Launch of Professor Ncoza Dlova Medical Student Fund

Launch of Professor Ncoza Dlova Medical Student Fund
Professor Ncoza Dlova, Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Clinical Medicine.Click here for isiZulu version

Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Clinical Medicine, Professor Ncoza Dlova has launched a fund to support Medical students with historic debt.

The fund will ensure that education is a reality for those who are struggling financially with the investment in future medical doctors injecting much needed human resources in an already overburdened healthcare system.

Dlova said: ‘At UKZN, the majority of our Medical students come from previously disadvantaged communities. This is reflected in our transformation agenda - 70% of our students are African and recruited from Quintile 1 and 2 schools. In order to assist them to focus on their studies without having financial worries, we are appealing to donors, non-governmental organisations, the corporate sector, alumni of UKZN’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine as well as alumni of the former Alan Taylor residence to assist with donations.’

At a recent function at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, alumnus and founder of the Gift of the Givers Dr Imtiaz Sooliman pledged R3 million towards the fund allowing a number of Medical students with historical debt to register for their studies this year.

Current Medical students at the School pledged their support for the fund with a number committing to donate R100 a month. Said fifth-year Medical student Mr Tyrell Pillay: ‘The Professor Ncoza Dlova Medical Student Fund will go a long way in helping to create leaders in healthcare for the near future and beyond. The funds will be used to ensure that underprivileged students are not denied access to education and have a good chance of realising their goals and aspirations.’

Fourth-year Medical student Ms Zinhle Mzobe commented: ‘The Professor Ncoza Dlova Medical Student Fund will ensure that that disadvantaged students are not left behind. The funds will be used to allow students to study without having a financial burden hanging over them.’

Donor contributions will be received by the UKZN Foundation qualifying donors for a tax benefit for their pledge. For more information on the fund visit:

•    Support Doctors in the Making (uMuntu nguMuntu ngaBantu). Fund the future - Fund a Student and Be part of the Solution!

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied

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UKZN Student Elected 2022 SA Medical Students Association President

UKZN Student Elected 2022 SA Medical Students Association President
Ms Maryam Mahomed is the SAMSA President for 2022.Click here for isiZulu version

Third-year Medical student, Ms Maryam Mahomed has been elected President of the South African Medical Students Association (SAMSA) for 2022.

SAMSA is a student body association consisting of students from Medical schools across the country, with members passionate about medicine as well as making a positive impact in both South African and global communities

Pietermaritzburg-born Mahomed says she aims to build on SAMSA’s key areas of interest, which are student representation, community outreach, continuous professional development and collaboration. 

‘In 2022, I hope to give further attention to the community outreach aspect as this is an area in need of support. Additionally, I have noted a strong culture of philanthropy in our University which I intend to nurture and expand through SAMSA’s reach,’ said Mahomed.

Among her list of accomplishments are National Vice-President and General Secretary of SAMSA, and membership of the UKZN Surgical Society; Friends of Doctors without Borders, and the Eco-Club. She participated in the International and European Medical Association workshops and the 2021 Association for Medical Education Conference.

‘I am absolutely honoured to be the 2022 SAMSA President and to contribute to the society’s founding principles,’ she said. ‘Personally, this role is a chance to practise servant leadership. I have always been driven by the need to serve the needs of the community as well as to help others find avenues through which to offer servitude.’

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photograph: Supplied

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Matric Results Euphoria is Both Educationally and Politically Misplaced

Matric Results Euphoria is Both Educationally and Politically Misplaced

Matric results excitement veils bigger problems in our schooling system that we should be worried about. I believe this situation has been left unattended for the last 27 years and it is thus high time we confront the elephant in the room!

Because to be honest matric results euphoria is both educationally and politically misplaced.

Don’t get me wrong - we need to celebrate the achievement and naturally every positive step should be applauded but not at all costs!

In this article, I will tackle my points of departure robustly and objectively in the best way I know how and I politely challenge anyone to debate with me what should be done to turn the situation around and put our education system back on track.

Year in, year out, matric results occupy not only the minds of learners but also dominate news on TV and grab the attention of parents, pundits, journalists, and the entire nation for two weeks or more with media briefings right up to the official Ministerial announcement. Is this all necessary? Can we not rather focus our attention on better preparing pupils? There are a number of issues during and before the announcement of matric results that get swept under the carpet either for political reasons or because of plain ignorance on the part of leaders. I will touch on a few factors that I think should occupy our minds way before we celebrate matric results.

First, the goal of matriculation is part of the entire schooling system from Grade R. Confining my narrative to the high school set up as it is pertinent in this context, I believe matriculants should be specially groomed from when as Grade 8 learners they set foot on a school’s premises, and perhaps more critically, when they make subject choices in Grade 10 as this is when I believe aspirant matriculants should be properly prepared. A well-grounded Grade 10 learner should progress naturally into a successful matriculant. To be honest, this is nothing new but it seldom gets treated with the urgency it deserves. At this level of schooling, efforts should be concerted and intensified in developing these young people holistically if we are serious about being globally competitive which is possible with the help of parents, school governing bodies, the government, the private sector, and universities. Resources can be made available in time to all the schools with well trained teachers dealing with this specific cohort right up until they sit for their matric final exams. 

Second, and this links directly with the above, is the structural misalignment of the departments of Basic and Higher Education which is at the centre of the problem I raise. If these two departments were synchronised, a substantial number of problems would be solved at both policy and structural levels. The tendency in these departments of the one hand not knowing what the other is doing is troubling. Reasons advanced when the departments were unbundled years back do not outweigh the reality on the ground.

There are serious problems - the main one being a lack of vertical articulation. Stuff that basic education teaches does not prepare students sufficiently to cope with the demands of tertiary tuition. For example, teachers at basic level have a limited understanding of the developments taking place at tertiary level. This results in a number of problems for pupils at school level. It gets even worse when learners in high school are pushed into doing subjects that are going to make the school look good when marks are assessed (pass rate) rather than thinking ahead to university subject combinations which require a different approach.

