2014 Eskom Expo for Young Scientists Showcases Early Innovators

2014 Eskom Expo for Young Scientists Showcases Early Innovators
Chase Rayment, a Grade 7 learner at Kloof Senior Primary, did a project on whether it was possible for humans to live on Mars.

Over 60 schools represented by 375 learners participated in the recent 2014 Eskom Expo for Young Scientists co-hosted by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. The Expo, held at the Old Mutual Sports Centre, Howard College campus, attracted 331 project displays in 25 categories ranging from Environmental Studies to Engineering, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Innovation.

Eskom Expo is South Africa’s primary national science fair for learners and is endorsed by the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Basic Education. It involves the submission of innovative Science and Technology projects by young scientists to judges at school, regional, national and international level, and is directly linked to the government’s national strategies to improve the output and quality of skilled technical graduates. The Eskom Expo was founded in 1980 as a non-profit organisation and operates in 28 regions in all nine provinces.

The event took place over two days with a public viewing on the second day allowing over 400 additional learners from various schools in and around Durban to visit.

The 208 judges comprised experts from UKZN, Eskom, the provincial departments of Education and Agriculture, Mangosuthu University of Technology, and the Durban University of Technology.

Chief judge Mr Yashin Brijmohan said organisers were overwhelmed by the level of participation. ‘It takes not just great initiative and skills in science and research but also passion and commitment from the learners to develop such outstanding projects in the field of Engineering, Science and Technology. I think we should be proud of our South African learners. From the innovation and outstanding projects that we have seen, I think we have a great future ahead of us,’ he said.

Post-doctoral Researcher in the Centre for Quantum Technology and CEO of QZN Technology Dr Abdul Mirza said: ‘The learners showed great enthusiasm as they addressed practical challenges that they and their communities faced through science. Most projects, in every category, tried to achieve a home grown solution to a local challenge bringing a true sense of innovation to the event.’

Dr Sarah White, a Researcher in the Centre for Algal Biotechnology at Mangosuthu University of Technology, said she thought more schools should prepare projects as the research skills gained by the learners during the process far outweigh the extra effort of getting a project to “Expo level”.  ‘This will put the learners in good stead for careers in Science, Technology and Engineering,’ she said. 

The event ended with an awards ceremony at which over 174 learners received medals and special prizes sponsored by various organisations. Thirty-two learners will join those from other regions to represent KwaZulu-Natal in the national finals.

Leena Rajpal

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Honours Students Give Back to Blind and Deaf Community

Honours Students Give Back to Blind and Deaf Community
Students and participants in the Biokinetic Humanitarian Project at the KwaZulu-Natal Blind and Deaf Society.

In a bid to “give back” to the blind and deaf community in an active way, the Discipline of Biokinetics, Exercise and Leisure Sciences (BELS) at UKZN, together with the Biokinetics Humanitarian Project (BHP), embarked this year on an outreach programme for the KwaZulu-Natal Blind and Deaf Society.

As part of its aim to foster physical activity and patient education in underprivileged communities, fundamental exercise testing and screenings were conducted by the Biokinetics Honours students.

The first component of the programme was conducted in June. This included basic health screening and selected fitness tests. Blood glucose, resting blood pressure, body fat and muscular endurance tests like sit-ups and push-ups were conducted.

In the recent follow-up session, students informed participants at the KwaZulu-Natal Blind and Deaf Society about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating, encouraging them to eat more lean meats, fruits and vegetables, as well as to exercise to stay healthy and de-stress.

The session focused on teaching participants the basic principles of exercise. Participants performed a wide variety of exercises and games. Warm-up, cardio, resistance and core exercises were demonstrated and performed, along with sensory and balance exercises. Activities to test and help improve hand-eye co-ordination were also performed.

One participant, Ms Naseerah Maharaj, who has worked at the KZN Blind and Deaf Society for 24 years, described the activities as “exciting”. ‘It was lovely for us to interact and get a little exercise while having fun at the same time. The students get their experience as well while working with us and it’s a great exchange. It’s something that we can all look forward to,’ she said.

Dr Rowena Naidoo, KwaZulu-Natal BHP Co-ordinator, explained that the programme was still in its early stages, but had already made progress. ‘It provides an opportunity for the community members, athletes and staff from the Blind and Deaf Society to learn more about exercise and how to improve one’s health profile. Some who attended were regular athletes, but after doing some of the exercises, they found that they weren’t as strong as they could be, and that these sessions can help them to exercise better,’ she said.

The Discipline of BELS will be providing ongoing support to the KZN Blind and Deaf Society. Further to health screening and physical activity sessions, students will also be assisting with the training of sports coaches and promoting physical activity and sport among learners from various schools for the blind and deaf.

-           Zakia Jeewa

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Book Launch Provides Forum for Land Restitution Debate

Book Launch Provides Forum for Land Restitution Debate
From left: UKZN Student Law Review Editor-in-Chief, Mr Musa Kika; Professor Bernadette Atuahene, Mr S’bu Zikode and Ms Nomfundo Gobodo.

The launch of Professor Bernadette Atuahene’s book, We Want What’s Ours, which recently took place at UKZN’s Westville campus created a platform for South African citizens to have their voices heard on the issue of the land restitution process.

The launch, which was hosted by Atuahene in partnership with the School of Law, was attended by academics, representatives from non-governmental organisations, students, Durban’s shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, and South Africa’s Chief Land Claims Commissioner Ms Nomfundo Gobodo.

Atuahene described the book as a detailed study of South Africa’s attempts to rectify the deprivation of land suffered by thousands of people under the colonial and apartheid regimes. It teaches a critical lesson about these transitions: remedying past wrongs entails more than distributing money or even returning property, because the dispossessed did not just lose their possessions, but also had their dignity taken from them.

Atuahene, Ms Gobodo and part-time School of Law academic, Professor Ramanlal Soni who reviewed the book, engaged in a panel discussion on the successes and shortfalls of the Land Claims Court and the relevant commission processes. Attendees were included in the dialogue as they were broken up into groups to discuss the issues and to formulate recommendations which Atuahene will now take back to the Land Restitution Commission.

In his review, Soni described the book is a substantial achievement in its field. ‘The book has a methodology and content that is law allied and not pure law as such. I have no hesitation in categorically recommending it for every law library, every Land Claims Commissioner, every leader of communities that will pursue the process of land claims, every Law student for crucial enlightenment in a topical and difficult field of law and to every layman seeking enlightenment in the field of human affairs with a focus on human rights and dignity,’ he said.

Gobodo said forums such as these are needed to inspire a dialogue and give context as to why restitution is important to the country.

Abahlali baseMjondolo President, Mr S'bu Zikode, said the organisation commends UKZN for recognising that the shack dwellers also need their voices to be heard.

‘Most times when people want to talk about the poor they do not involve the people who are affected by poverty in the dialogue. We are honoured that the Law School has realised that we need discussions about restoration and dignity as they are very important to the citizens of South Africa,’ he said.

Thandiwe Jumo

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Supply Chain Student Association to Bridge Gap Between Study and Work

Supply Chain Student Association to Bridge Gap Between Study and Work
Supply Chain Student Association organising committee.

Supply Chain Management postgraduate students have taken ownership of their education and future career prospects by forming an association that aims to bridge the gap between academia and the business world.

The Supply Chain Student Association (SCSA) was founded by BCom Honours degree students, Ms Nontobeko Mtshali and Ms Nqobile Mhlaba (majoring in Supply Chain Management), after observing that final-year and postgraduate students are uninformed about what is expected of them in the workplace.

To address this challenge, the association aims to bring the industry to the students by hosting seminars to keep students updated on the latest industry trends, by organising workshops that will enhance the students’ research and writing skills, and by arranging site visits that will give the students a realistic view of how their qualification is applied in the supply chain industry.

The association recently hosted its first seminar which was attended by more than 150 students who were addressed by representatives from the Mr Price Group, Rand Merchant Bank, Aramex, Morrisons and Massmart on the role of supply chain management in different sectors.

Mtshali said the positive feedback received after the seminar was an indication that students need an initiative of this nature to enhance their academic career.

