Ground-breaking research findings which demonstrate that the HIV epidemic could be reversed through increasing coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been published by UKZN.

The results of the study - conducted by the Wellcome Trust-funded Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies based in the College of Health Sciences – was published in the prestigious journal, Science.

It is the first time the positive impact of antiretroviral therapy on the rate of new HIV infections has been demonstrated in a community setting. 

The study - led by Professor Frank Tanser of the Africa Centre and funded by the National Institutes of Health (USA) - used innovative spatial statistical methods to compare the rate of new HIV infections in high versus low ART coverage communities in the Mtubatuba area in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

In the study population, a staggering one out of four adults (15 years and older) are infected with HIV.  Since 2004, ART has been rapidly scaled-up and, more than 24 000 patients have been initiated onto therapy in the Hlabisa sub-district.

Between 2004 and 2011, nearly 17 000 HIV-uninfected individuals were repeatedly tested for HIV in the Centre’s population-based HIV survey - one of the largest population-based HIV surveys in Africa. Through linkage to clinical records from the public-sector HIV Treatment and Care Programme, the researchers were able to precisely measure the proportion of all HIV-infected individuals receiving ART in the local community.

During the study period 1,413 participants in the study, who were HIV-uninfected to begin with, became infected with HIV, at a rate of 2.6 percent per year. Using innovative spatial statistical techniques the researchers were able to clearly show that when well-established risk factors of infection were taken into account, an HIV-uninfected individual was nearly 40 percent less likely to acquire HIV in the areas of high ART coverage (30-40 percent of all HIV-infected individuals on ART) compared to areas of lowest coverage (less than 10 percent of all HIV-infected individuals on ART).

‘The results provide convincing evidence that population-level reductions in the transmission of HIV can be achieved in nurse-led, devolved, public-sector ART programmes in rural sub-Saharan African settings,’ said Tanser.

Whilst ART is highly beneficial to the HIV-infected individual in terms of increased survival, a recent clinical trial indicated that in stable couples with one partner HIV-infected and the other not, the likelihood that an infected individual will pass the infection onto their uninfected partner is greatly reduced.

This finding has fuelled hopes that widespread use of ART could decrease the rate of new HIV infections at a population level.  However, it has been vigorously debated whether such population-level reductions could be achieved in “real-world” sub-Saharan African settings.

The results of several large-scale trials throughout Africa designed to specifically test this hypothesis will only be available in four years. One such trial is being conducted by the Africa Centre in communities outside the Centre’s HIV surveillance area.

UNAIDS have welcomed the results of the study describing them as “extremely important”, and have called for all countries and communities to achieve high coverage of antiretroviral therapy, both for the benefit of people living with HIV and for the communities in which they live.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, President of the South African Medical Research Council and Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) as well as a pre-eminent scientist in HIV/AIDS research said: ‘This major scientific finding shows how the roll-out of AIDS treatment is reducing the spread of HIV. This encouraging result highlights the importance of investing even more in AIDS treatment services in South Africa.

The Director of the Africa Centre, Professor Marie-Louise Newell, praised the local Department of Health for their continued effort in getting large numbers of patients onto ART at all primary health care clinics in the area. ‘The Africa Centre is pleased and honoured to have been able to support the Department of Health in this remarkable effort,’ she said.

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School of Engineering student Mr Bhekisizwe Mthethwa, who started his MSc in 2011, has completed his degree summa cum laude and has also had two papers based on his research published in respected international journals.

Dr Leigh Jarvis, Academic Leader of Research in the School of Engineering, described Mthethwa as a role model for other students.

Mthethwa, who was supervised by Professor Hongjun Xu, has consistently been a high performer. During his undergraduate degree in electronic engineering, he received 28 certificates of merit, six deans commendations and won awards for being the best electronic engineering student in his second, third and fourth years. In addition, his final year project received a “highly commended” award.

His academic performance caught the attention of industry and Mthethwa was awarded a full bursary for his undergraduate studies. A consequence of this was that after completing his undergraduate degree he worked at an engineering consulting firm in Johannesburg for three years gaining invaluable experience in the mining, infrastructure and energy industries.

However, Mthethwa says his goal has always been to complete his MSc at UKZN. His research focused on improving data rates in a low complexity MIMO wireless scheme and statistically deriving the bit error rate performance of this wireless scheme in an urban environment. He hopes his research will lead to faster streaming of videos on cellphones and other mobile devices.

Mthethwa, who acknowledged the guidance of Xu throughout his studies, says he plans to complete his doctoral studies at UKZN on a part-time basis.

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Themed Green is Gold and hosted by UKZN’s School of Life Sciences, the South African Association of Botanists (SAAB) recently held its 39th annual conference at Drakensville in the Drakensberg.