For example, the popularity of Mathematics Literacy as a subject over Pure Mathematics has harmed the prospects of many students, with the problem being more common in public schools.

Third, is the glaring lack of foresight or, at worst, the unwillingness of our schooling system to embrace technology. The situation we have found ourselves in recently could have been handled differently if technology had been introduced in schools 10 years ago. The fact that it was not, again points to the structural misalignment at government level.

We have the Department of Science and Technology that works separately from the Department of Basic Education and ultimately also the Department of Higher Education and Training - two departments with interlocking mandates yet they operate in silos which it seems nobody sees anything wrong with. COVID-19 and last year’s looting and burning could have had lesser impact if we had embraced technology in time. Online learning is common in many countries where it was in place well before the pandemic started so the transition was relatively smooth there because teacher and learners were already adapting to the virtual system. With a bit more foresight South Africa could have reduced the impact of COVID-19 on its schools which is now being used in some quarters as an excuse for matric performance and other negative issues during 2020 and 2021. I must warn you, this two-year gap will be very telling for youngsters in their post matric studies. It is something that could have been avoided had we planned better and is something universities should be ready for and prepared to mitigate in the same way they will now do for their existing first and second year students.

Fourth, is the biggest elephant in the room which most pundits shy away from dealing with - the over-unionisation of teachers. In the last 27 years, we have witnessed the gradual erosion of the culture of teaching and learning and the growth of the culture of politicking within schools. There is absolutely nothing wrong with teachers joining unions, it is their right enshrined in our beautiful Constitution. In fact, principals are encouraged to create a climate that is democratic and free for teachers to exercise their rights. However, in recent times teachers have overly-prioritised politics to the detriment of their civic and professional duty which is to teach! Ironically the militancy some teachers exhibit gets transferred to learners subconsciously. The hours spent in political meetings outweigh time spent in class with principals often unwilling to react because it could impact negatively on their careers. The appointment of principals in schools is often not based on merit but dependent on how many individuals they can recruit for union membership. This culture which has almost crippled the system is reflected in incidents where teachers spend most of their time fighting for promotions using union membership as leverage. The same culture sometimes gets transferred to learners and when they get to university, their priority is to join student politics not for any other reason but for political positions. This has become a toxic situation.

Such issues should be nipped in the bud and solutions negotiated to re-establish a culture of teaching and learning in schools.

There are undoubtedly more issues involved but the points I have raised are, I believe, sufficient to start a healthy debate characterised by the need to create good citizenry, responsible professional people, and a better future for all. It is a debate that should elevate itself above everything, including politics, race, or creed.

As patriots of this beautiful country, we should be brave enough to look each other in the eye and without fear of victimisation or assassination - say: ‘You are wrong.’ There are so many people out there with a genuine desire to see this country prosper and I believe if they are given the space and time to share their wisdom and skills this country will move forward with vigour in the quest to self-correct.

But first we must fix our education system - once that is done successfully, everything else will gradually fall into place.

•    Mr Khumbulani Mngadi is an independent analyst based at UKZN.

*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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Geologists Warn Tropical Cyclones Could Hit KZN

Geologists Warn Tropical Cyclones Could Hit KZN
Cyclone Idai in 2019 was among the most recent intense tropical cyclones to make landfall along southern Africa.

An international study led out of UKZN and published in the journal Nature Geoscience has used state-of-the-art techniques to investigate seabed sediments, revealing that severe tropical cyclones made landfall along the eastern coast of South Africa in the past and that under projected climate change conditions, these damaging phenomena could arise in the future.

Professor Andrew Green, Head of the Marine Geology Research Unit at UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences led the research project with Honorary Research Professor Andrew Cooper and Ms Shannon Dixon of UKZN; Professor Matthias Zabel and Dr Annette Hahn of the University of Bremen’s Center for Marine Environmental Sciences in Germany, and Dr Carlos Loureiro of the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom.

While reconstructions of past storms exist for the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, that is not the case for much of the Indian Ocean, making this research important in filling a gap in knowledge to help understand what could happen under changing climate conditions and rising sea levels.

The team of geologists examined the sediment record from the seabed off the coast of Durban and found that there was a period - under higher sea levels - when storms were much more extreme than they are now.

‘We found distinctive sediments that were deposited by severe storms that struck the coast between approximately 5 000 and 7 000 years ago,’ said Green. ‘These storms were much bigger than any storm that happened in the 4 000 years since. This has allowed the storm sediments, or tempestites, to be preserved just beneath the seabed.’

The period of increased storminess coincided with warmer sea temperatures in the Indian Ocean and this allowed tropical storms to travel further south than they do presently.

Loureiro, a lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Stirling, carried out modelling of the storm waves and analysed how current ocean trends and climate projections aligned with past climate conditions.

‘This important work demonstrates that the past climate conditions that allowed very intense tropical cyclones to reach the South African coast are very similar to the ones projected now under climate change,’ said Loureiro.

‘By confirming that these conditions existed in the past, our work provides strong support to recent climate modelling studies indicating that tropical cyclones are likely to migrate poleward in response to global warming.’

At present tropical storms are usually confined to central Mozambique but renewed ocean warming because of climate change could once again allow them to travel south, with potentially disastrous implications for cities like Maputo, Durban and Richards Bay.

‘When these storms hit the coast there were no cities, buildings or roads and the coastline was free to adjust in a natural manner,’ said Cooper.

‘If such a storm were to happen now, beachfront infrastructure would be devastated and the rainfall associated with tropical cyclones would cause serious flooding.’

This research gives impetus to the need to evaluate hazards along South Africa’s east coast that will be more vulnerable to tropical cyclones making landfall.

This study also affirms the calibre of work coming out of UKZN in marine geology.

‘We have established UKZN as a global centre of excellence in marine geology and with our excellent facilities and international collaboration networks we are making major breakthroughs in understanding the coast and sea,’ said Green. ‘This is the first time this kind of evidence has been used to reconstruct past periods of storminess anywhere in the world.’

