pressure Hydrogen Treatment of Solution Combustion Synthesised Titania for the Photocatalytic Treatment of Wastewater for the Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS 2021) hosted by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) from 9 - 10 December.

Driven by the water crisis in the modern world, particularly in Africa, the sustainability of clean water is a major concern for current and future generations. ‘This issue is more pronounced in South Africa due to poor rainfall conditions resulting in droughts across the country, leaving many rural areas without basic sanitation services. The 2017/2018 Cape Town water crisis made news headlines under the headline, “Day Zero”. The emergence of the novel Coronavirus in November 2019 further highlighted the need for access to clean water. I hope to make a small contribution to the greater challenge of wastewater management,’ said Phillip.

Her PhD research focuses on bandgap engineering of semiconductors for environmental remediation through photocatalytic applications. ‘It is crucial to develop a high efficiency and low-cost technique for the treatment and management of wastewater,’ said Phillip. She added that heterogeneous photocatalysis provides a replacement for energy intensive conventional treatments due to its capacity to use renewable and pollution-free solar energy. 

Phillip is motivated by her desire to contribute to the greater scientific journey. ‘I am passionate about finding solutions to modern problems through scientific research and analysis. Research and the exploration of scientific ideas has always appealed to me.’ Her supervisors, Professor H B Friedrich and S Singh and Dr A S Mahomed, also motivate her to achieve her goals and produce high quality results. 

Phillip presented her honours project entitled The Synthesis of Palladium Decorated Nitrogen-doped Carbon Nanotubes for the Reduction of 4-Nitrophenylferrocene to 4-Ferrocenylaniline at the South African Chemical Institute (SACI) Honours Symposium in 2018 and received 2nd place for oral presentation. She presented her MSc research titled Effect of Fuels in Solution Combustion Synthesis on Photocatalytic Activity of TiO2 at the Catalysis Society of South Africa (CATSA) annual catalysis conference in 2019 and was placed 2nd for poster presentation.

She is participating in PRIS 2021 because she believes her research on the photocatalytic treatment of wastewater will enhance collective knowledge on this subject and encourage further research. ‘Being a part of PRIS will also expose me to the work of my peers, and I hope to learn new techniques and applications as well as gain insight on various other research topics.’

To find out more about Philip’s research as well as other CAES researchers at PRIS 2021, visit

Words: Samantha Ngcongo

Photograph: Supplied

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Embracing Heritage, Fighting GBV and Supporting Vaccination

Embracing Heritage, Fighting GBV and Supporting Vaccination
Edgewood campus celebrating heritage, fighting GBV and pushing for vaccinations.

Around 300 students attended an event in the Student Union hall on the Edgewood campus on 22 October that aimed to embrace heritage, fight Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and encourage students to vaccinate against COVID-19.

It was organised by Residence Life Officers Ms Thobeka Mkhize, Mr Kudzai Mamvura and Mr Teboho Hlao, with the assistance of Residence Life Coordinator, Mr Karabo Motau and Edgewood campus Residence Assistants.

Speakers at the event included Ms Thobile Cebekhulu from the Department of Health; Mr Ndumiso Masondo RA, and Mr Duduza Ngcobo who is a member of Brothers for Life, an organisation that promotes positive male norms.

In his welcome address, Motau said: ‘We organised this event to ensure that as a student staying at res, you don’t just sleep, wake up and go to class. We want you to have an exciting and fruitful experience.’ He added that ‘we have zero tolerance for tribalism, racism and other ills; we embrace each and everyone from South Africa and across Africa. The Edgewood campus Department of Student Residence Affairs is committed to providing students with high-quality educational and environmental programmes to address the many social ills which affect residence students.’ 

Cebekhulu focused on why it is important for students to get vaccinated and informed those present that Department of Health staff were on hand to offer vaccinations.

Masondo warned students about misinformation around vaccination and encouraged all present to vaccinate. He highlighted that, while the vaccine doesn’t necessarily mean one won’t contract COVID-19, it reduces the likelihood of hospitalisation and possible death. He added that, ‘once you are fully vaccinated, we can start doing more activities that we were doing previously.’

Ngcobo noted that ‘Gender-based violence doesn’t only affect women; men are also abused but they are too scared to come out.’ He highlighted that instead of fighting abuse amongst men and women, we should focus on the main cause of abuse.

The event included plays presented by students from different residences that aimed to raise awareness of GBV, with prizes for the best performances.

A hundred and eighty-five students were vaccinated on the day.

View the live stream on YouTube:

Words: Neliswa Charity Phungula

Photographs: Joseph Sithole

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International Virtual Colloquium on the Role of African Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Conflict Resolution, Peacebuilding and Security

International Virtual Colloquium on the Role of African Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Conflict Resolution, Peacebuilding and Security
Joint High-Level Colloquium Partner Institutions.

The African Institute in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (AIIKS), a consortium of more than 20 African Higher Education and autonomous research institutions, with its hub at UKZN, in collaboration with the Forum for Former African Heads of State and Government (the Africa Forum), in the framework of their ongoing initiative towards a New Approach to Peace and Stability in Africa (NAPSA) is jointly convening an international high-level virtual colloquium on 2 December.