‘Through the seminar we were able to enlighten students further about the purpose and role of the Supply Chain Student Association. A lot of students appreciated the platform provided to them to expand their knowledge and engage with each other and various industry representatives,’ said Mtshali.

Mhlaba added that the success of the event was evident in the high numbers of new members who signed up on the day. Compliments were also received from invited guests who have requested that they be invited to future events, said Mhlaba. ‘We are grateful to our Lecturer, Dr Patmond Mbhele, for being our advisor and mentor.’

School of Management, Information Technology and Governance academic, Ms Nomalizo Dyili, who has been supporting the initiative, described the association as a “think tank” which enables students to come up with solutions to the challenges they face in their academic experience.

‘The SCSA constitutes a hub of ideas, a space or environment which students have created for themselves.’ She said it is different from other associations because it is a solution-oriented space which focuses on “the student agenda” on campus and beyond.  ‘These students should be commended for not wanting to be part of yet another “talk shop” disguised as a problem-solving student association,’ she said.

Thandiwe Jumo

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Durban Museum and UKZN Celebrate Women in Science

Durban Museum and UKZN Celebrate Women in Science
From left: Professor Colleen Downs, Ms Sindiso Chamane, Ms Kerushka Pillay, Dr Sarah Bansilal, Ms Zukiswa Shoba, Dr Letitia Pillay and Museum Director, Ms Allison Ruiters.

The Durban Natural Science Museum and UKZN recently partnered to celebrate Women in Science. 

Various female academics, students and UKZN alumni took to the podium to share their experiences and research activities. 

UKZN Top-10 researcher, Professor Colleen Downs from the School of Life Sciences, shared her thoughts on being a woman operating in the scientific research arena. 

MSc candidate Ms Kerushka Pillay presented her master’s research on feral cats, a project which is being supervised by Downs.

Dr Sarah Bansilal from UKZN’s School of Education gave an introduction to Mathematics for Grade 9 learners. 

Ms Zukiswa Shoba, a UKZN MSc alumnus, now employed by the Department of Environmental Affairs, shared her experiences around the control of invasive alien plants. 

Dr Letitia Pillay, an Analytical Chemist from the School of Chemistry and Physics, explained her research into metal speciation and environmental analysis.  

Finally, Sindiso Chamane, a Lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, spoke on the findings of the research she is conducting towards a PhD in Grassland Science.

The successful event was organised by the Durban Museum to mark National Science Week and was funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA).

Sally Frost

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HIV and TB Developments Highlighted in MEPI Symposium

HIV and TB Developments Highlighted in MEPI Symposium
Attendants at the MEPI Symposium.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal Medical Educational Partnership Initiative (UKZN MEPI), in collaboration with University of Mozambique MEPI, held the MEPI Clinical HIV Symposium on “HIV and TB: latest developments for clinicians and researchers” in Durban recently.

Making presentations at the Symposium were three esteemed researchers and academics from the United States who have worked in collaboration with the University of Mozambique MEPI, along with UKZN MEPI staff.

Mr Sandy Pillay, Co-Principal Investigator of the MEPI grant, said the University has benefitted in numerous ways from MEPI funding through collaborations with other MEPI grant awardees across Sub-Saharan Africa. ‘We were able to access the expertise of awardees across Africa, with Zimbabwe, Mozambique and our US partners.’

Project Manager for MEPI and the ENTRÉE Project at UKZN, Mrs Nisha Nadasen-Reddy, explained that in the numerous programmes implemented at UKZN, the main objective was for MEPI to strengthen and enhance the health system’s effectiveness by helping to improve health service delivery. The Enhancing Training, Research and Education Strategy (ENTRÉE) introduced at UKZN is an initiative which has an undergraduate, postgraduate and faculty component to accelerate the educational programme.

‘Since MEPI is in the last year of a five-year programme, the focus is on the University curriculum,’ she said. With eight components to support regional research and increase training of staff and students, fourth-year Nursing students have been provided with Nurse Initiatied Management of Antiretroviral Treatment (NIMART) training. In addition, the Pharmacy Department used MEPI funding to update its pedagogy and promote e-learning. The flagship project of MEPI has been the decentralisation of learning sites in rural areas. ‘All these programmes have all been implemented to ensure that students emerge from their studies both well-trained and knowledgeable,’ said Nadesen-Reddy.

Guest speaker Dr Thomas Campbell from the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Colorado spoke on the topic of “Options for third-line ARV therapy in the Developing World”.

Third-line ARV therapy or regimens refers to a patient who has failure or intolerance to first line NNRTI-based therapy and second line PI-based therapy. Such regimens may contain new drugs or drug classes such as Darunavir, Tipranavir, Etravirine and Raltegravir.

‘When we treat HIV with ARV’s, our goal is to block HIV replication as this leads to the CD4 count decreasing. This can lead to drug resistance. A population of viruses exists in an infected patient and ARV drug resistance develops from incomplete inhibition of viral replication,’ said Campbell.

As part of the key concepts of treating patients with multi drug resistant HIV, Campbell suggested that when changing drug regimens, the new regimen should include two active drugs and one more partially active drug. ‘To prevent MDR HIV one has to have adherence counseling, monitor the HIV viral load to detect resistance early, Change regimen early in virologic failure, do resistance testing to help select new regimens. Use the most potent regimens first to prevent subsequent resistance and treatment failure.

Specialist Pediatrician, Dr Mohern Archary from the Department of Pediatrics at UKZN, presented an update on the International AIDS Conference 2014.

With 10 countries in the world accounting for 61% of HIV infection, South Africa has the highest rate of HIV in the world, at 18%, followed by Nigeria, India, Kenya and Mozambique. Archary pointed that ‘treatment and preventative measures need to be designated at these 10 countries to decrease HIV by 61%.’

Archary explained that HIV is the number one cause of death amongst adolescents in South Africa and that while 3rd line regimens are vastly more expensive that first line ARV’s, the major significance of the regimen can be used for drug sensitive Tuberculosis and drug resistant TB.

Dr Constance Benson from the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of California spoke about recent advances in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of TB.

With nine million new incidents of TB in 2012, a constant decline has been seen in new TB case incidence, prevalence and mortality, and Benson explained that there are numerous drugs and new medication in the pipeline to eradicate TB.

‘As part of the WHO Xpert policy recommendations for 2014, Xpert MTB/RIF may be used rather than the conventional microscopy and culture as the initial diagnostic test in all adults and children suspected of having TB,’ said Benson.

Xpert MTB/RIF may be used as a replacement test for usual practice, and conventional microscopy and culture and performance of DST for agents other than Rifampin are essential for monitoring therapy.

Benson also spoke about new drugs in development that have the potential to revolutionise TB treatment. ‘Treatment shortening is not yet achievable with current drugs and there are long-term toxicities of new agents that are ill defined. Drug interactions with ARV’s can be problematic and there is much more work to be done in evaluating new drugs for TB.’

Dr Robert Schooley, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of California spoke about HIV eradication: “A case for ongoing research”.

‘HIV treatment has gotten cheaper over the years and global access has reduced mortality around the world. But as drugs have improved, so have treatment outcomes. As molecules become cheaper, we can have much less drug failure and more time and opportunities to do clinical trials to create something that can be easily and quickly available. Better drugs should be made cheaper than last generation drugs.’

Professor Douglas Wassenaar from the Discipline of Psychology at UKZN, presented on “Building Research Ethics Capacity at UKZN”.

Wassenaar discussed research ethics as being an important element of research systems, saying that ‘Research has to be evidence based and tailored to community themes and issues. They have to be received by a competent research ethics committee. Research ethics is done to protect the population on whom and what the work is being done on.’

In South Africa, all Research Ethics committees have to be registered with the National Health Research Ethics Committee (NHREC). The Ethics Committee in South Africa has to be competent with the South African Department of Health NHREC and the US OHRP. With about 35 research committees in South Africa, there are around 170 Africa.

Wassenaar also added that through the use of MEPI funding, free online modules in ethics are now available on the TRREE website for those who have an interest in research ethics and regulation. Certificates are awarded to those who complete the courses upon passing with 70%.

The Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is a co-ordinated effort led by the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) and supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

-           Zakia Jeewa

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Innovative Approaches to Rural Health Discussed at UKZN

Innovative Approaches to Rural Health Discussed at UKZN
Attendees of the Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP) roundtable discussion.