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: MODIS image captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Children in Sub-Saharan Africa Dying of COVID-19 at a Higher Rate than Counterparts Elsewhere

Children in Sub-Saharan Africa Dying of COVID-19 at a Higher Rate than Counterparts Elsewhere
Co-author of the study, UKZN’s Professor Refiloe Masekela.Click here for isiZulu version

An international multi-centre study has found that children in sub-Saharan Africa who are hospitalised with COVID-19 are dying at a rate far higher than children in the United States and Europe.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, was conducted at 25 hospital sites in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda between March and December 2020.

Commenting on the findings, Head of UKZN’s Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health Professor Refiloe Masekela who led the study at the UKZN site, said: ‘We are concerned that among African children admitted to 25 hospitals with COVID-19 between March and December 2020, infants younger than a year old had nearly five times the risk of death than adolescents aged 15 to 19 years old. Our study also found that children of all ages with comorbidities, including high blood pressure, chronic lung diseases, hematological disorders, and cancer, were also at higher risk of dying. HIV-infection also tended to confer a higher risk of death.’

Lead author of the study, Professor Jean B Nachega, associate professor of infectious diseases and microbiology and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health said: ‘Although our study looked at data from earlier in the pandemic, the situation hasn’t changed much for the children of Africa - if anything, it is expected to be worsening with the global emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant. Vaccines are not yet widely available, and pediatric intensive care is not easily accessible.’

The study examined outcomes in 469 children who ranged in age from three months to 19 years old with the average age being 5.9 years. A quarter of the children had pre-existing conditions, while 18 had confirmed or suspected multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a serious complication of COVID-19 where different parts of the body become inflamed.

The study, which included investigators from all six of the African countries that provided data, found that 34.6% of hospitalised children were admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) or required supplementary oxygen, and 21.2% of those admitted to the ICU required invasive mechanical ventilation. During the time frame studied, 39 - over 8% - of the children died. This is far higher than rates between 0.1% and 0.5% that have been reported in high-income countries. 

‘The high morbidity and mortality associated with hospitalised children with COVID-19 in our study challenge the existing understanding of COVID-19 as a mild disease in this population,’ said Nachega, who is also a professor extraordinary of medicine at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. ‘If a child has a comorbidity, is very young and is in a place where there are limited or no specialised doctors, facilities, or equipment for pediatric intensive care, then that child faces a very real possibility of dying.’

The study recommends an urgent scale-up of COVID-19 vaccination and therapeutic interventions among at-risk eligible children and adolescents in Africa. Further, the study raises the acute need for capacity-building and support for pediatric intensive care in these settings.

Nachega noted recent progress on increasing the COVID-19 vaccine supply in Africa but emphasised that those vaccines were not yet widely available and only about 5% of the continent’s population had been fully vaccinated.

Additional investigators in this study are members of the African Forum for Research and Education in Health COVID-19 Research Collaboration on Children and Adolescents and are listed in the JAMA Pediatrics article.

This research was supported by a National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center grant -1R25TW011217-01.

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied

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Increasing Reliance on Last Resort Antibiotics Reveals “Worrying” Superbug Trend - Study Finding

Increasing Reliance on Last Resort Antibiotics Reveals “Worrying” Superbug Trend - Study Finding
Co-authors of this novel study were Professor Sabiha Essack and Mr Daniel Berman.Click here for isiZulu version

A study co-conducted by a UKZN academic has revealed a “worrying” five-year trend in South Africa of rapidly increasing reliance on last resort antibiotics as bacteria continue at an increasing rate to develop resistance to the most common “access” and “watch” antibiotics - the first and second line of defence against bacterial infections.

The research paper was co-authored by UKZN’s South African Chair in Antibiotic Resistance and One Health, Professor Sabiha Essack, and Mr Daniel Berman, Director of Global Health and Longitude Prize at Nesta Challenges.

The paper - titled: Global Access to Existing and Future Antimicrobials and Diagnostics: Antimicrobial Subscription and Pooled procurement - was published in the prestigious journal, The Lancet,

Examining the five-year trend of drug-resistant infections and the procurement of “watch” and “reserve” (ie last resort) antibiotics in South Africa’s public health system, the study found statistically significant increases in non-susceptibility (ie resistance) to meropenem and tigecycline for Klebsiella pneumoniae, increasing by approximately 215% and 332% respectively, from 2015 to 2019.

In addition, statistically significant increases in procurement of “watch” (carbapenems) and “reserve” (linezolid) antibiotics further indicate increasing reliance on these drugs due to escalating non-susceptibility to narrower-spectrum “access” antibiotics. Procured quantities of last resort “watch” antibiotic meropenem increased from 55.09kg in 2015 to 411.91kg in 2020, an increase of 647.7% in only five years. It demonstrated that clinicians are increasingly reliant on reserve antibiotics as bacterial infections develop resistance to multiple antibiotics.

The study highlights the importance of access to new antibiotics to address the dwindling efficacy of existing broad-spectrum, watch and reserve antibiotics, particularly for Gram-negative bacteria priority pathogens.

Essack said, ‘The corroboration of non-susceptibility data and antibiotic procurement data demonstrates clearly the pace of change at which infections are developing resistance to our first and second lines of infection defence - “access” and “watch” antibiotics. The significant increase in the procurement and use of reserve antibiotics reveals that the drugs we have available to us as clinicians are becoming less effective at treating infections. This is not a situation unique to South Africa - it is a global trend that requires new mechanisms to ensure uninterrupted access to efficacious antimicrobials and diagnostics to ensure their appropriate use and stewardship.’ 

The study proposes a novel approach to create a predictable low and middle-income country (LMIC) market to ensure access to products to address growing resistance and treatment failure. It describes how antimicrobial subscription and pooled procurement (ASPP) could be implemented as a multinational or regional mechanism in which countries (or states within a country), leverage their combined purchasing power for a portfolio of newer and future antimicrobials and diagnostic products. Based on multi-year subscription contracts that are negotiated on behalf of these aggregated (ie pooled) procurers, ASPP could reshape the LMIC market for essential antimicrobials and diagnostics.