The colloquium will interrogate the role of African indigenous knowledge systems (AIKS) and gender dimensions towards conflict resolution, peacebuilding and security for sustainable development in Africa. It is a response to the continental call to support and build on efforts to bring peace, stability and prosperity to Africa.

The African continent is facing protracted conflict in all its regions. While women, children and the youth are the worst affected, there have been no concerted efforts to solicit their community-based knowledge and lived experiences on how these conflicts affect them, or their perspectives on sustainable solutions. In most marginalised communities in Africa, especially in rural areas, women are the custodians of community-based or indigenous knowledge systems and languages for sustainable community livelihoods. The youth, including girls are recruited as soldiers in conflicts and the deterioration of national economies negatively impacts their employment and other life opportunities.

Furthermore, there have been limited efforts to solicit the views of the substantial number of former African heads of state and government who have left office democratically as well as elders on the role of African indigenous home-grown approaches, including gender dimensions in addressing contemporary conflicts and conflict resolution. It is imperative to create platforms for intergenerational dialogue to address these issues. Active participation of Africa’s youth in partnership with the elders and former heads of state and government will facilitate the search for and development of inclusive and strategic mechanisms to articulate Africa’s indigenous home-grown philosophies of “Africanness” and African dignity within the context of conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and security for sustainable development.

The following dignitaries will constitute the high-level panel of the interactive international colloquium:

•    Her Excellency Joyce Banda, Former President of Malawi

•    His Excellency Armando Guebuza, Former President of Mozambique

•    His Excellency Cassam Uteem, Former President of the Republic of Mauritius

•    His Excellency Jakaya Kikwete, Former President of the United Republic of Tanzania

•    Honourable Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director United Nations (UN) Women

•    Her Excellency Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Republic, South Africa

•    Her Excellency Dr Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe, Former Vice President of Uganda and UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa; (to be confirmed by Africa Forum)

•    Honourable Professor Palamagamba John Kabudi, Minister, Constitutional and Legal Affairs, United Republic of Tanzania, Tanzania

•    Professor Nana Poku, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, UKZN

•    Professor Cheryl Hendricks, Executive Director, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa

•    Professor Khabele Matlosa, Former Director for Political Affairs, AU Commission

•    Professor Eddy Maloka, Chief Executive Officer, African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)

•    His Excellency Dr Bobby J Moroe, Deputy High Commissioner, South African High Commission, Nigeria

•    Professor Samuel Kale Ewusi, Director Africa Regional Programme, United Nations-University for Peace, Ethiopia

•    Mr Zolani Mkiva, Chairperson of Select Committee on Petitions and Executive Undertakings, National Council of Provinces, South Africa

•    Ms Aya Chebbi, African Union Special Envoy on Youth

The colloquium will identify prospects and challenges for the development of strategic programmes to promote the use of African indigenous home-grown philosophies and gender dimensions in conflict resolution, peacebuilding and security for sustainable development in Africa. It will advance the philosophy of building on the indigenous, which emphasises that the indigenous is not necessarily what is traditional but whatever African people in their specific cultural and local communities consider an authentic expression of themselves.

Words: NdabaOnline

Images: Supplied

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UKZN Primed for 2021 Spring Graduation

UKZN Primed for 2021 Spring Graduation
Preparations for the upcoming virtual Graduation ceremonies with University SRC President General, Mr Malusi Zuma.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is all set for this year’s virtual Spring Graduation Ceremonies to be held next week on Wednesday, 24 November between 10h00 and 13h00.

The ceremonies are for graduands who completed their studies between April and August this year.

The virtual Graduation Ceremonies will be broadcast by the University starting with the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (10h00), followed by the College of Health Sciences (11h00), College of Humanities (12h00), and lastly, the College of Law and Management Studies (13h00).

Congratulating the students, Executive Director of UKZN’s Corporate Relations Division, Ms Normah Zondo said: ‘The University is proud of all our graduates and wishes them well in their future endeavours.’

Zondo said the University will confer a total of 2 042 degree certificates, 1 108 of which will be awarded to undergraduate recipients and 934 to postgraduates.

The broadcast of the Spring Graduation Ceremonies will be available for online viewing by graduands, families and friends via which will only be accessible from 10h00 on the day.

The ceremony will feature congratulatory messages by the College Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Deans, SRC President as well as Convocation President.

A total of 919 qualifications will be conferred to graduands in the College of Humanities, 518 in the College of Law and Management Studies, 395 in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, and 210 in the College of Health Sciences.

UKZN Student Representative Council (SRC) President General, Mr Malusi Zuma reminded the students to raise the UKZN flag high and continue to Inspire Greatness. ‘On behalf of the Student Representative Council, we congratulate you on your success - a great achievement under very difficult times in our country. You have done our generation proud! We must acknowledge the collective efforts that brought us here,’ said Zuma.

Words: NdabaOnline

Photograph: Supplied

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