SA Struggling to Meet Expectations of Democracy - Deputy Public Protector

SA Struggling to Meet Expectations of Democracy - Deputy Public Protector
Guest speaker at the Human Rights lecture, Deputy Public Protector Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka.

South Africa is still struggling to meet the expectations of democracy 28 years after the end of apartheid, according to the Deputy Public Protector of South Africa and UKZN alumnus, Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka.

Speaking at UKZN's annual lecture to commemorate Human Rights Month, Gcaleka said the Constitution had promised a better life for all and an end to injustices. However, the country was bedeviled by a variety of unethical behaviour including maladministration, indifference and corruption which had caused a loss of trust in public institutions which are meant to support the people and the country.

She referred to a recent report by the World Bank which said South Africa was still the most unequal country in the world.

The lecture was presented during a webinar organised by the Corporate Relations Division (CRD) and titled: Have the Democratic Values Enshrined in the Constitution been Fulfilled 28 Years into our Democracy?

Human Rights Month is commemorated annually in March to remind South Africans about sacrifices made during the struggle for democracy.

Commenting on how excited she was to be invited to speak at her alma mater, Gcaleka thanked UKZN for the invitation and started her lecture with an assessment of the current situation in South Africa.

She said the Constitution laid down the principals of democratic governance as well as the powers and functions of government institutions, adding how it had become the yardstick and beacon to guide South Africa.

Gcaleka said the office of the Public Protector was a constitutional institution established to protect the democracy of the country ‘investigating all conduct in state affairs, reporting on that conduct and taking appropriate remedial action’.

She said other organisations which strengthened South Africa’s constitutional democracy included the Human Rights Commission, the Auditor-General, the Independent Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court.

Gcaleka focused on drivers of poverty which exacerbate inequality, listing them as corruption; differences in educational attainment; disparities in access to education which is key to human capital accumulation; disparities in employment outcomes; differences in labour market attributes; differential access to land and varying levels of financial capabilities.

She said government unaccountability could result in a weak relationship between the citizens and the state; ‘where citizens opt-out, by withdrawing from state services and democratic accountability processes and articulate their needs and demands through protest action and civil disruptions, as seen in the July 2021 unrest’.

Gcaleka said government weaknesses included lack of leadership and good governance, poor service delivery, insufficient structured community engagement, poor financial management and recruitment processes, lack of executive ethics enforcement and poor consequence management.

She called on the public not to wait for the involvement of law enforcement officers before becoming whistleblowers on corruption and for ethical leadership to be seen in action in order for the rule of law to be respected.

In her welcoming address the Corporate Relations Division’s Executive Director, Ms Normah Zondo, spoke about the significance of the annual lecture which began in 2004 and also commented on the violations of human rights taking place during the Russia-Ukraine war.

Zondo said South Africa had come a long way but there was still a hard road ahead.

Dr Janine Hicks, a lecturer in the School of Law and coordinator of the Street Law Programme, who facilitated the day’s proceedings, asked participants to remember the democratic values of the South African Constitution: human dignity; achievement of equality; advancement of all human rights and freedoms; principals of non-racialism and non-sexism, and the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

Hicks acknowledged the hard work done by the Public Protector in combatting service delivery failures and maladministration.

In closing, Director for University Relations, Ms Xoliswa Zulu commented on how the lecture had challenged the public to fight for their human rights and dignity, as well as to hold the government and public institutions accountable.

She thanked the guest speaker - Gcaleka, the facilitator - Hicks, and the UKZN community for joining in. She also thanked the Corporate Relations team for making the webinar possible.

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela

Photograph: Supplied


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Germany Bound Graduate has Stars in her Eyes

Germany Bound Graduate has Stars in her Eyes
UKZN student, Ms Denisha Pillay.

A postgraduate student in UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre, Ms Denisha Pillay, has been accepted to read for a PhD degree at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany.

The selection process, which took place over a few months, included a panel interview and a presentation in which Pillay highlighted her skills, achievements and her master’s degree research project.

She will work on pulsar searching and timing projects using the MeerKAT telescope, under the supervision of renowned radio astronomer and MPI director Professor Michael Kramer, who is also the principal investigator of the MeerKAT key science project, TRAPUM.

Pillay completed her MSc in Applied Mathematics cum laude this month under the supervision of Professor Kavilan Moodley, Professor Matt Hilton of the Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC), and Dr Kenda Knowles of Rhodes University.

Her MSc research was titled: A Statistical Pilot Study for MERGHERS, in which she focused on analysing and interpreting diffuse radio emission in MeerKAT observations.

The MERGHERS (MeerKAT Exploration of Relics, Giant Halos, and Extragalactic Radio Sources) survey led by Knowles, one of Pillay’s supervisors, will study a large statistical sample of galaxy clusters with the MeerKAT observatory searching for diffuse radio emission. Such studies have been used to further the understanding of galaxy cluster dynamics, cosmic magnetism and the underlying composition of the intracluster medium.