With many challenges facing the South African health system, a number of reforms have been carried out to help improve access to quality health care.  The Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP) and the Centre for Rural Health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal recently co-hosted a roundtable discussion at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine to discuss and address innovative approaches to account for rurality in health policy, strategic planning and service delivery.

RHAP, established in 2009 as a partnership between the Rural Doctors’ Association of Southern Africa (RuDASA), SECTION 27 and Wits Centre for Rural Health (WCRH), aims to co-ordinate and lead on advocacy for rural health. It is directed by Ms Marije Versteeg-Mojanaga.

Characterising the rural health context continues to be a challenge and the idea of a rural area and what being rural entails formed a critical part of the roundtable discussion.

In a talk titled “What do we know about Rural Health in KwaZulu-Natal?” Director of the Centre for Rural Health (CRH) at UKZN, Dr Berhard Gaede, spoke about the challenges of measuring deprivation and poverty. ‘Assumptions are often made of rural areas. They are romanticised. But there are higher levels of need in rural areas that are not always apparent. This makes the concept of “rural” quite complex. One way of assessing equity is to examine the distribution of deprivation and how it relates to rural areas,’ he said.

In terms of the South African Multiple Deprivation Index, which has four measurement domains – income and material deprivation, employment deprivation, education deprivation, and living environment deprivation – KwaZulu-Natal is the fourth most deprived province, with eight of its districts among the 20 most deprived in the country.

However, “rural” and “deprivation” are not synonymous, cautioned Gaede. He said while progress has been made despite a stressed health care system, policy planning did not always translate into effective measures on the ground. ‘We need to understand the population better to understand their needs,’ he said.

Mr Daygan Eagar from RHAP drew attention to the fact that while rural areas have lower populations, there exists an infrastructure inequality trap and health financing problems in rural areas. ‘Healthcare workers are also reluctant to work in rural areas due to this,’ he said.

Discussing health priorities in the National Development Plan (NDP) and the role of public-private partnerships, Mr Mfowethu Zungu, Senior General Manager from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, said: ‘We need to respond to the needs of our communities. As a province, we’ve realised that we have to work together to bring about better healthcare outcomes.’

As part of the NDP goals, by 2030, life expectancy is to be raised to 70 years and we are to have a generation of under-20s free of HIV. Other goals are the reduction of the burden of disease, an infant mortality rate of less than 20 deaths per 1 000 live births, and an under-five mortality rate of less than 30 per 1 000.

Mrs Esther Snyman, the Manager of Strategic Planning, said improved health delivery required innovation: ‘The focus shouldn’t just be on clinics, but on mobile services. This is possible once village challenges are identified.’

In a presentation on “Rural proofing for health: accounting for rural policy planning and budgeting”, Richard Cooke from Wit’s Centre for Rural Health emphasised the need to recognise that each rural community has its own values and needs. He described “rural proofing” as policies which were “rural friendly” as opposed to “anti-rural”.

‘One has to ask the question: is it only we who need to have our consciousness raised? What debate needs to be raised amongst civil society members? Are there simple tools to assist us to do rural proofing?’ he said.

Key issues regarding budgeting, rural policy debates and priorities for research were raised in discussion among participants.

-           Zakia Jeewa

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Two Social Work students Selected for Canada Exchange

Two Social Work students Selected for Canada Exchange
Social Work students Ms Nomusa Ndlovu (left) and Ms Liteboho Mosola will be in Canada for five months on an exchange programme.

Two second-year Social Work students, Ms Nomusa Ndlovu and Ms Liteboho Mosola, were recently selected to participate in a five-month exchange programme to Carleton University in Canada. 

Ndlovu is thrilled to be a part of the programme, revealing that for her, it is a dream come true. ‘The criteria were hectic and the process was long but because we wanted it, we tried our hardest. It’s a huge achievement for both of us,’ she said.

‘I am from Mthwalume, from a disadvantaged community, and I’m very happy that someone from there has made it this far. I’m very proud of myself and my family is very proud of me as well,’ explained Ndlovu.

She added: ‘I think it’s going to be a very nice experience for me. I’ll get to know and understand things that are very different, including people from different cultures who will inform my intellectual outlook from a different perspective. Besides the academic experience, there’s the opportunity to socialise with people from different countries and backgrounds, so I think it will be a huge experience for me and I regard it as a privilege.’

Mosola is excited about being a part of a programme that will help equip her with more knowledge to be a better social worker. ‘I am very excited about going abroad. It is a very big achievement for us. I’m also looking forward to the cold. It’s going to be an experience.

‘I can’t wait to experience life as a foreigner far away from home. I’m not going to be a foreigner in Swaziland or Botswana; on a different continent it will be a completely different experience. We will be mixed up with students from countries such as Australia and Japan, so it will be an amazing experience,’ said Mosola.

Ndlovu and Mosola are former students of the College of Humanities Access Programme.

‘When I came to varsity I qualified in terms of the points but unfortunately the Social Work programme was full. We then enrolled in the access programme,’ said Mosola. ‘The access programme was a great success. We passed very well and started last year in Social Work.’

The students advised others to work hard, not only in academia but in the development of leadership skills, and to make a positive difference in communities and society.

College of Humanities Dean of Teaching and Learning, Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, said: ‘Where you come from does not matter, what matters most is where you end up. I am very excited that our two former Access students who are currently doing Social Work were selected to go on an exchange programme to Carleton University in Canada. These students joined the University of KwaZulu-Natal, College of Humanities through the Access programme which is intended primarily to facilitate the academic development of students whose prior learning has been adversely affected by educational or social inequalities. It is aimed at facilitating equity of access and of outcomes.  I wish them all the best during the duration of the exchange programme.’


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Queensburgh Girls Shine at SAICE Regional Bridge-Building Competition

Queensburgh Girls Shine at SAICE Regional Bridge-Building Competition
Learners from Queensburgh High prepare to test their bridge model.

The Durban branch of the South African Institute of Civil Engineering (SAICE) held its annual regional schools’ bridge-building competition at the UNITE School of Engineering at Howard College. For the first time, the event was combined with a career expo that attracted support from several engineering companies, including the competition sponsors: Stefanutti Stocks, Lafarge, BMK and Naidu Consulting. 

Thursday, 7 August saw around 200 learners from 15 regional schools (rural, previously disadvantaged, model C and private), their teachers, parents, company representatives and guests, converging on campus to experience the popular SAICE event.

The competition was initiated 23 years ago in 1991 when the SAICE-Durban Branch decided to implement a competition for schools with the aim of attracting learners to the Civil Engineering profession; exposing learners, parents and the general public to the profession; and giving all learners an opportunity to apply their Maths and Science knowledge.

The bridge-building teams consisted of three learners. Each team built model bridges as per specifications provided by SAICE. The competition rules are amended each year in order to encourage innovation and fresh designs.

Guest speaker and retired Civil Engineer Mr David Easton spoke about his 60-year-long Civil Engineering career, impressing both learners and adults with the dazzling experiences offered by his career.

The career expo was also popular with learners who were able to receive further information about the profession and bursary opportunities offered by engineering firms.

Those bridge models that survived a cut-off load of 200N qualified to proceed to final testing conducted at the evening session.  Fairvale High School came third with a load of 300N, Burnwood Secondary second with 350N, and the winners were Queensburgh Girls’ High with a staggering 380N.  

Queensburgh will now represent the Durban Branch at the national competition to be held in Pretoria where winners from branches around the country and those from Namibia and Zimbabwe will be vying for the trophy.

Congratulating the winners, Mr Vishal Krishandutt, Chairman of SAICE Durban Branch, said he was delighted by the fact that a girls’ team had won the event.

Ntsejoa Koma

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Citizens Contribute to Science During 2014 Cape Parrot Big Birding Day

Citizens Contribute to Science During 2014 Cape Parrot Big Birding Day
Juvenile Cape Parrots feeding on pecan nuts near Creighton, KwaZulu-Natal in May-June 2014.

Community involvement once again played a big part in the success of this year’s Cape Parrot Big Birding Day.