Berman said: ‘Since markets in high income countries provide the best chance to recoup investments, the focus of test developers is on the 20% of the global population that live in these countries. This means that the parts of the world with the most urgent need for new point-of-care diagnostic tests are being overlooked. If we want to change the situation in LMICs, we need to create viable markets for these products. Antibiotic subscription and pooled procurement would have the dual benefit of making antimicrobial diagnosis and treatment accessible in countries with the highest levels of resistance, while stimulating engagement of producers in LMIC markets.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis and Andrew McKay

Photographs: Supplied

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Symposium Showcases Top UKZN Research and a “View on the Universe”

Symposium Showcases Top UKZN Research and a “View on the Universe”
Winners of the best oral presentations across the five Schools in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.

A UKZN online symposium gave participants insight into the mysteries of dark energy, and dark matter that assists galaxy formation as well as details about particles and forces in physics.

It was UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s (CAES) annual Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS) where glimpses into the secrets of the universe were revealed in an address by Professor Neil Turok, the first Higgs Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom (UK).

There was also a memorial lecture to honour one of South Africa’s leaders in sanitation, and presentations of students’ best research.

The two-day event, held online via Zoom, comprised a day of student oral presentations and industry sessions, and a second day of shorter flash presentations.

‘PRIS showcases the cutting-edge research carried out by our postgraduate students in all spheres of science,’ said Professor Neil Koorbanally, CAES Dean of Research.

Koorbanally encouraged postgraduate students to make the most of the opportunity to gain experience in communicating to a wide audience.

Turok, who shared his perspectives on the universe from his decades-long career and the application of mathematics to understanding the universe’s origins, was born in South Africa and schooled in the UK, gaining his PhD from Imperial College London. His early experience includes teaching in mission schools in Lesotho before walking the halls of Princeton University and the University of Cambridge as Professor of Physics and Chair of Mathematical Physics respectively. He also holds the Niels Bohr Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada and founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in South Africa.

Turok’s collaborations with UKZN have included work with academics in the Astrophysics Research Centre, in genetics, and in quantum physics.

‘One of my goals is to see this mathematics and mathematical science brought back to Africa so that Africa becomes a world leader again in that field,’ said Turok. ‘There is every bit as much talent in Lesotho villages as there is in London, England.’

Turok tackled the vast topic of the universe, highlighting its simplicity. He gave insight into the mysteries of dark matter that assisted galaxy formation, and dark energy, and detailed the known particles and forces in physics that he said are sufficient to explain everything.

Turok concluded by discussing AIMS, noting that Africa’s burgeoning population provided an abundance of bright young people who need opportunities to enter the sciences.

Following Turok’s address parallel sessions were held featuring 60 oral presentations and more than 128 flash presentations covering research in the College’s Schools of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental ScienceChemistry and PhysicsEngineeringLife Sciences, and Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science.

Stand-out presentations included sea-level reconstructions using microorganisms preserved in salt marshes; using nanotechnology to optimise performance of solar cells for renewable energy; the accumulation of heavy metals in fish species in the Umgeni River; optimising facial expression recognition in computers; and determining student engagement online to develop a model for predicting student success.

More than 20 organisations, institutes and companies which sponsored proceedings and prizes spoke about their unique work and opportunities during a parallel session.

On the second day of the Symposium, 200 guests attended a presentation by Mr Neil MacLeod, former Head of eThekwini Municipality Water and Sanitation, and UKZN’s Professor Cathy Sutherland to honour the memory of the late Professor Chris Buckley, a luminary who led UKZN’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Research and Development (WASH R&D) Centre for over three decades, growing it into an internationally-recognised, transdisciplinary research hub driving innovation in water and sanitation systems in Africa and beyond.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the CAES Professor Albert Modi welcomed guests and acknowledged Buckley’s family for supporting Buckley’s commitment to the University. He also acknowledged the individuals and organisations that supported Buckley’s drive to solve significant sanitation problems.

MacLeod shared the story of WASH R&D’s work over the decades to demonstrate the need for transdisciplinary research into the development of toilet technology, the inequality in access to sanitation, circular economy thinking, phosphorous resources and urban development.

Sutherland discussed Buckley’s contributions and approach towards transformative sustainable development, working both on resource recovery from centralised and decentralised systems with a strong interest in the social and the environmental cost of both.

The PRIS concluded with a prize-giving session where the top three presentations from each School in both the oral and flash presentation categories were rewarded*, with a special prize in each category for the research that demonstrated the greatest impact, per School, based on voting from the audience. There were also several lucky draw prizes awarded by the event sponsors.

In closing, Modi emphasised the College’s pride in the quality of students’ research, and lauded the efficiency and resilience people had shown in undertaking research through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Koorbanally’s vote of thanks included the planning committee, the Moodle team, the technical committee, social media and website champions, the Information and Communication Services technical support team, the CAES management, session chairs and co-hosts, internal and external judges, the Discipline of Computer Science for providing venues for the livestream as well as equipment, and the Public Relations committee. He also recognised the companies and organisations that sponsored and exhibited at the event.

*Award winners:

The full list of award winners is available on the PRIS website.

First place winners in the oral category received a HP 15 8GB Notebook with Intel Core i5 valued at R12 000; second place victors got a Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 valued at R5 000; and for third place: a Western Digital My Passport 4TB Hard Drive and Volkano Python Series Bluetooth Speaker valued at R3 000.

Prize-winners in the flash category received, for first place: a Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 valued at R5 000; for second place: a Western Digital My Passport 4TB Hard Drive and Volkano Python Series Bluetooth Speaker valued at R3 000; and for third: a Smart E 20 000mAh Powerbank and Volkano noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones valued at R2 000.