Co-supervisor Knowles said: ‘Denisha has grown a lot in her time at ARC and is well-prepared for her new position overseas. I look forward to seeing where her academic journey takes her.’

Pillay is very passionate about her studies, which has motivated her to work diligently, resulting in her receiving numerous accolades during her academic career at UKZN, including graduating with a BSc cum laude , a BSc Honours summa cum laude, and receiving the Hanno Rund Applied Mathematics Honours Award.

After matriculating at Crossmoor Secondary School in Chatsworth, she was awarded the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) bursary through the Astrophysics Research Centre to pursue her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES).

Pillay’s interest in Astronomy was piqued at a young age after she started collecting astronomy trivia printed on the boxes of Astros sweets. ‘I hope to one day make a lasting impact in the astronomy community, educating the younger generation of explorers, shedding light on some of the most intriguing questions, and paving the way for future astronomers.’

Said her supervisor Professor Kavilan Moodley: ‘Denisha has performed exceptionally well in her master’s research, having taken on a challenging project. Her examiners praised her work, commenting that it produced novel and advanced knowledge in the field. It’s great that she will continue to work on MeerKAT during her PhD, switching her interest from galaxy clusters to pulsars.’

‘The skills I learned,’ said Pillay, ‘during my masters have helped me grow into a well-rounded researcher with interdisciplinary expertise from writing papers to reducing and working on radio, X-ray and optical data. The skills I acquired during my masters are invaluable and largely benefitted me during my applications and interviews.’

She acknowledged her supervisors and SARAO for their valuable guidance and mentoring. ‘My supervisors and group members in the ARC community have been motivating, supportive and inspiring throughout my entire academic career. I am also grateful for the funding from SARAO, without which I would not have been able to pursue my passion.’

Professor Matt Hilton, who also supervised Pillay’s work, said: ‘Denisha went above and beyond what we normally expect from a master’s student, making a major contribution to one paper in a top journal, and being the lead author of another paper based on her master’s study. She also contributed code to an open-source package that makes maps of galaxy density around clusters, which gives us another way to spot potential cluster mergers.’

Pillay will continue her dream of becoming a renowned astrophysicist when she starts her study towards a PhD degree at the Max Planck Institute in Germany later this year. ‘I am so grateful to have worked with everyone at UKZN’s Astrophysics Research Centre. I have learned so much over the past six years and am excited to apply all my skills at MPI.’

Words: Malishca Perumal and Veruschka Simes

Photograph: Supplied


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Top Matriculant Chooses UKZN

Top Matriculant Chooses UKZN
Mr Jaedon Naidu who received full colours for academics for three consecutive years.Click here for isiZulu version

Top Durban matric achiever, Mr Jaedon Naidu has chosen to study Data Science at UKZN after getting nine As in his final-year at Eden College, scoring a subject average of 96% and being named Dux of the school!

Being naturally gifted in and passionate about the subjects of Mathematics and Computer Science, Naidu saw opportunities - especially with the Fourth Industrial Revolution underway - to achieve and build a career in a field which focuses on analysing data emerging from numerous arenas.

Naidu, who received full colours for academics for three consecutive years at Eden College and was placed third in last year’s KwaZulu-Natal independent schools Independent Examinations Board (IEB) examinations, chose to continue his academic career at UKZN because of its international recognition and status and the fact that it allowed him to continue living at home while studying.

Exposed to UKZN’s data science opportunities in Grade 11 through the Dudes in Data programme hosted at his school by UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), Naidu gained background information in the field to help him make his study choices.

Naidu balances his academic efforts with daily calisthenics and gymnastic exercises as well as daily readings of Scripture to nurture his Catholic faith. He enjoys “underwater feats” which include solving a Rubik’s Cube underwater in 18 seconds without taking a breath (his above-water record is 14 seconds).

He is an accomplished pianist and has achieved Grade Four certification with distinction from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom. At school he received silver and gold senior merit badges for piano, and twice participated in The South African Society of Music Teachers concert and at the Eden Music Soirée.

He is a skilled card magician and qualified for KwaZulu-Natal colours in chess for seven consecutive years. At Eden, Naidu was awarded his honours blazer for achievements that included gold, silver and bronze medals, certificates and participation in the South African Computer Applications Olympiad (in which he was the national winner in his matric year), the South African Maths Olympiad, the South African Programming Olympiad, the International Physics Olympiad, the International Mathematics Challenge, the English Olympiad, the Talent Search Olympiad, the Mathematics Contest, and the Online International Mathematics Competition. He is also a lifelong member of the Institute of IT Professionals (South Africa).

In addition to his academic and cultural pursuits at school, Naidu got involved in activities to support his community. He was a member of Eden’s Interact Club and attained a Level Two Eco Badge, and volunteered to lecture at the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa.