The conference celebrated the economic and scientific value of plant diversity in South Africa and attracted about 240 botanical boffins from around the world.

UKZN’s Professor Steve Johnson chaired the local organising committee while core sponsors were UKZN, InqabaBiotec and Bruker.

Johnson, an NRF A-rated scientist who currently holds the South African Research Chair in Evolutionary Biology, spoke in his opening address about the future of botany as a discipline.

Commenting on the trend in academic institutions towards mega-schools, Johnson said: ‘Botany will not have the institutional identity it had in the past. However, this does not mean Botany as a discipline is threatened. A lot of important research on plants is being undertaken at UKZN and elsewhere in South Africa.’ 

Johnson stressed there was a greater role than ever for associations such as the SAAB to keep specific disciplines alive and engaged. 

Sub-themes of the conference included savanna ecology; ethonobotany; plant diversity and taxonomy; phytochemistry and biological uses; conservation biology; pollination biology; ecosystem services; global change and plant invasions, and chemical ecology.

Discussing the themes, Johnson said:  ‘Fields such as plant pollination biology and ethnopharmacology are currently dominant areas of research in South Africa because they are based on biodiversity.’ 

He explained biodiversity not only gave insights into evolution and ecology, but it also had practical benefits such as being a source of new medicinal compounds. Biodiversity was thus a geographic advantage South Africa had in terms of its research.

Johnson pointed out that the same geographical advantage applied to other fields such as geology and astronomy.

The conference was divided into a number of plenary and parallel sessions, with invited plenary speakers - both local and international - selected to represent cutting-edge research.

Professor Rod Peakall, an evolutionary biologist from the Australian National University, spoke on the chemistry, ecology and evolution of pollination by sexual deception; Professor Ilse Kranner, a plant physiologist from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, discussed the mechanisms of seed ageing; Biochemist Professor Dirk Bellstedt of Stellenbosch University considered molecular tools for phylogenetics at different scales;  Professor Jill Farrant of the University of Cape Town delivered an address on the use of resurrection plants as models to understand how plants tolerate extreme water loss; and Dr Sally Archibald, a CSIR senior research scientist and lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, covered the fire-vegetation-climate system and how ecology can contribute to earth system science.

One innovation at the gathering was a Botanical Quiz, arranged by Dr Christina Potgieter, senior technician at UKZN’s Bews Herbarium.

Conference proceedings concluded with a gala dinner, at which UKZN scooped two of the four student awards on offer. 

·      MSc student Mr Florent Martos won the prize for best poster presentation with his work titled: The Chemical Basis of Specialisation in a Pollination System: Deception of Drosophilid Flies through Olfactory Mimicry of Fermenting Fruits.

·     Ms Jadine Sivechurran won the overall award for the best MSc student presentation for her talk titled: Effects of Visual and Olfactory Cues on Carrion Fly Attraction, with Special Reference to the Function of Floral Traits in Stapeliads.

The conference was followed by a special research symposium, sponsored by Annals of Botany, titled: Drivers of Plant Speciation: Understanding the Role of Pollinators in Shaping Geographical Variation in Floral Traits.

Focusing on pollinators as drivers of plant speciation, the symposium explored the evolution of flowers using specific case studies and broader integrated perspectives.  This symposium was co-organised by Johnson and Dr Timo van der Niet of the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre at Leiden University in The Netherlands.

Johnson said the theme of the conference - Green is Gold - was inspired both by the Olympic Games and, closer to home, Pelham Senior Primary.  He thanked his willing team of colleagues and student and postdoctoral helpers for putting in the long hours it took to make both the conference and the symposium such a resounding success. 

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South African universities can no longer be excused for failing to increase the number of quality doctoral and postdoctoral researchers in science, technology and indigenous knowledge.

This was debated recently at UKZN’s Medical School campus when Dr Gansen Pillay, Deputy CEO of the National Research Foundation’s Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA), delivered a presentation to scientists in HIV and TB research on funding opportunities at the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa.

In his presentation, which was part of the K-RITH Research Lecture Series, Pillay said the NRF had ambitious objectives to scale up the country’s research enterprise by 2020, proposing to create 198 additional research chairs across all levels of development.

In addition, the aim was to create 20 more Centres of Excellence to up the total to 30, declare seven more National Research Facilities hiking the total to 13, and support 65 new broad collaborative science programmes that would require inter-institutional and regional African research interactions by South African scientists.

He said the NRF’s vision for 2015 was aligned to the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) 10-year plan to help drive South Africa’s transformation towards a knowledge-based economy in which the production and dissemination of knowledge led to economic benefits and enriched all fields of human endeavour.

Pillay said although South Africa was a small player in the international scientific paper trail, the country was a significant player nonetheless. He said the NRF maintained its mandate to promote and support research through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary research facilities.

