A research team from the School of Mechanical Engineering has successfully designed and fired a hybrid rocket test motor. This represents a milestone in the team’s quest to develop a South African sounding rocket for use by the scientific community.

The recent test-firing of the hybrid rocket motor by the School’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG) means the team is on track towards achieving their goal of flying a hybrid-powered rocket to an altitude of 10 km by the end of next year.  The team hopes to be able to test their rocket at the Overberg Test Range in the Western Cape, before proceeding with the design of a high-altitude variant. 

Sounding rockets are used to investigate the Earth’s upper atmosphere and are designed to take measurements and perform scientific experiments.  Their relatively low cost, rapid response times and ability to reach areas inaccessible to satellites make them an effective research tool.  However, since most launches take place from northern European and American sites, the costs are prohibitively high for African research organisations.

According to ASReG team leaders, Mr Michael Brooks and Mr Jean Pitot, “UKZN hopes to lower the cost of sounding rocket flights by developing a locally-built vehicle able to launch small payloads on suborbital trajectories.”

The laboratory-scale motor designed by the team uses a combination of solid and liquid propellants and offers advantages of better safety, performance and thrust control compared with pure solid propellant systems. An example of hybrid rocket motor technology is Richard Branson’s SpaceShipTwo, which aims to use conventional hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) fuel and a liquid oxidizer to power the spacecraft on a suborbital trajectory. UKZN’s PL-1 motor uses the next generation of hybrid propellant combinations; solid paraffin wax fuel and liquid nitrous oxide. Wax fuel offers better prospects for performance than conventional options such as HTPB or polypropylene, and is the subject of intense research interest at a number of prominent universities worldwide, including Stanford and Pennsylvania State University.

Hybrid rocketry has been pursued at an amateur level in South Africa by a few social groups using conventional fuels, however, UKZN’s work on advanced propellants is the first formal research to be undertaken at university level. 

author email :



Africa is a continent plagued with contradictions – very rich on the one hand, in terms of mineral resources, but also very poor in terms of food insecurity and poverty.  These were the sentiments expressed by the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal and UKZN Chancellor, Dr Zweli Mkhize in his opening address at a Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (VAA) workshop hosted by UKZN’s African Centre for Food Security (ACFS). 

Delegates from five partner universities in the SADC region converged on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus to work together on building a critical mass of African expertise in the area of vulnerability assessment, analysis and advocacy relating to food insecurity.  Members from UKZN’s School of Agricultural Sciences and Agribusiness and from Microbiology also participated in the discussions. The primary goal of the workshop was to identify and co-ordinate VAA training and to produce a regional curriculum that would be accessible to people in the SADC member states. 

The workshop represented a culmination of work started in 2006 when the ACFS was selected as a SADC Centre of Excellence in Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis.  The institutions working hand-in-hand with the ACFS include the University of Malawi, the Universities of Namibia, Tanzania and the Zimbabwe. 

Dr Mkhize praised the efforts of the partner institutions and urged them to empower vulnerable people in the region.  He said the only way to guarantee development is to involve the people on the ground and to ensure that they understand their own problems.  “It’s important to help them lift themselves out of poverty”, he said.  He emphasised the need to keep students in touch with communities and to avoid academic elitism and the ivory tower mentality.  Also, he cited “regional dynamics” as an important consideration and reminded delegates to “understand that people’s traditions and cultures are part of their nutrition.”   

According to Acting Director of the ACFS, Dr Joyce Chitja, “the workshop brought together five academic institutions to physically meet and cement a relationship which is critical for regional delivery.”  During the three-day workshop, the delegates were successful in establishing the key elements of the Memorandum of Understanding that governs the relationship between the five institutions.  However, the most significant outcome of the workshop was “a draft curriculum in VAA for the SADC region which includes short-term and long-term offerings,” said Dr Chitja. 

UKZN’s Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity (ccrri) hosted a seminar and the launch of Paying for Politics: Party Funding and Political Change in South Africa and the Global South, a book exploring the relationship between money and politics, on October 26. The research for the book was funded by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.


Two contributors to the book, Mr Sam Sole, an investigative journalist for the Mail and Guardian and Professor Anthony Butler from Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand spoke at the seminar. The Deputy Mayor of the eThekwini Municipality, Mr Logie Naidoo was also present.