For the past 17 years Professor Colleen Downs from UKZN’s School of Life Sciences has co-ordinated the annual Cape Parrot Big Birding Day (CPBBD). This annual count of one of South Africa’s endangered birds is heavily reliant on community input and co-operation in terms of sighting and counting assistance, as the parrots are spread over a wide geographic area in the mistbelts of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus) is the only parrot species endemic to South Africa.  In 1989 A.F. Boshoff estimated that there were less than 1 000 left in the wild. This dire calculation raised the alarm amongst researchers who set out to establish whether numbers were in fact declining, and what the real number of Cape parrots in the wild was.

But that is easier said than done, as Professor Downs explains: ‘Standard bird counting techniques are unsuitable for Cape Parrots as they are nomadic feeders with unpredictable movements. Parrots’ cryptic colouration combined with dense forest habitats often make them difficult to locate once perched; but their loud harsh calls whilst in-flight make their presence known.’ 

Downs said that parrots are most active during the first few hours after dawn and before sunset, when they leave and return to their roosts in forest patches (although during misty conditions these periods can be extended). ‘These characteristics allow for a “total count” of the parrots,’ said Downs.

The Cape Parrot Big Birding Day was initiated in 1998 and has since been held annually as part of the conservation effort of the Cape Parrot Working Group, which Professor Downs chairs. The aim is to determine their occurrence and obtain an accurate population estimate.

‘Over recent years less than 1 600 have been counted in the wild,’ said Downs.  Factors contributing to the parrots’ decline vary in their effects and extent at different locations and include the loss or change in the quality of their preferred forest habitat; food and/or nest-site shortages; illegal poaching for the pet trade; disease (especially psittacine beak and feather disease virus (PBFDV)); avian predators; and accelerated climate change.

‘The Cape Parrot, a forest specialist, is now mainly restricted to patches in a mosaic of afromontane southern mistbelt forests from Hogsback in the Eastern Cape through to the Balgowan and Karkloof areas of KwaZulu-Natal, with a disjunct population in the Magoeboeskloof region of Limpopo Province,’ said Downs.  She said parrots can be seen feeding on fruit in protea patches, gardens, orchards or coastal forests at certain times of the year. The absence of parrots in some forest patches during certain periods are not local extinctions, but are likely owing to the absence of food, as the fruiting of their preferred yellowwoods may be sporadic and absent in some years.

The annual Cape Parrot count usually starts on a Saturday morning, and is generally extended over the afternoon and Sunday morning of the following day (as the weather is often poor on one of the days). This counting pattern allows for an afternoon and a morning estimate. The higher of these for each province is then used to give the maximum number counted. 

In 2014 the areas of South Africa covered by the count included the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo Provinces. ‘This year at least 260 volunteers were posted at 98 localities in the three provinces,’ said Downs.

According to Downs, some localities had Cape Parrots feeding in flocks in pecan nut trees.  ‘Despite the poor weather on one of the days in some of the areas, at least 1 166 parrots were seen during the afternoon count while 1 176 were seen the following morning.’

The maximum number of Cape Parrots counted was 477 in KwaZulu-Natal, 491 in the former Transkei, 341 in the former Eastern Cape and 35 in Limpopo Province. ‘This suggests that there were at least 1 344 in the wild on the CPBBD in 2014, which is similar to the maximum count of 1 356 in 2013 when weather also had an impact. Consequently, both years are likely an underestimate,’ said Downs.

Of interest was how many juvenile flocks of Cape Parrots were observed in parts of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Two localities also reported Cape Parrots nesting. ‘This shows that there is some recruitment,’ explained Downs.  ‘Also, there was a report of Cape Parrots feeding on bugweed near Umtata which has not been previously documented. And several observers commented on how Pied and Cape/Black Crows were disturbing the Cape Parrots.’

Downs said the annual Parrot count highlighted the importance of South Africa’s Afromontane/temperate indigenous forest patches.  Furthermore, it allowed the sighting and recording of other endangered forest species or those found in the neighbouring grasslands, including Samango Monkeys and Southern Ground Hornbills. Several spotters also reported Cape Vulture, African Crowned Eagle and Martial Eagle at various localities. Sadly, several observers reported illegal logging and/or hunting of wildlife while doing their CPBBD observations.

Downs stressed the importance of community involvement in the annual Cape Parrot count.  ‘As in past years, there were numerous communities involved in the CPBBD. This highlights the importance of the CPBBD day in developing interest, knowledge and hopefully conservation awareness,’ she said. ‘It is an excellent way that citizens can contribute to science.’

Several school groups assisted observers in many of the rural areas. Some scholars from Sonyongwana, Newtonville and Ginyane schools near Creighton even camped out and assisted with observations. Observers in the Langeni/Matiwane region had a get-together and produced their 10th very detailed report for their area.  

‘We are grateful to all those who participated in the CPBBD, particularly the co-ordinators and those volunteers who have participated for many years,’ said Downs. ‘We continue to be extremely grateful for the effort, enthusiasm and continued support of the co-ordinators. We are also grateful for the contribution of Border Bird Club, DAFF, DEAT, Rance Timbers, Sappi and Mondi foresters, Indwe Security, and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife officials (particularly those from Coleford Nature Reserve), and the Armours who host the UKZN students near Ingeli.’

 Colleen Downs and Sally Frost

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HRD Brings New UKZN Employees “On Board”

HRD Brings New UKZN Employees “On Board”
New employees welcomed to UKZN.

A total of 60 new employees from across UKZN attended the Human Resources Division’s latest Employee On-Boarding Programme on 8 and 9 July. The programme aims at providing new employees with relevant information about support services, policies, contact people and other information that could assist them in settling into their new job and environment as quickly and as comfortably as possible.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Law and Management Studies, Professor John Mubangizi, opened the programme and welcomed the new employees. He provided an overview of the University, its vision to become the “Premier University of African Scholarship” and the strategic goals which have been set. He encouraged the new employees to contribute towards assisting the University to achieve its vision by performing at their best in the particular positions to which they have been appointed. 

During the course of the two days, employees received information regarding the University’s core values, the various Colleges, the different support functions and the services they offer, support offered by the Research Office and the University Teaching and Learning Office, as well information about various employee benefits.  They also received training regarding the University’s Performance Management process.

Overall feedback from the new employees indicated that the On-Boarding programme had provided them with valuable information.

Michael Cloete

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Transformation a Key Focus at English Academy Commemorative Lecture

Transformation a Key Focus at English Academy Commemorative Lecture
From left: Mr Nazim Gani, Alan Paton Centre; Dr Betty Govinden; Mrs Mary Gardner; Professor Cheryl Potgieter; Professor Stanley Ridge; Mr Darryl David and Professor Mbongeni Malaba.

The English Academy of Southern Africa, together with the College of Humanities, recently held the English Academy’s Annual Commemorative Lecture, in honour of the late Professor Colin Gardner.

The Lecture, which also formed part of the College of Humanities Public Lecture series on Transformation, was held at the Colin Webb Hall on the Pietermaritzburg campus. Professor Cheryl Potgieter, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities, and Dr Betty Govinden, Vice President of the English Academy of Southern Africa, welcomed the guests.

The Lecture, titled “Transformation and the Intellectual”, was presented by Professor Stanley Ridge, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of the Western Cape and past President of the English Academy of Southern Africa.

Professor Ridge described Colin Gardner, who passed away in October last year, as an intellectual who was thoroughly committed to the transformation of South Africa.  

‘Colin Gardner was pre-eminently an intellectual. He was deeply engaged, moving out of the comfort zones of white privilege… He was also richly engaging as a teacher and commentator, and more generally as a human being.’

In his Lecture, Professor Ridge called for a more holistic approach to “transformation”, where profound and beneficial change is promoted in society, and by intellectuals imbued with nurturing abilities and focused on the most important challenges of our time and place.  

‘Making sense of a changing world is the role of the intellectual, schooled or unschooled.

This is especially necessary in South Africa post-1994, where there have been bewildering changes in every sphere of life.  It is also necessary in the rest of Africa, faced as the continent is with the complex demands of post-colonial transformation and development.

‘Intellectuals constantly and relentlessly reinterpret their social environment and are in the vanguard of change and transformation.’    

Professor Ridge stated that transformation and the spirit of conformity are mutually exclusive.