This was necessary to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology including indigenous knowledge and thereby contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of all the people in South Africa.

Pillay outlined a host of opportunities available for the next generation of emerging and established researchers at all 23 South African universities.

‘The one thing that we cannot compromise at the NRF is excellence. Excellence and quality is the cornerstone of our core business.’ He said that through its high-end equipment and facilities, the NRF was able to attract “the best scientists in the world” to the country’s doorstep and it was important to note that these facilities were national property and an extension of South African universities.

Pillay said it was alarming that only 34 percent of university staff in South Africa had doctoral degrees. He said this needed urgent attention if the universities’ core business was to produce more PhDs for the country. ‘A postdoctoral culture can change the entire scope of an institution.’

The NRF was said to have many opportunities for new generation researchers (masters and PhD) but one of the challenges was retaining “good” students at a postgraduate level of study, especially as some came from poor backgrounds and were expected to find jobs and put food on the table as soon as they completed their undergraduate qualifications.

Pillay mentioned that the NRF also had postdoctoral fellowships such as the Thuhtuka postdoctoral track available for emerging researchers who could either be members of staff or students.

He said there was competitive support for unrated researchers and announced that the NRF would soon be launching a career rewards programme.

A set of opportunities were listed as available for established researchers including an incentive programme for rated researchers, benefits for community engagement research, mobility grants for staff and collaborative research grants.

Pillay said it was prestigious to become an NRF-rated researcher, citing the example of UKZN’s Professor William Bishai, Director for K-RITH and an A-rated NRF researcher, who continues to drive excellence in TB and HIV research.

Pillay encouraged the scientists present to apply for relevant NRF funding, saying that it was important to publish in quality journals and not fear rejection when applying for funding. ‘I believe if your research is good and you are passionate enough about it, you are bound to receive funding for it.’

He said, NRF’s strategic investment henceforth would include the DST/NRF South African Research Chairs Initiative, a Centre for Excellence Programme, a National Equipment Programme, National Nanotechnology Equipment Programme, and an institutional engagement partnership development programme.

‘The idea is to bring highly qualified, passionate and like-minded people together with ideas that can be funded.’

UKZN’s College of Health Sciences also offers fee remission for PhD studies, scholarships for masters studies and funding to support the drive to expand its research strategy. This information is available on the web at:

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A UKZN environmental sciences student, Ms Nicole Reddy, has scooped third prize in a photography competition at Keele University in Staffordshire in the United Kingdom.

Reddy was in the UK on a student exchange programme which allows students, who meet the academic requirements to study at a host university, to gain credits towards an undergraduate/postgraduate degree.

The five months she spent at Keele University count towards her Bachelor of Science degree in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UKZN.

Aimed at international students, Keele University’s Through the Lens competition required students to take photographs showing a person, place, idea, or experience from their time in the UK.

While environmental science and photography seem worlds apart, Reddy has a keen eye and “sort of stumbled across the site” of her photograph.

She entered a photograph of Keele Hall, a 19th century Grade 2 listed mansion house set in a picturesque spot of the University surrounded by indigenous plants found in Staffordshire and Newcastle-Under-Lyme.

‘Studying environmental science, I was intrigued by the flora of this area and walked around the Keele Hall gardens. Standing at the back of the building I saw the clouds break a little; and this let through some sunshine which formed a beautiful rainbow providing the perfect backdrop to the majestic Keele Hall.’

Luckily she had her camera handy and was able to take full advantage of the scene.

‘This memory was one of my fondest at Keele because when I saw the rainbow and Keele Hall, I felt a sense of achievement. I felt like all my hard work had finally paid off.’

Reddy won 25 pounds for her photograph which she titled: Love is Life’s Rainbow. 

Currently completing the final semester of her undergraduate degree on the Westville campus, Reddy relished the experience of spending a semester abroad.

‘The British education system was extremely tough and required dedication and effective time management. A lot of emphasis is placed on self-study and individual research with less contact time in lectures and practicals.

‘It was definitely a challenge, but proved to be a rewarding one by just knowing that through all my hard work and sacrifice I managed to achieve something so great, like going to study at a university in the United Kingdom.’

‘I am grateful to UKZN for providing such an amazing opportunity. I would definitely encourage other students to take advantage of such programmes if they meet the requirements.’

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The College of Law and Management Studies has welcomed a new academic, Professor Nomthandazo Ntlama, to its ranks.

Ntlama was initially offered an Associate Professorship in the School of Law in January, however just weeks later she was appointed Acting Dean of Research for the College.

A specialist in Constitutional Law and Human Rights, Ntlama joined UKZN because of its reputation as the premier University of African scholarship, high rankings in research among global universities and, most importantly, due to a predisposition for teaching.