Words: Christine Cuénod

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Education Student Semi-Finalist for Mrs South Africa 2022

Education Student Semi-Finalist for Mrs South Africa 2022
Bare Beauty Mrs South Africa 2022 semi-finalist, Mrs Nonkululeko Ngutshana-Mnxati.Click here for isiZulu version

Master’s in Education student Mrs Nonkululeko Ngutshana-Mnxati is a semi-finalist in the Bare Beauty Mrs South Africa 2022 contest - a pageant recognising self-development, community work, networking, and business achievements.

Ngutshana-Mnxati attended a self-development workshop held at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg to prepare pageant hopefuls for the road ahead. ‘It is a great pleasure for me to get this opportunity and I aim to use it for my growth as a woman,’ she said.

Mrs South Africa CEO, Mrs Joani Johnson said: ‘The programme was created for married women who would ordinarily not have such a platform to compete on and be ambassadors for South Africa on a global scale. The opportunities created for Mrs South Africa entrants are significant in every way. Throughout the journey, entrants rediscover themselves and learn that they are never too old to follow their dreams and become voices for change.’

Said Ngutshana-Mnxati, ‘Semi-final judging takes place in July and will include the announcement of the 2022 Influencer Award, which is based on SMS votes and likes on my official photograph on the Mrs South Africa Facebook and Instagram pages. I would really appreciate votes from all UKZN stakeholders.’

The crowning of Mrs South Africa 2022 takes place in November in Johannesburg.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

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From UKZN Project Intern to Hardware Store Owner!

From UKZN Project Intern to Hardware Store Owner!
Sisters Noxolo (right) and Nonzuzo Jila.Click here for isiZulu version

An intern at UKZN’s Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS) Ms Noxolo Jila of Swayimane in Wartburg has used her entrepreneurial skills and knowledge gained through working with the University and the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) to help establish a hardware store in her hometown.

The URP is a partnership between the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (uMDM) and CTAFS which aims to improve the resilience of smallholder farmers and the youth to climate change. Strategies include resilient agricultural practices and empowering the youth in the agribusiness sector in the areas of Swayimane, Nhlazuka and Vulindlela.

Noxolo and her sister Ms Nonzuzo Jila noted that most businesses in their hometown of Swayimane sold alcohol which they felt limited the progress and prosperity of the community. So, in 2019, the duo decided to open their own hardware store. Despite significant progress in promoting gender equality in South Africa, the Jila sisters were very aware that women were underrepresented in the hardware industry… but that did not deter them.

With the opening of the shop, the sisters’ aim was to help reduce the time and resources community members spent on travelling to buy building and agricultural supplies. Jila Hardware sells timber, poles, cement, paint and corrugated iron. It also stocks agricultural products such as herbicides, fertilisers, and animal feed.

The Jila sisters were inspired by their grandfather who ran a retail business that their father later took over. Noxolo completed her MSc in Agriculture at UKZN while Nonzuzo has a Diploma in Management and is currently studying through Unisa for her second qualification in Law.

The Jila sisters faced financial difficulties at the outset that made them think out of the box. They acquired some funding and with their savings added they established the shop using their father’s guidance and their own different skill sets and ideas as well as mutual encouragement and teamwork.

Noxolo’s internship with the URP involves identifying and recruiting youth community members in areas such as Swayimane who need assistance in their farming enterprises or agribusiness ventures. The URP provides training, workshops, mentorship, advisors, input and material supplies, and field and company visits as well as market access opportunities to boost business and farming enterprises.

The role of teamwork and adaptability that Noxolo learned through the URP has been vital in her business. She said working with young farmers demanded efficiency and a flexible attitude.

Despite some hostility from male hardware store owners, and beliefs in the community that a female-run business would fail, Noxolo and Nonzuzo remain focused and positive. Their vision is: ‘To build the nation with quality and affordable material; to supply and provide what the nation needs; believing that together, we can do better.’

They run their business from home to save on rent and transport costs and are fortunate that there is no competition in their area.

The store is open from 07h00 to 17h00 every day and does deliveries.

They hope to open two more hardware stores in the near future to increase job opportunities for the unemployed among the youth in rural areas.

Words: Nomfundo Shelembe

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COVID-19 and July Riots Double Burden for Small-Scale Farmers

COVID-19 and July Riots Double Burden for Small-Scale Farmers
Farmers in Nhlazuka near Richmond receive training in growing ginger and garlic.Click here for isiZulu version

UKZN researchers working with smallholder farmers in KwaZulu-Natal to help improve resilience to the effects of climate change, have noted that the impact of the unrest in South Africa in July last year is still being felt in some rural areas.

The University’s Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS) is assisting the farmers through the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP), which aims to make the farmers more resilient through increasing their access to climate change information and associated services, implementing climate-smart agriculture to increase yield and diversity of crops produced and providing better access to markets.

Farmers involved have received support in growing crops such as beans, taro, maize, peppers and sweet potato and during the process researchers have observed how the impact of the unrest is still evident.