He emphasised that for real transformation, one needs to build and sustain a collegium of academics and students with a common desire to address the challenges of our time and place reasonably and with integrity.   He was confident that if universities draw more fully on the South African talent pool they will ultimately be in a better position to generate new and incisive academic discourses, and  provide more nuanced questions and responses to social challenges.  

‘It is this kind of critical innovativeness that is the mark of excellence. Excellence is not confined to a rarefied academic world.’

‘Rather, excellence through transformation,’ Professor Ridge urged, ‘can be achieved only as an intellectual project, in which an inclusive community is built of people so engaged with the world in which they live, that making sense of it is a vital, ongoing priority as a basis for effective and wise action.’

Family, friends and colleagues of Professor Gardner, together with Academy and community members attended the event.


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UKZN’s Disability Unit Reaches Out to Communities

UKZN’s Disability Unit Reaches Out to Communities
Dr Sibusiso Chalufu with prospective students from some of the schools for hearing impaired learners in KwaZulu-Natal.

The UKZN Disability Support Unit recently held an information and awareness session for deaf, hard of hearing and hearing impaired prospective students at the Howard College campus.

The event, held in association with the Deaf Federation of South Africa-KZN, aimed to inform learners about how to best access and participate in academic opportunities offered by the University.

Principals of schools for hearing impaired learners, the learners themselves, and various NGO directors attended the event to gather first-hand information regarding the University and its application process.

Executive Director: Student Services, Dr Sibusiso Chalufu, said UKZN has worked hard to ensure that all students have equal opportunities.

He added that it is a great pleasure and an honour for the University to reach out to communities, to be critically engaged with society, and to be the institution of choice for students as listed in Goals 2 and 5 of the University’s Strategic Plan 2007-2016.

Dr Chalufu encouraged learners to work hard and reminded them that a dream does not become a reality through magic. ‘Don’t limit yourselves; you can go as far as your mind lets you,’ he said.

About 470 students with disabilities are currently registered at UKZN and 70 students with disabilities recently graduated from the University.

Chalufu commended the passion and hard work of staff in the Disability Unit in ensuring students receive the support they need. He said the University aims to increase support offered by the Unit.

Learners were also informed about the Humanities Access Programme, accommodation, student funding, support in the School of Education, and about the kind of student experience they can look forward to. Guests were taken on a tour of the Disability Unit.

Representatives from the different schools included principals from Fulton School for the Deaf, V N Naik School for the Deaf, St Martin School for the Deaf, Durban School for the Hearing Impaired and Vuleka School for the Deaf. There were also directors from the Deaf Federation of South Africa–KZN, the KwaZulu-Natal Blind and Deaf Society and the KwaZulu-Natal Deaf Association.

Sithembile Shabangu

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Hip Hop and Science Combine with Explosive Results

Hip Hop and Science Combine with Explosive Results
Dr Siphamandla Sithebe addresses Grade 10-12 learners at the Hip Hop Science Spaza.

SAMA award-winning rap artist, iFani, recently jetted into Durban for a music event with a difference – the Hip Hop Science Spaza!

Grade 10-12 learners from Chesterville and Umlazi engaged in practical science activities and then turned new knowledge into rap songs. The event culminated in a hip hop battle for the best science rap. The surprise ingredient was iFani, the hottest name in South African rap who this year won a SAMA for best rap album and who is, incidentally, also a Computer Scientist.

Being the International Year of Crystallography, the workshop started with a lesson delivered by Dr Siphamandla Sithebe, an Organic Chemistry Researcher and Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Learners then developed rhyming lines and raps working with Jive Media's Creative Director Hilary Kromberg and KwaZulu-Natal-based musicians Rooted Souls.

The two-day workshop was filmed for “Hectic Nine-9”, the popular youth show on SABC 2, and was featured during National Science Week from 2-9 August 2014.

‘This is a really great initiative, which I am involved in through my research-based community outreach work,’ said Sithebe.  ‘The Hip Hop Science Spaza was really educational and uplifted a lot of students. My goal is to get the University more involved in future.’ 


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Abafundi Bezifundo zezeNhlalakahle Baqale Umsebenzi Wokusiza Ngamaphasela Okudla

Abafundi Bezifundo zezeNhlalakahle Baqale Umsebenzi Wokusiza Ngamaphasela Okudla
Amalungu e-Social Work Students Association abambe iqhaza ekusizeni abafundi bezifundo zenhlalakahle abadinga usizo ngamaphasela okudla.

Ngaphansi kwesiqubulo esithi “Akekho ozoya ekilasini elambile”, inhlangano i-Social Work Students’ Association (SWSA) iqale umsebenzi  wokusabalalisa amaphasela okudla kubafundi bezifundo zezeNhlalakahle abadinga ukudla nosizo lwezimali.

Ikomidi eliphezulu lamalungu ayi-12 lisebenzise imali yalo ukuqala lomsebenzi futhi iningi losizo lwemali luqhamuke kumalungu enhlangano nabafundisi belaba bafundi.

UMnu Melusi Shabalala oyinhloko yalenhlangano uthi, amalungu abone kunesidingo sokusiza  emuva kokuba abafundi abantulayo balomkhakha becele usizo enhlanganweni.

Abafundi banikwe ithuba lokuzilandela ngokuyimfihlo amaphasela okudla nokunye okuyizindingo zenhlanzeko emnyangweni wezifundo zenhlalakahle njalo ngoLwesibili.

Lokhu sekwenzeke amasonto amabili futhi kusayimpumelelo enkulu kuze kube yimanje.

“Sizibona “njengabahlengi babalimele” ngoba nathi siphuma emakhaya antulayo. Yize kunjalo, njengabezenhlalakahle bakusasa, sisebenzela ukwenza umehluko ezimpilweni zabafundi nemiphakathi. Ngalolu hlelo sinethemba lokuqhubeka nokusiza abadinga usizo ngoba siyazi lapho bephuma khona,” kusho uShabalala.

Umfundisi wezezenhlalakahle uDkt Tanusha Raniga uthe umkhakha uziqhenya kakhulu ngabafundi bawo. “Le mizamo yenhlangano isenze saba nokuziqhenya okukhulu. Imisebenzi yabo iyancomeka ngoba bakwazile ukuletha usizo olubonakalayo kubafundi abadinga usizo lwezimali olukhulu.’

uShabalala uchaze inhlangano “njengomndeni osebenza ndawonye ngokuhlangana futhi njengeqembu”. Ngaphezu kwamalungu ayi-12 ekomidi eliphezulu, kunamalungu alinganiselwa kuma-500 angabafundi kusukela kwabonyaka wokuqala kuya kowesine abangamalungu ajwayelekile.

Acishe afike emakhulwini amahlanu amaphasela asezuzwe abafundi abawadingayo kuyimanje, kanti nenhlangano inethemba lokuqhubeka naloluhlelo lwamaphasela okudla uma izimali zilokhu zikhona.

Iphini lenhloko ye-SWSA uNksz Siphelelisiwe Mabaso unxenxe umphakathi waseNyuvesi ukuthi usekele lo msebenzi ngokunikela ngemali  noma okudliwayo.

“Sithemba ukuthi sizokhula ngaphezu kwalokhu kusiza abafundi abantulayo kuphela kodwa lokho kuncike ekutholeni kwethu uxhaso oluqhubekayo lwezimali nokunye,”usho kanje.

Uma unesifiso sokunikela ngemali noma okudliwayo, sicela uthintane no:

Nksz Siphelelisiwe Mabaso: 212545162@stu.ukzn.ac.za

Mnu Melusi Shabalala: 212552596@stuukznac.onmicrosoft.com

Imininingwane Yasebhange:


Branch: 130905

Club Account: 2007269325

Reference: Food Hamper

Click here for English version

 uMelissa Mungroo

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Washington “Comes Home” and Performs at UKZN Jazz Centre

Washington “Comes Home” and Performs at UKZN Jazz Centre
College of Humanities Jazz Lecturer Professor Salim Washington.

College of Humanities Jazz Lecturer, multi-reedsman and composer, Professor Salim Washington, together with his band, recently took to the stage at the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music to perform a blues and gospel-inflected brand of post-bop jazz.