Prize-winners in the new category of the greatest impact on industry, environment and society received a cash prize of R5 000 in the oral category and R3 000 in the flash presentation category; these prizes were awarded based on an audience poll.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Images: Supplied

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Education Academic Awarded Prestigious B1 rating from NRF

Education Academic Awarded Prestigious B1 rating from NRF
Professor Deevia Bhana who has been awarded a B1 rating from the NRF.Click here for isiZulu version

Professor Deevia Bhana of the School of Education has been awarded a B1 rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The rating is allocated to scholars who have earned considerable international recognition for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs.

Dean and Head of the School of Education Professor Thabo Msibi said the rating was significant in the history of the School. ‘Given the rarity of this rating from the NRF - it is unusual to have a scholar in Education whose work is recognised by peers as enjoying considerable international recognition and considered by others as an indication of leadership internationally. We are extremely proud of Professor Bhana for this accomplishment,’ he said.

‘Professor Bhana’s commitment to high quality scholarship is well known in the School. Her work is emblematic of the high quality we seek from everyone in the School and I hope all will be inspired to follow in her footsteps. Well done Professor Bhana, you are an inspiration to us all.’

Bhana is the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI/NRF) South African Research Chair in Gender and Childhood Sexuality. Her focus on young sexualities and masculinities, the early formation of gender ideologies and violence and her interests in sexual health and young families take an interdisciplinary approach foregrounding the material, symbolic and discursive forces which shape the question of children and young people’s sexual agency.

Bhana’s research operates at the very frontiers of knowledge, bringing a broad theoretical social science lens, and challenging scholarship from across the world through her empirical material, theoretical reflection and development and high-profile position in South Africa.

She has published more than145 scientific papers and book chapters in leading journals and through press houses as well as being the author of 11 books.

Her authored books include Girls and the Negotiation of Porn in South Africa: Power, Play and Sexuality (In press, Routledge); Love, Sex and Teenage Sexual Cultures in South Africa (2018, Routledge); Gender and Childhood Sexuality in the Primary School (2016, Springer); Childhood Sexuality and AIDS Education: The Price of Innocence (2016, Routledge) and Under Pressure (2014, MaThoko’s Books). Her latest co-edited books include Sex and Sexualities, Sexual Health and Justice: Perspectives from Southern Africa (In press, Routledge) and Gender, Sexuality and Violence in South African Educational Spaces (2021, Palgrave Macmillan).

Bhana is also an editor-in-chief of Children & Society (WILEY) and an associate editor of the Health Education Journal (SAGE). She serves on nine editorial boards and is currently the co-Chair of the International Research Association of Institutions of Advanced Gender Studies (RINGS). RINGS ‘connects leading research institutes and centres from Africa, Australia, Europe, and North and Central America and aims to facilitate collaboration and contacts within gender studies across the world’.

As Research Chair, Bhana is actively involved in supervising a large cohort of students and has a significant impact in building the research profile of the next generation of young scholars in the field of gender, childhood sexualities and schooling.

The B1 NRF Rating is testimony of the high quality and impact of her research and some indication of her leading international status in the field.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied

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UKZN Alumnus to Perform at Concert in Margate

UKZN Alumnus to Perform at Concert in Margate
Ms Nozibusiso Vezi, UKZN Music graduate.

UKZN Music graduate and vocalist Ms Nozibusiso Vezi is set to perform with a band at a concert at the Margate Art Museum on Saturday, 5 February.

The performance - being staged by the iSupport Creative Business in collaboration with Umnqgunqgo Wabantu - has been made possible by the South African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) Foundation and Concerts SA which is a joint South African/Norwegian live music development project managed by IKS Cultural Consulting.

The aim of the organisers is to create a vibrant and viable live music circuit in southern Africa while at the same time encouraging musicians, promoters, and venue owners to provide support to the sector through research and skills development for music professionals.

They also want to encourage youngsters to develop an interest in and appreciation of live music by presenting music performances and conducting workshops at schools.

Backing Vezi will be a band comprising Esayidi Further Education and Training (FET) College music learners, led by legendary pianist, Mr Andile Yenana.

The concert also features UKZN students Nhlakanipho Zulu on piano, Kwena Ramahuta on guitar, Nhlakanipho Xolo on bass guitar and Sibusiso Ncube on drums.

Vezi says she has been a lover of music from a tender age and knew that she was destined to pursue a career in the industry. ‘I have been singing from as long as I can remember.’

She promised a lively concert full of rich African sounds, saying: ‘Brace yourself for a mind-blowing performance.’

Tickets at R50 each are available from Webtickets.

Words: Sinoyolo Mahlasela

Photograph: Supplied

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UKZN Professors Co-Edit New Book on Subnational Governance and Development in SA

UKZN Professors Co-Edit New Book on Subnational Governance and Development in SA
Professor Purshottama Reddy (left) and Professor Henry Wissink.

Two senior academics in UKZN’s School of Management, IT and Governance have co-edited a new book titled: Subnational Governance and Development in South Africa Post 1994: Prospects and Challenges.

Professor Purshottama Reddy and Professor Henry Wissink worked in collaboration with the executive director of the Democracy Development Program (DDP) Dr Paul Kariuki with funding from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), headquartered in Germany. The book was published by the Democracy Development Programme (DDP).

The work highlights that while challenges facing subnational government in South Africa are not uncommon for developing countries, there is nevertheless an urgent need for remedial action, both at political and administrative leadership levels, to enhance the governance of subnational governments in South Africa.

Contributors to the book include senior national and international academics, high-ranking subnational government representatives, executive functionaries of non-governmental organisations and international consultants - all of whom shared their valuable experience and insight.

UKZN contributors included Professor I Nzimakwe, Professor M Naude, Dr S Zondi and masters and doctoral graduates Dr N Ndlela, Mr M Mzelemu and K Ngwenya, all attached to the School of Management, IT and Governance and Dr G Makolomakwe (School of Applied Human Sciences).