During the unrest in July last year, the food supply chain was seriously disrupted with wide-spread looting and damage to delivery trucks, retail centres, warehouses, industrial and distribution hubs, and food markets. Smallholder farmers were severely affected with the disruptions worsening their plight just as they had begun to recover from the economic problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Supplies for small-scale farmers in KwaZulu-Natal became a major concern.

Farmers linked to the URP say they are still experiencing serious problems in getting supplies because of the destruction of and damage to rural retail outlets and the negative issues now caused by the need to travel longer distances.

UKZN researchers say the turnover of farmers is decreasing while their costs are increasing partly because of the long distances travelled to access markets. The decrease in customers was also associated with job losses caused by the looting.

Said Nhlazuka farmer Ms Thandi Dlamini: ‘After the looting which happened during COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, I had to travel long distances to buy my basic needs and today there are still supply problems… and now the community is buying less from us because of higher travelling costs.’

However, farmers were supplied with facilities by UKZN and the URP to store seeds and use organic farming methods where possible.

Researchers said the looting of Edendale Mall affected the profit margins of Vulindlela farmers. Before the unrest, farmers were able to sell their produce on the roadside or near the mall, earning them more than selling in their own communities. However, following training by UKZN and the URP, farmers were able to identify and sell at informal markets, such as near the Edendale Hospital.

The problems experienced because of the violence and the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the need to strengthen local food systems with short supply chains which had proved to be more resilient during a crisis. Farmers said assistance from UKZN and the URP which included the provision of inputs, advice, training and widening of market opportunities, had been ‘uplifting for them.’

Innovative approaches to problems included growing crops for which there was a high demand and a low supply, such as garlic and ginger. Training has given the farmers hope and direction with URP activities boosting their capacity to adapt to climate change, providing them with the confidence to approach markets and access government assistance.

Through its Learning Exchanges programme, the URP has also given farmers an opportunity to interact with colleagues in the industry and share knowledge.

Words: Nomfundo Shelembe

Photograph: Supplied


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African Academy of Sciences Fellowship for Esteemed Professors

African Academy of Sciences Fellowship for Esteemed Professors
Professor Albert Modi (left) and Professor Francesco Petruccione.

UKZN’s Professor Albert Modi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, and Professor Francesco Petruccione, South African Research Chair for Quantum Information Processing and Communication, have been elected as Fellows of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS).

Another 43 leading academics from across Africa also received the honour.

The prestigious life-long Fellowship - awarded following a rigorous peer review and voting process - recognises scholarly excellence and contributions to the advancement of scientific fields in Africa and globally. Fellows are assessed on criteria including their publication record, innovations, leadership roles and their contributions to policy and society.

Modi, who was recognised in the Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences category, has worked in academia since 1996, specialising in crop science. Originally from the Eastern Cape, he studied at the University of Fort Hare followed by the then University of Natal for his master’s degree, completing his PhD at Ohio State University in the United States under a Fulbright Scholarship. He worked as a Pioneer Hi-Bred International agronomist before joining the University of Natal where he progressed through the ranks to full professor, developing seed science and technology and sustainable agriculture curricula and serving as Dean and Head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Focusing on development of human and research capital in agriculture through research and community outreach, Modi was the founding CEO of the Moses Kotane Institute, and also established the sustainable agriculture-focused Ezemvelo Farmers’ Organisation. At UKZN he launched the Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems to take university research to rural communities in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and influence policy.

Modi is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, the Third World Academy of Science and the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), and is a Green Matter Senior Fellow, Chairperson of the South African Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean’s Association, President and Fellow of the South African Society of Crop Production, Chairperson of the EU-Africa international research development forum LEAP-Agri, Deputy Chairperson of South Africa’s National Agricultural Research Forum, a Fellow of the South African Society of Crop Production and of the Mangosuthu University of Technology.

He is the recipient of a Water Research Commission Award for Human Capacity Development in Water and Science Sectors, an International Alumni Award from Ohio State University, and a recipient of UKZN’s Distinguished Teachers’ Award and Top 30 Researcher Award.

Registered with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions and with a C-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF), Modi’s agronomy research focuses on sustainable agriculture, traditional and indigenous crops, the water-energy-food nexus, and building climate change resilience in rural farming communities.

Petruccione joined UKZN in 2004 as a Professor of Theoretical Physics, having studied at the University of Freiburg in Germany. He has held his research chair since 2007 and is also the interim director of the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences, Pro Vice-Chancellor Big Data and Informatics of UKZN and Professor Extraordinary in the Department of Physics of the Stellenbosch University.

Petruccione is an elected member of ASSAf, a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and a Fellow of UKZN.

With over 250 publications, Petruccione’s quantum mechanics and quantum information processing research is focused on things at the minutest scale - he has contributed to the development of the theory of open quantum systems that forms the basis of quantum information technological applications. He has co-authored the following two highly-cited monographs that have been translated into other languages: The Theory of Open Quantum Systems, and Supervised Learning with Quantum Computers which had a second extended edition published in 2021.