His talented band is comprised of both UKZN lecturers and students: Lihle Ngongoma (vocals), Sazi Dlamini (guitar and percussion), Sibusiso Mashiloane (piano), Leon Scharnick (tenor sax), Thabo Sikhakhane (trumpet), Thembinkosi Khumalo (trombone), Dalisu Ndlazi (bass), Bucco Xaba (drums), and Nokwanda Nala (alto sax).

Washington is a highly accomplished jazz artist whose instruments are the tenor saxophone, flute and oboe. The music of Charles Mingus had a profound effect on his composing, in much the same way as Rahsaan, Trane, Pharaoh and Dolphy had on his playing. He continues the tradition of modernists such as Lester Young, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. 

His body of work – spanning three decades from Mozambique to Mexico - has been lauded as one of the most compelling modern contributions to jazz.  One of America's most provocative public intellectuals, Dr Cornel West, celebrates Salim’s work as a ‘new synoptic vision of what jazz can be and do. The fundamental spirit behind this music lives on in new ways and novel sounds.’

Washington has travelled extensively, playing at music festivals throughout the United States and Canada, Latin America, and Europe. He has also led music workshops for the Northern Ireland Arts Council in Belfast, the Bill Evans conservatory in Paris, Harvard University, the Vermont Jazz Center, Plymouth State College, and other organisations.

He first visited Durban during the summer of 2009 through the prestigious Fulbright Fellowship. He returned in 2011 at UKZN’s Jazz Centre and spent six weeks in South Africa during which time he hosted workshops around Soweto (funded by the United States Embassy in Pretoria). 

In 2013, he became a full-time Professor in the Music Cluster in the College of Humanities. ‘This feels like home. This is home. I am home,’ said Washington.

Melissa Mungroo

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A New Space for Higher Education Academics

A New Space for Higher Education Academics
Professor Damtew Teferra and Professor Renuka Vithal at the launch of the new offices of the Higher Education Training and Development (HEDT) Centre.

The Higher Education Training and Development (HEDT) Centre, which operates as both a Discipline in the School of Education as part of the Education Development cluster, and as Higher Education Training and Development within the Teaching and Learning Office, recently opened the doors to its newly-designed office premises on the Howard College campus.

Speaking at the launch of the offices, Director for the HEDT, Professor Damtew Teferra, said the Centre is committed to excellence in all aspects, and across all levels of the sector. 

He also shared copies of The International Journal of African Higher Education (IJAHE), to which he contributed the editorial and first article titled “Charting African Higher Education – Perspectives at a Glance.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Professor Renuka Vithal, congratulated Teferra and the HEDT staff on their new offices. ‘It’s wonderful to see the new facilities since a lot of energy and effort was involved in the creation of the office spaces. We hope the HEDT will continue to grow from strength to strength as a space for academics of Higher Education,’ she said.

The new offices boast a reception area, neat office spaces and a fully functional and well-equipped boardroom.  The HEDT is located in the Denis Shepstone building.

Melissa Mungroo

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Climate Smart Agriculture for Food Security

Climate Smart Agriculture for Food Security
Community members at the 2014 Msinga Nutrition Fair.

UKZN’s Farmer Support Group (FSG) and local community women from Msinga recently hosted the fourth annual nutrition fair – “Climate Smart Agriculture for Food Security” – at Gudwini in Msinga.

FSG staff and members from the community have been engaged in various projects in the Msinga district since 2004. FSG provides smallholder farmers with training, advice, action research and project support in areas ranging from organic and indigenous gardening to crafting.

The Msinga terrain is covered with aloes and rock, has no green grass or pastures, and the area is remote. FSG aims to actively assist these smallholder farmers and other land-users to manage their natural and related cultural resources in a sustainable manner in order to improve their livelihoods and quality of life.

In 2011, FSG established a farmer-led Nutrition Fair as a way of encouraging the groups in Msinga to learn and reflect on their accomplishments. The fair not only brings together farmers to share and exchange ideas, but it also showcases and markets their produce, and links farmers to relevant stakeholders.

Furthermore, the fair provides a platform for farmer-farmer exchange within and between districts. 

The 2014 fair was attended by partners from KwaZulu-Natal (Pietermaritzburg Agency for Social Awareness, CAP, Msinga-based non-profit organisation Philanjalo, the Departments of Health and Agriculture, the Institute of Natural Resources, and the tribal authority) and the Western Cape (Surplus Peoples Project and Women on farms Project).  Some partners brought their beneficiaries. In addition, FSG donor representatives (DKA and Tshintsha Amakhaya) were also present.

The event centered on farmers’ indigenous knowledge techniques in terms of planting and seed saving.    Furthermore, cross-cutting issues relating to nutritious food production and health were highlighted.

UKZN postgraduate students supervised by the Institute of Natural Resources were given a platform to explain their Water Research Commission project in Machunwini Msinga, which relates to water harvesting using contour lines. Owing to the semi-arid terrain, results support the water harvesting method as it increases maize yields and moisture content.

Feedback from local farmers indicated that they found the stakeholder presentations useful and were motivated to start exploring different ways to cope with climate change.  

After all the presentations and discussions, attendees had the opportunity to buy and sell produce. Vegetables, ground chillies and honey sold like “hot cakes”, to the extent that customers were directed to the neighbouring Gudwini garden for more supplies.

The event ended on a high note with entertainment by a local high school and the garden groups dressed in traditional attire. As the sun went down people carried their vegetables home to cook a nutritious meal for their families. 

 Avrashka Sahadeva

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UKZN Hosts 5th IUPAC International Conference on Green Chemistry

UKZN Hosts 5th IUPAC International Conference on Green Chemistry
From left: Dr Vincent Nyamori, Minster Naledi Pandor, and Professor Deo Jaganyi.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal was the host university to the 5th International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) Conference on Green Chemistry held at the Elangeni Hotel in Durban – a memorable event owing partly to the fact that Green Chemistry is currently not widespread in Africa. 

Green Chemistry or “sustainable chemistry” minimises both the use and production of hazardous substances. The main objective of the Conference was to emphasise the importance of Green Chemistry for sustainable development, and to promote novel research and collaborations by bringing together a total of 180 experts and interested parties from all over the world, and from diverse bodies ranging from academia to industry and government.

The event gave participants the chance to showcase Green Chemistry principles, practices and education. The local organising committee, chaired by Dr Vincent Nyamori, was comprised mainly of staff members from the School of Chemistry and Physics.

The opening ceremony was attended by various distinguished guests and dignitaries, including the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, who gave the opening address, and the Honourable Speaker of the eThekwini Municipality, Councillor Logie Naidoo. Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor for UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Deo Jaganyi, welcomed the delegates and said a few inspiring words on behalf of the host institution.

In her speech, Pandor said that powerful forces were ‘driving a green economic revolution worldwide, providing in the process a strong lever for broad-based economic development in many parts of the globe, and often re-orienting national development trajectories.  South Africa, having one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world, is no exception.  Our government is strongly committed to unleashing the potential of the green economy.’

Other speakers from various government structures, non-governmental institutions as well as local and international chemistry bodies included: Professor Pietro Tundo (Chair of the Subcommittee on Green Chemistry of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry), Dr Jonathan Forman (Science Policy Adviser of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), Dr Helen Driver (International Development Manager for Latin America and Africa of the Royal Society of Chemistry), Dr Thomas Barton (President of the American Chemical Society), Professor Bice Martincigh (Vice-President of the South African Chemical Institute), Professor Liliana Mammino (Conference Chair) and Dr Vincent Nyamori (Local Organising Committee Chair and Conference Vice-Chair).

The Conference was a multidisciplinary event considering all the major areas of Green Chemistry, including green synthesis processes, catalysis, environmentally benign solvents, energy storage, biofuels, Green Chemistry education, policies, and others. Interfaces with other sciences and other research areas were actively encouraged.

Special attention was given to the roles of Green Chemistry in fast-growing economies and to the promotion of it on the African continent. Presentations included six plenary, 13 keynote, 98 oral and 74 poster presentations. There were also three workshops. 