Knowledge generated through the compilation of the book will enable students, academics, researchers, subnational government functionaries and the leadership of non-governmental organisations gain a deeper understanding of past policy failures and resultant shortcomings of subnational governments post-1994. This understanding is expected to stimulate the conceptualisation of strategies and approaches that chart new pathways for future courses of action aimed at promoting responsive subnational governments for the third decade of democracy.

Said Reddy: ‘The dawn of democracy in 1994, paved the way for a democratic system of governance where subnational governments, notably provinces and municipalities were created to facilitate development to meet the needs and aspirations of communities at the provincial and local level. A plethora of institutional reforms was introduced and implemented to inform the new era of transformation. The primary policy trajectory at present is characterised by the National Development Plan: Vision for 2030 (2012), which seeks to create a capable and ethical state that includes functional and responsive subnational government. Whilst the vision for such subnational state structures is still very much alive and high on the governmental agenda, the journey towards its realisation is mired with momentous governance challenges.’

Words: NdabaOnline

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New Book on History of “Threatening Letters” in Victorian Ireland

New Book on History of “Threatening Letters” in Victorian Ireland
Professor Donal McCracken with his new book and on the right one of the threatening letters.

Author and veteran UKZN academic Professor Donal McCracken has written a most unusual book! It’s about the history of ‘threatening letters’ in 19th century rural Ireland, titled: You will dye at midnight: Threatening letters in Victorian Ireland. (Eastwood Books, Dublin).

The idea for the book emerged from a study McCracken did a few years ago on the impact of developments in South Africa on Irish politics. Working through old police reports in the Dublin archives he came across tens of thousands of “threatening letters” which had been handed in to the police by members of the public in Ireland and termed at the time as “outrage crimes”.

McCracken says the threatening letters related mainly to the possession of land but were not only addressed to exploitative landlords - he discovered that many were sent by tenant farmers to each other.

‘The correspondence and notices were delivered by the then newly-introduced penny post or were nailed to barn doors, stuck on gateposts or onto farm house walls. They were sometimes destroyed by indignant receivers, but evidence tends to point to the documents being kept, as if it were a bad omen to burn them,’ said McCracken.

‘The content of the threatening letters was very similar and rather surprisingly contained none of the abuse or rudeness of some of today’s tweets. They were neither sectarian nor racist, though some had undertones of class conflict, especially against landlords.

‘The famous agrarian secret societies, such as the Molly Maguires and the Ribbon societies, did engage in threatening letter writing when it suited them in their boycott and anti-eviction campaigns,’ he said. ‘Threatening letters were also sometimes used against “foreigners”, which usually meant trying to get workers from a neighbouring parish or country sacked so locals could get their jobs. Some people even sent themselves threatening letters, either to gain victim status or to get out of some unwanted obligation.’

McCracken said the practice of sending threatening letters was not confined to men as there was evidence that women both sent and received threatening messages. One woman who received such letters carried a rifle around with her - she had a reputation for being able to shoot a rabbit at 300m so was never molested!

McCracken said threatening letter language was stylised, written in a staccato and pseudo-legal blood-curdling English (never in the Irish language), in the hope of giving the impression of legitimacy and gravitas. ‘The letters and notices invariably contained threatening art, crude drawings of coffins, graves, skulls and crossbones, or weapons such as pistols, muskets, daggers and swords. The grammar was often poor with spelling mistakes and little or no punctuation. Some, however, were written in excellent English, giving a clue to the identity of the village threatening-letter writer; usually a school teacher, who no doubt augmented meagre pay by assisting an indignant farmer pen in black ink a brief (usually under 100 words) and clear directive to someone to quit a field, farm, parish, or country… or die, a threat which was rarely carried out. Signatures were often generic and included names such as Captain Rook, Captain Rock, and especially Captain Moonlight and Rory of the Hills.’

McCracken said receivers of threatening letters reacted in different ways. ‘Many ignored them but preceded with caution, sometimes seeking police protection. The British government in Ireland recognised the propaganda value of labelling the practice of threatening letter writing as cowardly and ungentlemanly.

‘However, some landlords were intimidated into leaving their country estates, which resulted in many farm workers losing their jobs.

‘Irish nationalist politicians and priests were invariably hostile to the practice, the former often being recipients themselves of threatening letters. They recognised the damage the letters did to their cause but their attempts to prevent them being written by tenant farmers were usually not successful - rural society could be harnessed by them only when it suited the farmers,’ he said. 

Sending threatening letters was illegal, but the authorities rarely succeeded with convictions. For the few who were convicted, there was a great disparity of sentences, ‘ranging two months’ imprisonment to seven years transportation to Australia.’

•    Donal McCracken is Professor Emeritus and F.R.Hist.S at UKZN’s Centre for Communication, Media and Society in the School of Applied Human Sciences, at the College of Humanities. He has been an academic for more than 40 years.

Words: Ndabaonline

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Msizi Chatbot Goes Up a Notch!

Msizi Chatbot Goes Up a Notch!
Msizi Chatbot is now available on WhatsApp.

Msizi Chatbot - a computer programme designed to mimic human conversations and provide predetermined answers by interpreting words given to it in the chat interface - has just got even more advanced!

Named Msizi - isiZulu for “helper”- the Bot was originally developed to assist those accessing the UKZN website found at the bottom right hand corner of a screen, appearing as a blue icon.

This year, however, Msizi has been upgraded to provide omni-channel messaging across various social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.

On WhatsApp, the Bot is available only to students and can be contacted on +27 60 578 3215 via WhatsApp text. Send Msizi a message and it will instantly introduce itself and the various services on offer, making it easy for you to choose your desired options with it as a guide.

Commenting on Msizi, Mr Handsome Nyathikazi of Information and Communication Services (ICS) support said: ‘In addition to the Chatbot upgrade we have also incorporated a ticketing system where tickets can be created from conversations and assigned to the relevant people for action data collection, analysis and reporting.