He is also the editor of several proceedings volumes and of special editions of scientific journals, and a member of the Editorial Board of the Open Systems and Information DynamicsScientific Reports; and Quantum Machine Intelligence journals.

In quantum cryptography, Petruccione’s Quantum Research Group is advancing research into a quantum key distribution system, the realisation of which will result in the development of secure quantum devices.

The group has also worked on a project involving the development of a quantum network in the optical fibre network of the eThekwini Municipality. Their efforts are driving the establishment of a Quantum Information Processing and Communication industry in the country, supporting national initiatives and photonics and nanotechnology developments.

Words: Christine Cuénod

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International Accolades for UKZN Academic

International Accolades for UKZN Academic
Associate Professor Tricia Naicker.

Associate Professor Tricia Naicker has received awards from two prestigious international publishers - her works being selected as winners by editorial board members of the organisations.

She was presented with the annual Thieme Chemistry Journals Award for up-and-coming researchers in the early stages of their independent academic careers as assistant or junior professors. Board members look out for promising, young individuals working in chemical synthesis and catalysis or closely related areas of organic chemistry.

Her second award was the Taylor and Francis-John C. Warner Early Career Researcher Prize for up-and-coming principal investigators who have authored an article in Green Chemistry Letters and Reviews.

‘Special thanks to my dedicated team and hardworking students at UKZN’s Catalysis and Peptide Research Unit. This recognition would not be possible without the continuous support from UKZN and the College of Health Sciences,’ said Naicker.

‘I am honoured and excited, it means the significance of our work is being recognised by the international scientific community.’

Naicker specialises in method development within the synthesis of biologically important intermediates/drugs, ‘Currently, my team and I are working on a few innovative projects we hope will lead to commercialisation soon.’

College of Health Sciences Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Busi Ncama congratulated Naicker on her achievements, ‘Awards are testimony of hard work and excellence. Well done!’

Dean and Head of the School of Health Sciences Professor Percy Mashige also praised Naicker: ‘Well done on your achievements. Keep flying the UKZN flag high.’

Naicker, Director of UKZN’s Catalysis and Peptide Research Unit, specialises in method development within the synthesis of biologically important intermediates/drugs.

She was the first woman to serve as editor-in-chief of the South African Journal of Chemistry and is currently vice-chair of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World (National Chapter). She has been inaugurated into the South African Young Academy of Science and has received several prestigious awards from the Department of Science and Technology, the National Research Foundation and the South African Chemical Society.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

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Statistics Students Win Coveted National Awards

Statistics Students Win Coveted National Awards
UKZN award winners (from left) Mr Sikwethembile Cira, Ms Fundiswa Shandu, Ms Ayanda Ndlovu and Mr Shaylin Naidoo.

UKZN Statistics students have scooped four of the six bursaries and scholarships on offer for this year from the South African Statistical Association (SASA).

Three of the awards - open to SASA members involved in full-time studies at accredited universities - are for third-years with the rest earmarked for students at honours level.

For third-years there are two bursaries of R13 000 each and a scholarship of R8 000, while at honours level there are bursaries of R28 000 and R13 000, and a scholarship of R13 000. The various awards have academic merit and financial need criteria.

The UKZN third-year recipient was Mr Sikwethembile Cira while honours level winners were Ms Fundiswa Shandu, Ms Ayanda Ndlovu and Mr Shaylin Naidoo.

Cira attended Pietermaritzburg’s Linpark High School, and received a Vice-Chancellor’s undergraduate scholarship. A member of the Golden Key International Honour Society who has achieved merit certificates for several modules in his studies, he has served as a demonstrator in the Discipline of Computer Science.

Cira’s plans include pursuing a career in software engineering or data analysis, with studies in data science giving him the flexibility of pursuing either route. He thanked SASA for the scholarship that spurred him to pursue a career in the field of statistics and apply the concepts he has learned. It ensured he could complete his studies without accruing debt.

Cira’s family congratulated him with his mother Ms Thobeka Cira thanking organisations such as SASA, and emphasising the importance of her son staying humble.

Shandu, who attended Qiko High School in Umzinto, has excelled at her studies in Applied Mathematics and Statistics, receiving a Dean’s Commendation, a Golden Key International Honour Society certificate and an AECI bursary awarded to the top 10 achievers in her course.

The child of a single mother who raised her three children using a social grant and limited income from working as a street vendor, Shandu said the scholarship provided financial relief for her family, helping her to realise her dream of contributing to the data science industry. She plans to go on to do a Master’s degree in Statistics.

Shandu thanked UKZN and SASA for the chance to better her future.

Said her mother Mrs Sebenzile Shandu: ‘I am so proud of Fundiswa, and wish her nothing but the best. She has helped me a lot since she started studying at UKZN and is loving and considerate towards her family.’