Key issues in the financing of South African political parties, including one-party dominance, party-controlled businesses, corruption, and public financing, are explored in the book by leading analysts, academics and journalists. “The book will be of interest to all those who care for the future of South Africa’s democracy,” say the authors.


Speakers at the seminar noted that good governance and party funding share an intrinsic relationship. Issues raise included: How can political parties be stopped from milking public sector funds? Should public voting not be more important than internal contestation? Can there not be a rule-bound regulation on the role of the state in party funding?


“The future of the regulation of funding is quite an important matter,” said Professor Butler. One of the possible solutions he raised was that South Africa must increase the scale of public funding to reduce the rate of private donations to ruling parties.


Forcing transparency and disclosure of donations received by parties was also discussed in the seminar. “It’s hard to get disclosure to work as this will place pressure to expose fraudulent donations, resulting in them being hidden anyway,” said Professor Butler.

Top performing students for 2009 and 2010 were honoured at an awards ceremony hosted by the School of Accounting, in partnership with the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA).

The Chair of the Eastern Region of SAICA, Mr Mdu Zakwe, told students that there are many challenges ahead of them and that there is a shortage of chartered accountants in South Africa. He added that South Africa needs skills and that is why it is important for universities to stay relevant and to offer courses that challenge students.

Mr Zakwe noted that many UKZN graduates are working in Johannesburg making a difference in the country’s economy. He shared his experiences of studying at the University and how he always made sure he stayed ahead and worked hard.

Dean of the Faculty of Management Studies, Professor Lesley Stainbank cited a few stories to show that dedication, personal sacrifice, early mornings and late evenings contribute towards success.

Three students, Jacques van Ravesteyn, Saadiya Adam, and Akash Dowra were in the top 10 in the Public Practice Examinations set by the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors.  First year students, Lashlen Ramasrai, Robert Pool, Meleron Ramsamy were also awarded prizes. The prize for the top student in first year went to Ugendran Odayar.

In second year the overall top student award was won by Nadia Latiff and the other prize for second year went to Rosemary O’Neill.

The top achievers for third year were Dashen Naidoo, Nabilah Soobedaar, Laura Atkinson, Wesley Koen and Ruan Gertenbach. The overall achiever for third year was Heather Snyman.

author email :



Due to complete his BSc degree in Chemical Engineering, Mr Mark Williams-Wynn was recently selected by the Institution of Chemical Engineering (IChemE) as one of four students internationally to attend the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineering (IIChE)’s S-CHEMCON 2010 congress in Guntur, India. 

Mr Williams-Wynn’s visit to India forms part of the IChemE/IIChE Exchange Programme which has been created to provide students with the opportunity to travel to a foreign country and experience a different culture.  More importantly, it is designed to expose students to the ways in which chemical engineering is viewed and understood in other countries. 

S-CHEMCON is an annual conference organised by students from various Indian institutions and aims to update the chemical engineering fraternity the latest trends and technologies.  This year’s conference was held at the Rayapati Venkata Ranga Rao and Jagarlamudi Chandramouli (RF & JC) College of Engineering.  Mr Williams-Wynn was joined at the conference by Scottish, Australian and New Zealand students who formed the rest of the contingent selected from outside India. 

In keeping with the conference theme of “Process Technologies and Sustainable Development”, Mr Williams-Wynn presented a paper based on his fourth-year laboratory research project titled, An Investigation into the Wall Effects in a Percolation Test Column.  Other activities during the conference included visits to the Bapatla Engineering College, the Vignan University and to a chemical plant operated by Jocil Limited. 

Mr Williams-Wynn found the students in India very friendly and commented that they were treated like celebrities.  In addition, he said: “It gave me a different perspective on what chemical engineering involves.  I enjoyed meeting other chemical engineering students from different countries, and hearing their perspectives, as well as travelling in a foreign country.”