‘Our sophisticated ticketing system does not only integrate well with the Msizi Chatbot on the UKZN website and WhatsApp but will also be able to pick up posts and comments and create tickets on Facebook. This system enables escalations, workflows and automation features which will ensure seamless and effective customer engagement going forward.’

As a conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) Chatbot, Msizi can answer thousands of questions simultaneously by using built-in algorithms to learn the patterns of both the staff and students it interacts with. The Chatbot sifts through Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to find the best solution for user questions and if unsuccessful it offers the user a chance to rephrase the question or chat with an agent.

The Chatbot can still be found on the UKZN website and has kept its core features of FAQs and a live chat interface.

Msizi will be available 24/7 with agents available to chat during UKZN’s working hours.

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela

Image: Nhlakanipho Nxumalo

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Law and Management Studies Academics Co-Edit Research-Based Book

Law and Management Studies Academics Co-Edit Research-Based Book
The dust cover for a new book co-edited by UKZN academics.

Discipline of Information Systems and Technology academics Dr Upasana Singh and Dr Craig Blewett have co-edited a new book, with Professor Sid Nair, from Australia, and an Honorary Professor in the School of MIG, and Dr Timothy Shea from the USA, titled: Academic Voices: A Conversation on New Approaches to Teaching and Learning in the post-COVID World.

The research-based book discusses scholarship involved in the creative adoption of technology to support online teaching, learning and assessment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The book provides critical information on the rapid introduction and emersion into digital technologies during the pandemic.

Its 39 chapters explore and feature case studies on the pedagogical readiness of academics, student mobility, student readiness to adopt online learning, the value of Higher Education and distance learning, and the changing role of administration and faculty trust in institutions.

Singh and Blewett also co-authored chapters with UKZN Law and Management Studies, and international colleagues.

Singh and Dr Violeta Holmes, from the UK, wrote a chapter together titled: Comparative Reflections on the Transition to Online Delivery in Higher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic, while Singh collaborated with Professor Shika Sharma, from India, to author a chapter titled: While Teaching Adaptability in Higher Education Institutions: A Case Study of a Private Indian University.

Blewett co-authored a chapter titled: Upping Our Game - Increasing Online Engagement through Gamified e-Learningwith Mr Ebrahim Adam and Ms Rosemary Quilling.

Other UKZN colleagues who contributed book chapters included Dr Dusty-Lee Donnelly with the section titled: Meet Lisa: The Robot who Stole your Joband Ms Sue Price, Mr Rushil Raghavjee and Mrs Rosemary Quilling who together wrote the chapter:Disruptions and Delays: Lecturers’ Experiences of Moving an Information System’s Module Online.

The book, which highlights the academic voice in Higher Education institutions and presents an authentic message and mode for the new world post COVID-19, includes a futuristic section on academic predictions for Higher Education Institutions.

Words: NdabaOnline

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Study Reveals Benefits of Moringa Oleifera Leaf Supplementation for HIV Patients on Antiretroviral Therapy

Study Reveals Benefits of Moringa Oleifera Leaf Supplementation for HIV Patients on Antiretroviral Therapy
Ms Aisha Gambo and Professor Nceba Gqaleni.

PhD student in the Discipline of Public Health, Ms Aisha Gambo, and her supervisor Professor Nceba Gqaleni, have published a research article evaluating the effects of the Moringa oleifera leaf supplementation on the CD4 count, viral load and anthropometric of HIV positive adults on antiretroviral therapy (ART) in Nigeria.

Published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PloS One, the article is titled: A double-blind, randomized controlled trial to examine the effect of Moringa oleifera leaf powder supplementation on the immune status and anthropometric parameters of adult HIV patients on antiretroviral therapy in a resource-limited setting.

The research results showed that people living with HIV in resource-limited settings are vulnerable to malnutrition and that the nutritional interventions put in place to improve food security and malnutrition, together with antiretroviral therapy, could improve treatment outcomes.

The study involved 200 HIV positive patients split into two equal groups - the Moringa Oleifera Group (MOG) was given the Moringa Oleifera leaf powder and the other - the control group (COG) - received placebo. The findings represented changes in weight, body mass index (BMI) and CD4 cell counts in a period of six months. Both groups HIV-1 viral load were measured at baseline at the end of the study.

Over the period of six months, the study revealed a significant difference in the CD4 count in the MOG. A further estimate of fixed effects showed that the CD4 count among the MOG was 10.33% greater than that of the COG over the study period whilst the anthropometric parameters (weight and body mass index) between the two groups were not significantly different over time.

The study recommends that the programmes in low resource settings should consider nutritional supplementation as part of a comprehensive approach to ensure optimal treatment outcomes in people living with HIV.

For further information contact Professor Nceba Gqaleni on phone: 060 564 7568, or:

Words: Nombuso Dlamini and Mandisa Shozi

Photographs: Supplied

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Lecture Series Builds Knowledge on Engineering Infrastructure

Lecture Series Builds Knowledge on Engineering Infrastructure
The lecture series co-presented by UKZN gave insight into various aspects of civil engineering.

UKZN’s Discipline of Civil Engineering teamed up with the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) and SANLAM Life to present a series of lectures on engineering infrastructure that featured a line-up of top speakers who covered a range of topics over 10 weeks.

Developed by UKZN’s Dr Justin Pringle and Dr Christina McLeod, it was the first time the lecture series had been presented. There was an average attendance of 250 participants over the 10 weeks, who included UKZN staff, students and industry experts. With attendance compulsory for final year Civil Engineering students, the series also offered Continued Professional Development (CPD) points for participants to contribute to advancing their engineering careers.

Focusing on all aspects of civil engineering, from water to transportation, several experienced civil engineers from various organisations provided insight into their careers and fields of expertise to educate students about what to expect in their chosen career path, with staff from UKZN moderating the sessions and discussion. Of the 12 presenters, 10 were UKZN alumni.