Ndlovu, who received a scholarship, is from Ulundi where she attended Masibumbane High School. Set on becoming a data scientist, she is also passionate about increasing awareness among learners in rural areas, particularly young women, on careers and studies in data science. She plans to conduct awareness campaigns and workshops to achieve this.

A driven student, Ndlovu balanced working part-time while studying, and through dedication and good personal organisation she met every deadline and responsibility, consulting her lecturers when she needed assistance and striving for excellence in academics. She is a mentor and tutor in Statistics at UKZN.

Ndlovu said the scholarship had provided significant financial assistance, relieving the anxiety of funding her honours studies. She thanked SASA and UKZN for providing bursaries and the opportunity to access them.

Ndlovu’s aunt Ms Ntombifuthi Sikhakhane commending her for her work ethic and discipline, and for being a role model for her younger siblings.

Naidoo, who received a bursary for academic merit, was the top student in Statistics for two consecutive years and graduated with his undergraduate degree from UKZN summa cum laude, having achieved certificates of merit for all statistics modules since first-year as well as multiple Dean’s Commendations.

A Montarena Secondary School old boy, Naidoo discovered his passion for statistics during his undergraduate studies and plans to continue to master’s level. He said the scholarship would remove a lot of the financial burdens.

Naidoo plans to pursue a career in data science, starting at internship level in a large company and then working his way up to becoming an expert in his field.

He said the support he received at home and at UKZN had enabled him to clear hurdles in his path and achieve success. He credited his lecturers at UKZN for being a source of motivation.

His family commended Naidoo for his consistency and work ethic saying he always went the extra mile to help others and balanced confidence in his abilities with humility.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Supplied


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UKZN Academic Bags Second PhD

UKZN Academic Bags Second PhD
Professor Shenuka Singh has completed her second PhD in Research Ethics.

Academic Leader: Teaching and Learning at the School of Health Sciences Professor Shenuka Singh has completed her second PhD in Research Ethics.

‘I am the first graduand in the programme and will graduate on 5 April this year,’ she said.

Singh intends to continue building a research profile in her chosen field, which includes postgraduate student supervision and further research output. She is also involved in training staff at other universities in the area of research ethics and plans to continue with staff capacity development in that area.

Singh’s first PhD was in the sphere of dental public health while her latest study is very different. ‘As an active researcher and research supervisor in my second doctorate I was able to engage in critical thinking at a far deeper level than I did with the first. I was also able to work more independently.’

Singh, who developed a keen interest in research ethics several years ago, has been a member of UKZN’s Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee (HSSREC), chairing the body from 2014-2018, and the Biomedical Research Ethics Committee (BREC), where she is currently Deputy Chair.

‘It is through a passion for research ethics and the guidance and advice of Professor Doug Wassenaar, that I started studying for a formal qualification in my chosen field,’ she said.

Singh obtained a cum laude Postgraduate Diploma in Research Ethics at Stellenbosch University in 2015. ‘An opportunity then presented itself in June 2017, when the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law at Stellenbosch University was awarded the prestigious NIH Fogarty grant: D43 TW01511-01- Advancing Research Ethics Training in Southern Africa (ARESA): Leadership Program and National Human Genome Research Institute - National Institutes of Health,’ she said.

‘The call for applications into this doctoral and bioethics leadership programme (PhD, Clinical and Health Research Ethics) was extended to candidates in other parts of Africa so there was a lot of competition. I was one of four successful candidates to be selected and was awarded a scholarship to study for my second PhD. My research supervisors were Professor Keymanthri Moodley of Stellenbosch University and Professor Jean Cadigan of the University of North Carolina.’

Singh encountered challenges during her study journey. ‘It was difficult to balance the responsibilities of being a full-time academic with that of having to complete the project-related tasks. The COVID-19 pandemic created further challenges when the design team developing the website for my course had to abandon my project because they needed to focus on online learning for the undergraduate students at Stellenbosch University,’ she said. ‘I had to then self-learn new information technology-related technical skills to continue with the course development on my side. This also acted as a self-empowerment tool for me because I am now able to handle both the academic and technical aspects of my online course.’

Singh’s study found there is a scarcity of educational courses on the ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) of biobanking at a global level and those that are available do not consider the local context-specificities of biobanking practice.

‘My project involved the development of an online short course on the ELSI of biobanking in South Africa, using participatory action research,’ she said. ‘I engaged with specific stakeholders - including clinicians, biobankers, researchers, and research ethics committee members - to develop and refine the modules in the course, through multiple iterations and reviews with the study participants in real-time.

‘The study used a “bottom up” approach, with both the researcher and research participants involved in the co-creation of the short course, thereby ensuring its offering is relevant and appropriate for the local context of biobanking practice.’