Boasting a bursary from SAPREF (a joint venture between Shell SA Refining and BB Southern-Africa), Mr Williams-Wynn will find himself working for this organisation next year.  He hopes to complete a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering in the near future but ultimately aspires to use his education to help people. 

author email :



UKZN Librarians introduced ResearchSpace, the University's online institutional repository, to interested academics at the November Senate meeting on the Westville campus. ResearchSpace is a open source database which contains the fulltext digital copies of UKZN theses and dissertations.


Theses from current masters and doctoral graduates are added to the database as soon as they are received by the Library. There are 1 582 theses online, and more are being added every day.


An extensive project is underway to digitize all past theses, back to the very early days of the University. Teams at each of the campus libraries are “withdrawing” print copies of theses from the former Universities of Durban-Westville and Natal, working backwards in time, scanning them and loading the digital copies onto the repository. The project is expected to take about two years to complete. UKZN is the first university in South Africa to embark on a complete retrospective theses digitization project of this nature.


ResearchSpace is already increasing the visibility, usage and impact of UKZN research. In October 2010 there were 6 000+ visits to the database, many of them from overseas. It is interesting to note that most of the visits came via Google!


ResearchSpace can be found at:
author email :



UKZN hosted the 25th Neuroscience School in Africa on the Westville campus from October 24-28.


Every year, global neuroscience bodies such as the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) and the International Society for Neuroscience (ISN) fund neuroscience schools in Africa. This year the programme was organised by the South African Neuroscience Society (SANS).


UKZN’s Professor Willie Daniels, the outgoing South African Neurosciences Society (SANS) Chair,  together with his local SANS organising committee from the University’s Human Physiology (Dr Musa Mabandla); Therapeutics and Medicines Management (Dr Strini Naidoo); SUME, the Curriculum co-ordinating Facility for Undergraduate Medical Education at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, (Dr Kogie Moodley); and Anatomy (Mr Salem Kharwa) departments, brought together local and international scientists to provide a four-day programme of intense neuro-biology, neuro-physiology, and neuro-anatomy practical workshops and neuroscience research.


Students from around the continent submitted abstracts of their research projects and 25 out of approximately 80 submissions were chosen to be presented at the Neuroscience School. 


The students said they were inspired by the opportunity to network with and get mentored by experts and academics of international ranking. “It was fantastic meeting the international neuroscience faculty members,” said Ms Jennifer Hsieh, an MSc student at the University of Cape Town.

UKZN’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) is overjoyed by its ever-growing list of achievements.


In line with the group’s objective – to help improve people’s lives through entrepreneurial empowerment and upliftment by conducting various projects to address the current socio-economic challenges facing South Africa – SIFE-UKZN’s activism has advanced the students to the final stage of the 13th Mayoral Awards 2010, to be held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli  International Convention Centre.


The annual Mayoral Awards recognise eThekwini citizens who have excelled in various categories, including Biodiversity, Community Development, Crime Prevention, a Clean Environment, Wealth and Job Creation, Tourism, and Achiever. SIFE-UKZN was amongst the four finalists out of 136 nominees for this award.


“This is a greatest achievement for SIFE-UKZN,” said Mr Mandla Ndaba, Student Leadership Development Practitioner at UKZN’s Westville campus and SIFE-UKZN’s Faculty Advisor.


SIFE-UKZN is also very proud of their President and student role model, Ms Nomonde Malanda who entered an SAfm essay writing competition which won her a trip to Tanzania.


Ms Malanda listens to the radio station and after reading about the competition in the City Press newspaper, she felt compelled to submit an essay. The essay topic was how to improve South Africa’s education system and combine education with cultural diversity to promote tolerance. She was motivated by her experience at UKZN. “I wish we (both students and staff) could live up to the Institution’s vision of being the Premier University of African Scholarship,” she said.

The “existential crisis” which Departments of French in South African universities have been going through over the past 10 years has raised a number of questions regarding the role and function of teaching, learning and speaking French in South Africa today, as well as the place learning and appropriate teaching of languages should take in education and training.

The special issue No 40 of French Studies in Southern Africa (2010) sums up, and at the same time heralds in, a new phase in the scientific exploration of issues related to French in this country and its role in the new social and educational democratic dispensation. The study also includes an examination of the ways in which universities are redefining their role in South Africa, a phenomenon not dissimilar to that found in a number of countries around the world.