Mr Christopher Maine of GIBB Engineering and Architecture began the series by delivering a project review on the Lower Umkomaas Water Extraction project, followed in the second week by SAICE Fellow and independent consultant Mr Carlos Esteves; who spoke about the Go! Durban project and his almost four decades of experience working on projects that included World Cup 2010 transportation and the Durban Port expansion.

SANRAL Regional Manager Mr Dumisani Nkabinde spoke in the third week about the N2/N3 Freeway Management System, followed by eThekwini Municipality’s Ms Kemira Naidoo, who spoke on modelling the Agulhas Current. Mr Gert van Schalkwyk of SMEC SA spoke on the Msikaba River Bridge, followed by Mr Neil Oliver of Lifecycle Green, who delivered a technical presentation on facilitating sustainable development by modelling the benefits.

Mr Mishlin Pillay and Ms Suvarna Maharaj, structural engineers from Arup, shared a project review on Umhlanga Arch and the Baha’i House of Worship.

The following week Mr Geoff Tooley of eThekwini Municipality gave a technical talk on sustainable urban drainage systems in South Africa. The penultimate presentation was by Bosch Projects’ Mr Peter Tooley and Ms Jeshika Ramchund, who gave a project review on Fumba Town, Zanzibar, highlighting that the future of living is resilient and self-sufficient.

The final presentation was by Professor Jeff Smithers, Umgeni Water Chair of Water Resources Research and Innovation and Director of UKZN’s Centre for Water Resources Research who delivered a project review on the current state of the Flood Studies Programme.

Academic Leader of Civil Engineering at UKZN Professor Mohamed Mostafa said the Discipline plans to repeat the lecture series this year with new speakers and projects. This is part of a plan to expand the UKZN civil engineering footprint in KwaZulu-Natal and beyond.

Words:Christine Cuénod

Images: Supplied

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Humanities Academic Co-Authors isiZulu Children’s Books

Humanities Academic Co-Authors isiZulu Children’s Books
UKZN lecturer Dr Ntokozo Mkhize-Mthembu with book character Tippie the elephant and her children’s books.

Lecturer in the School of Education Dr Ntokozo Mkhize-Mthembu has co-authored a series of children’s isiZulu books titled Funda Ukufunda noTippie iZinga R with colleagues Ms Reinette Lombard and Ms Jose’ Palmer.

The books aim to simplify learning to read isiZulu with Tippie the elephant, the main character in the series.

Each story is unique, interesting and the text is supported by colourful, engaging illustrations that aid comprehension.

Tippie experiences modern day adventures in each book whilst staying true to typical child development. These sequential reading books were designed with a focus on sound development, linking sounds and letters as well as building success and self confidence in reading.

‘The book has modern bright illustrations aligned to the text which encourages reading with comprehension, and expands vocabulary and language skills,’ said Mkhize-Mthembu.

The first 10 books in the series focus on short vowels, simple consonants, blends and sight words. This series will also help children learning to read isiXhosa as a first or additional language.

‘The books cultivate a culture of reading that echoes children’s daily encounters and adventures,’ said Mkhize-Mthembu. ‘Tippie is a friendly and diverse elephant that embraces diversity and a multilingual community. Tippie is not restrained by culture or race, and is also not grade specific. He can be used for home language, and first additional and second language learning as it is progressive,’ she said

Words:Melissa Mungroo

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Edgewood Campus Resident Assistants Ready for 2022 Academic Year

Edgewood Campus Resident Assistants Ready for 2022 Academic Year
The Edgewood Campus Residence Life Team 2022.

Every academic year residence students on UKZN’s Edgewood campus are invited to apply for a one-year performance-based contract position as Residence Assistants (RAs) in the Department of Student Residence Affairs.

Before they are appointed, selected residence students are trained and briefed on various aspects of the position, including duties and responsibilities, working relations and stakeholder engagement, departmental reports, residence programme proposal writing and Level 1 first-aid training.

This year’s RA training at Edgewood went well, and the new RAs showed enthusiasm to learn. Residence Life Coordinator Mr Karabo D Motau welcomed the new RAs saying: ‘RAs are University staff members, and as such, are expected to perform their duties with dignity and espouse our University’s REACHT values.

‘We ask the University community to welcome our new RAs across the five campuses and assist them in ensuring that the Department of Student Residence Affairs continues to provide residence students with a safe and pleasant living environment that supports and enhances the academic purpose of the University,’ said Motau.

Words: Karabo Motau

Photograph: Nompumelelo Mkhize

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UKZN Alumnus DJ Hlo is Ukhozi FM’s 2021 Song of the Year Winner

UKZN Alumnus DJ Hlo is Ukhozi FM’s 2021 Song of the Year Winner
Hlosiwe Mthalane aka DJ Hlo.

UKZN Social Sciences graduate Hlosiwe Mthalane aka DJ Hlo, is the winner of Ukhozi FM’s 2021 Song of the Year.

She is the first female DJ to win the number one spot on the radio station’s top 10. The award-winning amapiano track is called Isibani, which also features DJ Manzo and Siboniso.

Isibani is a dedication song to our loved ones,’ said Mthalane. ‘Those who push us to do better, to see better versions of ourselves. This can be your partner, our parents or anyone who gives you hope and brings light. This win has brought so many opportunities for me and proves that hard work really does pay off and that I am on the right path.’

Mthalane’s love for music began when she was just seven years old. ‘I grew up in a musical family and that is where my passion for music began. It allows me to express who I am.’

Mthalane said, ‘I am planning to release an EP and establish my foundation, the DJ Hlo Foundation. I will be training and mentoring women to become DJs like myself. I looked up to female icons such as Lebo Mathosa and Brenda Fassie and I want to give women a chance to DJ in a male-dominated industry.’

She is also looking forward to releasing her debut album. ‘I just hope that it brings something positive to people, especially because we’re putting it out during this time of chaos, collapse and confusion.’

Apart from her music career, she is also a business woman. ‘I own a nail and beauty salon in Durban called The Palace. It’s still relatively new and small, but I aim to grow it.’

Mthalane is open to more music collaborations and is excited about her future prospects.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied

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