Singh has been selected as one of three UKZN staff members for the Teaching Advancement at Universities (TAU) Fellowship for 2022.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied


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Students and Traditional Healer in Information Sharing Session

Students and Traditional Healer in Information Sharing Session
Mr Maphelo Bongani Gumede and Dr Winnie Ngcongo-Cele.Click here for isiZulu version

UKZN Nursing students took part in an information sharing session with well-known traditional healer Mr Maphelo Bongani Gumede of uMzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal on current mental health issues affecting South Africans.

The event explored the views of Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) in the area of mental health practice. ‘We wanted to get an understanding from Mr Gumede about how THPs identify, diagnose and manage symptoms of mental illness,’ said Mental Health lecturer, Dr Winnie Ngcongo-Cele.

Gumede treats and deals with a variety of illnesses, specialising in Mental Health and strokes.

UKZN students and lecturers in Mental Health Ngcongo-Cele and Dr Ann Jarvis as well as Dr Mlungisi Ngcobo of the Discipline of Traditional Medicine were involved in the session with Gumede.

Ngcongo-Cele spoke about what causes mental illness, who it can affect and the most common disorders, while Ngcobo shared some of his experiences as a Medical Laboratory scientist.

Jarvis commended Gumede for the work he does treating and assisting people suffering from mental health challenges, emphasising the importance of sharing such experiences with students in preparation for their entry into the world of work.

Students were keen to interact with Gumede again to discuss their own journeys and personal experiences.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photographs: Supplied


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UKZN Staff Member Recognised by Students for Excellent Service

UKZN Staff Member Recognised by Students for Excellent Service
Mr Sphesihle Malinga with his award.

College of Humanities Financial Aid Advisor Mr Sphesihle Malinga has been awarded a certificate of appreciation from the Howard College Campus Representative Council (HCRC) for his excellent service to students.

‘This award is a source of inspiration that will help me continue making a difference and bring about positive change to many lives,’ said Malinga. ‘The recognition from UKZN student leaders and students shows that I have succeeded and they appreciate my efforts.’

Despite challenges and difficulties caused by COVID-19, Malinga continues his excellent support for students, spending long hours attending to queries and offering solutions.

‘Working remotely in a team we learned to share information, work together and apportion responsibilities in order to ensure deadlines are met,’ said Malinga. ‘Innovative initiatives such as providing equitable and inclusive access to digital learning resources and good learning conditions, ensure that socio-emotional needs are met in order to support vulnerable students.’

He thanked his line manager Ms Constance Dube and the College Financial Aid team. ‘This would not be possible without them. The College of Humanities is the biggest College in UKZN and we serve a large number of students from all our schools,’ he said. ‘We work under pressure with tons of emails and constant queries on the phone about bursaries, scholarships, loans and sponsorships. Still, we perform to the best of our ability to produce quality work while meeting deadlines.’

Malinga, who says he will continue doing his best for students, plans to pursue postgraduate studies to gain further knowledge and expertise in his field.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied


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UKZN PhD Graduate Launches Book of SA Stories and Poetry

UKZN PhD Graduate Launches Book of SA Stories and Poetry
Dr Sevani Singaram.

Short Stories and Poetry by a South African is the title of a book authored by 2021 UKZN PhD in Public Health graduate Dr Sevani Singaram and published by Verity Publishers.

Now available for sale through various outlets, the book has been described as ‘delightful and an entertaining read that contributes to literature written by South African authors.’

Said Singarum: ‘There are lessons to be learned from each short story, and the various themes relayed in the collection of poems which portray real aspects in modern day society.’

She believes many readers will identify with her fictional characters. ‘It’s definitely worth a read for young adults, middle-aged folk and the older generation.’

It took Singaram about two years to complete the work which is a collection of poems and short stories all set in South Africa.

Singaram said writing had always been one of her favourite hobbies, ‘Compiling this book has been cathartic and fulfilling.’ 

She is inspired by those who overcome adversities to achieve their goals - ‘I am also inspired by authors such as Rayda Jacobs, Ronnie Govender, Jean Sasson, Manju Kapur and Chitra Banerjee.’

The book is on sale at Loot.co.za, Amazon.com and the Verity Publishers website.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photographs: Supplied


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UKZN Academics Co-Author and Co-Edit Book on Political Leadership in Africa

UKZN Academics Co-Author and Co-Edit Book on Political Leadership in Africa
Professor Purshottama Reddy (left) and Dr Sakhile Zondi.

Lessons from Political Leadership in Africa: Towards Inspirational and Transformational Leaders is the title of a book co-authored and co-edited by two UKZN academics and several other colleagues.

The leading UKZN contributors are Professor Purshottama Reddy and Dr Sakhile Zondi of the School of Management, Information Technology and Governance, and their Stellenbosch University counterparts are Professor P Pillay and Professor C Jones.

Part A of the 16-chapter book published by Cambridge Scholar Publishers in the United States, focuses on the South African experience, Part B on neighbouring African countries Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, while Part C concentrates on the role of universities.

Reddy says the dominant theme of the book is that leadership is a blueprint to transform Africa into a global powerhouse and thus there is an urgent need to refocus energies on the populace, while at the same time forging ahead with democratic, accountable, people-centred, ethical and transparent governance and leadership.