During the Conference, poster prizes were awarded to students who had made a significant contribution in the field of Green Chemistry from the results they presented. Third prize went to Mr Hazeeq Azman from Imperial College, London for his work titled, “Rhodococcus catalyzed reaction in ionic liquid”.  The second prize was awarded to Mr Ntokozo Chamane from UKZN with the topic “Carbon nanotube (CNT) supported platinum (Pt) and platinum-palladium (Pt-Pd) nanoparticles for selective hydrogenation”, while first prize went to Ms Thokozani Xaba from Vaal University of Technology for her work titled, “The effect of water-soluble capping molecules in the ‘green’ synthesis of CdS nanoparticles using the (Z)-2-(pyrrolidin-2-ylidene)thiourea ligand.” 

Professor Leonard J. Barbour of the University of Stellenbosch was awarded the SACI Sasol Innovator of the Year award for 2013 and presented his award-winning lecture titled “Understanding porosity in flexible metal-organic systems”In addition, the IUPAC ChemRAWN 2014 Award went to Professor Vânia G. Zuin from the Federal University of São Carlos, Brazil.

Organising committee member, Professor Bice Martincigh of the UKZN School of Chemistry, said: ‘The large attendance of students at the Conference was promising for this relatively new area of Chemistry.  In particular, the workshop organised by the Green Chemistry Institute of the American Chemical Society for students was very welcome.  We therefore hope that this Conference has given exposure to the importance of Green Chemistry practices to future leaders.’

Dr Nyamori said: ‘Organising this international Conference, which was the first of its kind in Africa, was an interesting and memorable journey for many.  The key initial aim that we set ourselves, namely, sharing our learning and learning from our sharing, was evident and depicted in the attendance at the scientific talks and deliberations.  I believe the experience we have had in this event was rich, worthwhile and should be able to forge the current and future generations of sustainable chemists who understand the important adage: “Meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.’

Leena Rajpal

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New Book by UKZN Honorary Professor Interrogates Theory of Bird Evolution

New Book by UKZN Honorary Professor Interrogates Theory of Bird Evolution
Professor Theagarten Lingham-Soliar.

Professor Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, an Honorary Professor in the School of Life Sciences at UKZN, recently published a book The Vertebrate Integument Volume 1, which examines afresh the theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs and challenges some of the science behind the accepted theory through his research on the integument, which is the outer covering of an animal, including the skin, scales, hair and feathers.

Professor John Ruben at Oregon State University considered the book ‘Fantastic, ground-breaking and a huge contribution’, while on his website Professor Prosanth Chakrabarty of Louisiana State University declared Lingham-Soliar’s book ‘the best review of ostracoderm jawless fishes’ he had ever seen.

Lingham-Soliar’s research in The Vertebrate Integument Volume I is centred around the origin and development of the integument and the biomechanical nature of the dermis, a topic which has been the focus of his work for almost 15 years, beginning with fossils and progressing to the study of extant vertebrates. His most recent research deals with the biomechanical microstructure of the feather because so little is in fact known about it and how it forms the basis of feather strength. His interest in the evolutionary history of the integument was inspired by his undergraduate Lecturer, Professor Beverly Halstead, one of the world’s experts on the early evolution of vertebrates over 450 million years ago.

The dearth of sound knowledge about the feather and the evolution of the integument led Lingham-Soliar to dedicate considerable time to examining the structure of the feather, even waiting 18 months for fungi which feed on keratin to break down the feather structure to allow it to be examined on a microscopic level. This allowed him to see how filaments in the feathers are organised and revealed that they contain keratin fibres considerably thicker than those envisaged before in any form of keratin.

Lingham-Soliar’s publication deals predominantly with the development of the integument in a variety of creatures, from fish to dinosaurs, reptiles and mammals. However, it is the exciting and controversial discussions of the integumental structures, in particular feather-like structures, found on the famous Liaoning fossils in China, which has drawn his attention. His assertion that these alleged “protofeathers” found on many small dinosaurs are in all probability the degraded remains collagen fibres has received global attention, leading to Lingham-Soliar being one of the most cited persons on the National Geographic website.

This element of Lingham-Soliar’s publication, which questions a particular theory of evolution dealing with feather origins, has drawn strong opposition and, conversely, strong support from various corridors of the global scientific community. The controversies have become heated enough for Lingham-Soliar to devote a section of Volume II, to be published towards the end of 2014 or early 2015, to these controversies. Volume II will also deal with the biomechanics of the integument in more detail.

Lingham-Soliar says he does not necessarily oppose theories on the evolution of modern birds from dinosaurs, but is instead critical of the bad science which frequently accompanies these assertions. His aim is to stimulate conversation and research around the evolution of skin and feather structures through the production of good, clear science and logic.

‘I hope the book shows that any organ (in this case the skin – the biggest organ in the human body) that has evolved over 450 million years is inevitably complex,’ explained Lingham-Soliar, ‘and not given the simplistic treatment that many workers adopt in the field.’

‘In my research and that of colleagues, which involves its biomechanical function in vertebrates, we are showing how vital an understanding of the integuments of animals is, not just in biology but for providing solutions to engineering problems (Biomimetics). The hope is that the present book will make this understanding more widely known among scientists across different disciplines.’

Renowned Ornithologist, Palaeontologist and Emeritus Professor at the University of North Carolina, Alan Feduccia, said: ‘Lingham-Soliar’s The Vertebrate Integument is a splendid exposition on a difficult and broad biological topic, the vertebrate integument, an organism’s barrier between itself and the environment.  Lingham-Soliar is an internationally renowned, world-class expert in this field. Beginning with the first vertebrates, the jawless ostracoderms, through the transition to land, and finally the rise of land vertebrates, he brings together provocative new evidence from disparate fields in a beautifully integrative fashion with clear and engaging scientific prose.

‘There are few people with such diverse knowledge of biology, physiology, biomechanics and paleontology who could have assembled such a marvellous and beautifully written essay on this expansive field,’ added Feduccia. ‘Solly [the name by which he is most commonly known] is truly a renaissance paleontologist, led only by evidence, not by hopes and fears. He only takes a position when evidence leads him in that direction, and shows that while some speculation is necessary to advance the field (otherwise one’s reach cannot exceed one’s grasp), it must be done only with substantial convincing evidence, otherwise a field will drift into an abyss. There is little question that this book represents a landmark publication, and will be the gold standard on the integument for years to come.’

The scholarly journey which led to the publication of The Vertebrate Integument began when Lingham-Soliar saw that palaeontology needed to use highly rigorous research methods regardless of the difficulties of working just with fossilised bones and occasionally decayed soft tissue. For instance, when notable British Mathematician Sir James Lighthill extrapolated a relationship of high-speed swimming in the extinct ichthyosaurs to some of the fastest modern swimmers like tuna and dolphins based on body shape alone, Lingham-Soliar knew more evidence was needed.

‘Fast swimming in the latter two animal groups was also aided by a crossfibre collagen network in the skin, so I decided to look for it in ichthyosaurs – quite a task because it meant finding preserved skin in a 200 million-year-old fossil,’ said Lingham-Soliar. ‘The study was successful and published by the Royal Society of London in 1999 and it has led to studies in many animals since, including the great white shark.’

Lingham-Soliar acknowledges the influence of many mentors and colleagues in the development of his career, most notably his mother who, he says, ‘filled [his life] with culture, kindness and hope’, giving his family ‘dignity amidst the undignified world of pre-1994 South Africa’, and his brother who stimulated his love of knowledge.

Lingham-Soliar also credited the leadership and encouragement of Les Leedham, who encouraged his first career as a Research Chemist and subsequently in biology. He thanked Professors Beverly Halstead (Reading University) and Richard Estes (San Diego State University), his PhD supervisors, for his success during his years in exile in the UK when South Africa was still in the grip of apartheid. His acknowledgements go on to thank supervisors and collaborators from Oxford University, the Smithsonian, Tubingen University, the Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the University of North Carolina, to name a few, and evidence of the breadth of his work. In Life Sciences at UKZN he thanks Professor Sam Mukaritirwa (Head of the School of Life Sciences) who, Lingham-Soliar says, he respects as a person who would find solutions rather than obstacles.