This issue of French Studies is, to the knowledge of the French Programme at UKZN, the first local publication on research about French in South Africa. Furthermore, if it is true that research in French in this country has traditionally almost solely been the preserve of literature, this special issue is the first South African publication in French dedicated to themes other than (but not excluding) literature.

It bears witness to the breakthrough in national research in French in the fields of didactics and sociolinguistics, thus mirroring the diversification taking place on the ground in education, training and research. It also provides data on practices and representations in the teaching and learning of French in southern Africa. This volume of French Studies is therefore both a resource to be used and interpreted as well as a body of research on which to base and develop the issues it explores. In addition, French Studies hopes that the reflection around the present articles will give rise to further research questions and studies, which includes other foreign and the official languages.

This bilingual publication (in French and English), with a preface by Dr Neville Alexander Director of PRAESA at UCT, he accompanied and participated in drawing up the democratic language policies for government, and is a member of the Governing Board of the African Academy of Languages, brings together 22 international researchers who are involved in French in different spheres.

The School of Management is hosting Ms Tina Obermeit, a visiting academic from Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany for three months.

Ms Obermeit is the second visiting academic from this University in five years. She is conducting research on intercultural organisations.  Her decision to come to UKZN was made during the third American-African-European Summer School visit hosted by UKZN’s School of Management, when she visited Durban together with a colleague and 12 students from her university.

With the help of the School of Management, especially Professor Kantilal Bhowan, Ms Malindi Kunene and Mr Taahir Vajeth, plans were made for a three-month stay to work on her PhD. While at UKZN, she also hopes to improve her English and to gain exposure to different cultures. 

Ms Obermeit is also involved in a two-year research project called Sustainable Implementation of Innovation in Regional Work Context. This is a joint project of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration and the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at Chemnitz University of Technology.  The project is funded by the European Union and is aimed at giving researchers a chance to both research their own field of interest and to get experience in and work together with firms and companies.

The focus of her research will be on intercultural corporations and why certain corporations on the border of the former Eastern part of Germany and the Czech Republic failed.  She will also focus on South African and German corporations.

Asked about her views on Durban, Ms Obermeit said that the city is beautiful, but she misses her friends and family.
author email :



The School of Mechanical Engineering’s annual Open Day, held on October 29 on UKZN’s Howard College campus, was greeted with a sigh of relief by final-year mechanical engineering students.  Representing the culmination of many months of intense design work, the day showcased their Design and Research Projects which form a significant part of their final assessment.

Fourteen different projects, ranging from robots and rockets to solar pumping systems and wastewater treatment plants, were on display for evaluators, sponsors, parents and the general public.  Testing the students’ ability to be design engineers once they graduate, the projects are produced over a nine-month period by groups comprising three or four students.  They are evaluated according to strict criteria set by the Engineering Council of South Africa which include: problem solving, application of scientific and engineering knowledge, engineering design, teamwork and professional and technical communication. 

“Not only do the students interact with one another, but they also develop strong bonds by working overtime to meet their project objectives.  These projects also build confidence in their ability to research and design by using theory and experimentation to verify project objectives and specifications,” said the Head and Deputy Head of Mechanical Engineering, Professors Glen Bright and Lance Roberts. 

The Open Day was deemed a great success, attracting over 200 people who enjoyed interacting with the students and their supervisors.  Prizes, in various categories and determined by external evaluators, were awarded at the end of the day to the worthy recipients.  The prize for the Best Project went to Mr Jonathan Smyth, Mr Daniel Booyens and Mr Serushin Moodley for their Hybrid Rocket Motor Design which forms part of the hybrid rocket development programme initiated by the School’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG). The Design of a Body of a Sports Car Chassis by Mr Peter Wise, Mr Lungile Mtshali and Mr Gareth Slabbert claimed the Runner-up Prize and Mr Donovan Cawdrey, Mr Shikar Nunkissor and Mr Vishen Mandree’s design and testing of a TRIP steel load cell won the Staff Prize.  The Peer Prize went to Mr Niven Raman, Mr Dhivashen Sewmungal and Ms Fiona Leverone for CAESAR V2.0, their urban search and rescue robot.   

author email :