‘The backdrop is that abuse of power, position or office compounded by greed, self-enrichment and acts of dishonesty have dire consequences for any society, and, consequently each chapter of the book promotes Africa’s vision to sustain humanity and its people, away from social ills such as extreme poverty, distinct inequalities and large-scale unemployment,’ said Reddy. ‘This necessitates an innovative generation of bold, passionate, confident, inspiring leaders to make an impact and, more importantly, leave a credible mark globally.

‘That in essence is the ultimate spirit of leadership for the African continent that this book seeks to promote and nurture. History cannot be changed, but one can learn lessons, both good and bad, and change the future to produce a more prosperous tomorrow.’

Reddy is the sole author of one chapter and co-author of three others, while Zondi co-authored three chapters. Two of the co-authors of a chapter edited by Reddy - Dr S Mthuli and Dr N Singh - were previously postdoctoral fellows at UKZN.

Other UKZN contributors to the book are Professor I Martins and Professor I Nzimakwe of the School of Management, IT and Governance and A Martins of the Graduate School of Business.

Words: NdabaOnline

Photographs: Supplied


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UKZN Contributes to Ramakrishna Centre Outreach Event

UKZN Contributes to Ramakrishna Centre Outreach Event
Optometry students part of the outreach event.

The Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa held its first outreach event of the year in Shakaskraal on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast in partnership with UKZN’s Disciplines of Optometry and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The Ramakrishna Mission Centre is a non-profit organisation (NPO) and a public benefit organisation working to advance the interests of indigent communities and the spiritual interests of its members.

The outreach event, organised by Dr Shivani Singh and Dr Veena Singaram, attracted about 240 people, who received health assessments by Optometry, Pharmacy, Medical and Nursing students from UKZN.

‘Students had the opportunity to gain real-world experience at the event,’ said the Head of UKZN’s Discipline of Optometry, Dr Naimah Ebrahim Khan. ‘The occasion helped enhance their clinical skill sets as they needed to think on their feet about the best testing methods to employ since the outreach is not a typical clinical setting with equipment available.’

Said student Ms Alexandria Rupnarain: ‘Most rewarding was the opportunity we got to treat individuals from all walks of life. It was fulfilling to see the smiles on their faces knowing we could help meet their needs. It’s truly an indescribable feeling being aware that you can make a difference in somebody’s life, no matter how big or small.’

The outreach clinic, held from 08h00 to 14h00, included representatives from the South African National Blood Service, a general practitioner, a gynaecologist and social workers.

UKZN’s Optometry Department has been in partnership with the Ramakrishna Centre since last year, enabling it to get involved in three outreach activities and plans to participate in more this year.

The successful event was a great team effort and an excellent multi-disciplinary collaboration which served to help the community as well as giving students real world exposure and fostering social responsibility. 

Words: Mandisa Shozi

Photographs: Supplied


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Study Finds Depression Linked to Being Involved in a Community Disaster

Study Finds Depression Linked to Being Involved in a Community Disaster
SHEFS researchers involved in the study (from top left): Dr Andrew Tomita, Professor Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudhi, Dr Rashieda Davids, (bottom left): Professor Busisiwe Ncama, Professor Albert Modi, and Professor Rob Slotow.

People exposed to a disaster in their community are likely to experience depression in the long-term with Black Africans, women and individuals from lower education/income sectors particularly susceptible.

This is according to the findings of a decade-long study of more than 17 000 South Africans conducted by UKZN and international researchers.

The collaborative study, funded by the Wellcome Trust’s Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) project and published in the PloS Climate journal, is the first study of its kind in South Africa based on national-level evidence to link the first onset of depression to a community disaster.

The study was titled: Community Disaster Exposure and First Onset of Depression: A Panel Analysis of Nationally Representative South African Data, 2008-2017.

Said UKZN’s lead investigator, Dr Andrew Tomita of the School of Nursing and Public Health: ‘Our findings are consistent with systematic review evidence that points to the depression challenges of individuals exposed to stressful and catastrophic events. It is also not a surprise to find the association among certain socially vulnerable populations given persistent gender inequality and poverty in South Africa.’

Co-author of the study and leading authority in environmental governance in South Africa, Professor Rob Slotow of UKZN, emphasised the need for a sustainable development policy and the implementation of a broad disaster risk reduction plan to help protect socially vulnerable individuals from the consequence of disasters as well as to empower communities which support those affected.

*SHEFS is a global research programme funded by the Wellcome Trust with study sites in the United Kingdom, South Africa and India. Its focus is on bridging the gap between science and practice to understand and solve current social and environmental problems. UKZN SHEFS Investigators involved in this study were Dr Andrew Tomita, Professor Busisiwe Ncama, Dr Rashieda Davids, Professor Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudhi, Professor Albert Modi and Professor Rob Slotow.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photographs: Supplied


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