Lingham-Soliar expressed the hope that future studies in biomechanics will form a core structure of research in universities in South Africa, as they already do in leading universities overseas. He remains grateful for the opportunities presented to him at UKZN, including its facilitation of his seminal research on the great white shark that ultimately led to research in diverse animals including feather microstructure in birds: “a chain reaction,” said Lingham-Soliar. He has a particularly soft spot for the support staff at UKZN, who he said have always bent over backwards to aid his research.

Lingham-Soliar plans to continue to work on the microstructure of keratin using a method he developed at UKZN which involves using microbes to expose hidden microstructural features that are otherwise tightly locked in, and thereby understand reasons for their biomechanical strength. He also plans to develop a new enzymatic hydrolytic method to investigate structural proteins – bringing together his two careers in Chemistry and Biology.

Christine Cuénod

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Third Re-publication Confirms Enduring Impact of Apartheid Cinema Book

Third Re-publication Confirms Enduring Impact of Apartheid Cinema Book
Professor Keyan Tomaselli with the four editions of his book The Cinema of Apartheid: Race and Class in South African Film. From left: 1989 (SA edition), 1988 (US edition), 1989 (UK), and 2014 (UK).

The Cinema of Apartheid:  Race and Class in South African Film was this year republished, reaching a fourth edition. Authored by Professor Keyan Tomaselli of the Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS), this fourth printing indicates the global impact of the book.

Not only does it provide a detailed history of South African cinema, but the book reflects how it played a central role in attempts to legitimise apartheid, in part, by presenting it as ‘a natural way of life’.

The Cinema of Apartheid was first published in the United States in 1988, endorsed by anti-apartheid stalwarts Nadine Gordimer and Dennis Brutus.  The Commonwealth edition appeared in 1989 via Routledge in the UK and Random-Century in South Africa. 

Now in 2014, the book has been re-issued in hardback by Routledge Library Editions and is also available as an ebook.  The US edition won the KWANZAA Award issued by the Africa Network (Chicago) chaired by Brutus.  The seven principles of KWANZAA are:  unity (Umoja), self-determination (Kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (Ujjima), cooperative economics (Ujamaa), creativity (Kuumba) and faith (Imani).

Commenting on the new edition, Tomaselli, who was recently recognised as a ‘hero and legend’ by the film industry via the Simon Sabela Award Ceremony, stated:  ‘The appearance of this new edition indicates the enduring value of academic work and its relevance for the industry, in addition to its being read by students globally.’

The new book can be accessed at:  http://routledge-ny.com/books/details/9780415726740/

Melissa Mungroo 

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Two Health Sciences Academics Present Research on Placentas in Paris

Two Health Sciences Academics Present Research on Placentas in Paris
Professor Anita Naicker (left) and Ms Anushka Ajith of the College of Health Sciences.

Two studies conducted by academics in the College of Health SciencesOptics and Imaging (O&I) Unit were presented at a Conference held recently in Paris by the International Federation of Placenta Associations (IFPA) and European Placenta Group (EPG).

The UKZN researchers are Professor Anita Naicker, who heads the O&I Unit, and Ms Anushka Ajith, recipient of a YW Loke New Investigator Travel Award which results from the endowment of YW (Charlie) Loke, Emeritus Professor of Reproductive Immunology at the University of Cambridge and member of both the IFPA and EPG.

An expert in hypertension research, Naicker presented a study titled, “Placental Expression of Soluble Endoglin in HIV-associated Preeclampsia”. Preeclampsia is a placental disease related to increased maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. Naicker said that in South Africa, the majority of the 14% of maternal deaths arising from hypertension are attributed to pre-eclampsia.

‘Increased placental levels of the anti-angiogenic factors – sEng and sFlt-1 – are correlated with interrupted angiogenic balance in preeclampsia development. Inconsistent data exist on the impact of HIV infection on the incidence of preeclampsia. Furthermore, the effects of HIV infection on placental levels of sEng in both normotensive and preeclamptic pregnancies are unknown,’ she said.

The study examined the placental immunoexpression of sEng, in HIV-negative and positive normotensive (N- and N+ respectively) and preeclamptic (P- and P+ respectively) pregnancies at term using immunohistochemistry and immunoelectron microscopy. Findings revealed that increased placental sEng immunoexpression results in placental vascular maladaptation and the reduced blood flow and consequent hypoxia.

‘Subsequent discharge of trophoblastic/necrotic tissue and antiangiogenic molecules lead to abnormal placentation and endothelial dysfunction evident in preeclampsia.  However, irrespective of the HIV status, placental sEng1 remains high in preeclampsia compared to normotensive pregnancies,’ said Naicker. 

Ajith’s study was titled, “Immunoelectron Localisation of TGF-ß1 in the Placental Bed of Normotensive and Pre-eclamptic Pregnancies”. She said the transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-ß1) gene produced at the fetomaternal interface is believed to be a major factor regulating trophoblast invasion in the uterus. The trophoblastic is the outermost layer of cells of the blastocyst that attaches the fertilised ovum to the uterine wall and serves as a nutritive pathway for the embryo. 

‘Trophoblast invasion involves several molecular steps including proliferation, a switch in integrin expression and fibronectin production, and TGF-bis known to regulate these processes.  However, the specific mechanisms by which TGF-bisoforms exert their pleiotropic actions and the extent to which these events are regulated during trophoblast adhesion, migration and invasion remains to be determined.  The aim of this study is to subcellularly immunolocalise TGF-bwithin the placental bed of normal and preeclamptic pregnancies.’

No observable difference in TGF-bimmunolocalisation was noted between the normotensive and preeclamptic groups in the study. Also, understanding TGF-bimmunolocalisation in the placental bed was deemed critical for understanding the ECM deposition effect of this peptide that invoked a control on trophoblast cell migration. 

Ajith said she was fortunate to be among the young investigators who received the YW Loke Award. In addition to the prestige of the award and its contribution to a growing CV, it also offset the recipient’s travel expenses to the Conference.

Lunga Memela

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Young Scientist to be Trained at the US National Institutes of Health

Young Scientist to be Trained at the US National Institutes of Health
Mr Wenkosi Qulu.

Mr Wenkosi Qulu, a master’s student conducting novel research in the Optics and Imaging Unit of UKZN’s College of Health Sciences (CHS), will spend three months training under esteemed Medical professor, Cheryl Winkler, on mapping by admixture linkage disequilibrium at the National Institutes of Health (NHI) in the United States.

The specialised technique will enable Qulu to do much-needed molecular work on the genes, MYH9 and APOL1, in HIV associated and idiopathic steroid resistant focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a common cause of kidney diseases in children, especially in South Africa.

Professor Rajendra Bhimma, a UKZN specialist in the field said: ‘To date the pathogenesis of idiopathic steroid resistant nephrotic syndrome (SRNS) – the majority of which are confirmed to be focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) and HIV-related nephropathy (predominantly FSGS) on biopsy – remains elusive.’

Bhimma explained that both conditions were common glomerular diseases in children of KwaZulu-Natal and that it had long been established that kidney disease was more frequent and progressed to end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) faster among populations of African descent as opposed to other racial groups.

‘The genetic basis for glomerulopathies in both the general population and the increased risk of kidney disease with its propensity for progression to ESKD in Africans remains elusive. Wenkosi’s study aims to determine the role of genetic variations at the MYH9 and APOL1 locus in the development of FSGS in children with idiopathic SRNS and HIV-related nephropathy (FSGS),’ said Bhimma. Qulu will learn new technologies and be able to exercise the skills obtained upon return.

‘This will be the first study of the genetics of HIV-associated and idiopathic focal segmental glomerulosclerosis that will be performed in patients of South African origin and will constitute ground-breaking research in this field,’ Bhimma said.

Excited and anxious about his first-time-abroad experience, the determined Qulu said: ‘With the new techniques I’m going to be exposed to, it’s going to be an adventure!’

His sister, Ms Lihle Qulu, a PhD student and CHS Developmental Lecturer, recently returned from the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary in Canada as a visiting student.

Qulu said their mother was always supportive of their academic achievements. He believes there are a lot of opportunities in scientific research for young, talented people and looks forward to pursuing his PhD upon completing his Masters.

Professor Anita Naicker, Qulu’s research supervisor, said it was very hard work he was heading for abroad, but also an amazing opportunity. She described it as capacity development for KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa at large.

 Lunga Memela

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