Jesting that the shift in appointment was similar to being “thrown into the lion’s den”, Ntlama says she looked forward to the challenge of promoting law and research in the College.  She views research as the cornerstone to new knowledge generation and was keen to be in a position where she could facilitate research and academic advancement.

Motivating young researchers was vital.  ‘An inter-dependence exists between teaching and research. As an institution, we need to be biased towards the upcoming and emerging researcher in terms of building their capacities. There’s a gap that needs to be minimised between juniors and senior researchers in relation to knowledge production.’

Ntlama suggested identifying people with the potential for research and setting up a pool of young researchers who would receive the necessary support with their research activities being monitored.

In line with Ntlama’s view on developing mentor-mentee programmes, the College plans to roll-out the Mentoring and Research Incentive Programme (MARIP), which proved successful in Law, to all Schools.

Ntlama’s expertise in Constitutional and Human rights law was achieved through reading for her postgraduate degrees - a masters in Public Law (LLB) at the University of Stellenbosch and a doctorate in Law (LLD) from the University of South Africa - as well as work experience in academia.

Ntlama started her academic career at the University of Fort Hare where she obtained a Bachelor of Law degree and between 2002 and 2004 taught Criminal law and Criminal Procedure and co-ordinated the outreach projects on Human rights at the UNESCO Oliver Tambo Chair of Human Rights under the auspices of the Faculty of Law.

She later joined the South African Human Rights Commission as a researcher focusing on equality. Before her appointment at UKZN, Ntlama held the position of Associate Professor at Unisa’s Department of Public, Constitutional and International Law: College of Law.

Disagreeing with the approach society utilises in the promotion of gender equality led Ntlama to the field of Constitutional and Human Rights law. ‘The victimhood approach in the promotion of gender equality stigmatises the issue and shouldn’t be the remedy we seek. My concern is that by proving victimhood we inbox people in particular closets, instead of approaching gender equality as ordinary citizens entitled to equal rights and responsibilities.’

Same sex relationships and the application of Customary Law are also areas Ntlama has researched over the years.

Publication of her doctoral thesis in a book titled: The promotion of the Right to gender equality in post-apartheid South Africa: A Distant Dream? was a coup for Ntlama.

Her research papers have been published in reputed international and national journals including: Stellenbosch Law ReviewSpeculum JurisLaw Development and Democracy and U.S.-China Law Review.

She was part of the think tank for the National House of Traditional Leaders and is chuffed that senior academics quote her research findings while teaching.

Formerly from King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape, Ntlama is an avid netballer and in 1997 she earned a place in the national netball team representing South Africa in tournaments abroad. She is also a preacher at a Methodist Church.

Commenting on Ntlama’s appointment, Dean and Head of the School of Law, Professor Managay Reddi, said: ‘Professor Ntlama has a deep interest in research and her passion for this has led to her having innovative ideas for improving the research output of the College. Her involvement as Acting College Dean of Research will be of benefit to every school.’

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Professor Bo Nordell of Sweden, an expert on global warming, was UKZN’s guest on the Westville campus on Friday last week.

Nordell, the Head of Luleå University of Technology’s Research Group on Renewable Energy, discussed the causes and implications of global warming with University academics.

The benefits of an inter-disciplinary approach as well as alternative sources of fuel were also explored.

Demonstrating how companies can effectively reduce their consumption of energy, Nordell referred to a paper mill in Sweden which significantly reduced its consumption of oil in two years.

‘The mill consumed 100 000 tons of oil each year. This was reduced to 8 000 tons annually once they changed their source of energy,’ said Nordell.

Nordell will talk about his contributions to science at a public lecture titled: Global Warming – another perspective, at UKZN’s Howard College Theatre on Thursday, March 7, at 5.30pm.

‘Fossil fuel combustion generates CO2 and heat which sooner or later are let out into the atmosphere,’ said Nordell. ‘My hypothesis means that the emitted heat is heating the world and that CO2 has very little influence on the warming.’

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Abafundi abenza unyaka wokuqala eSikoleni sezoMthetho kwi-Khempasi yase Howard College kanye nase Mgungundlovu babambe iqhaza emicimbini yokwenza izifungo ngesonto eledlule ukuqinisa ukuzinikela kwabo ngokuthobela imithetho yeNyuvesi kanye nokuziphatha kahle ngendlela eqotho.

Ngokusayina kanye nokusho noma ukulandela izifungo, abafundi bayazibophezela kuMphakathi weNyuvesi ukuthi bazokwenza okufanelekile, bathobele imithetho yeNyuvesi, bahloniphe abasebenzi kanye nabanye ozakwabo, basebenzise izinsiza zeNyuvesi ngokunakekela kanye nokucophelela baphinde futhi nabo baziphathe kahle  ngobuqotho uma sebengena kulomkhakha noma kulo msebenzi wezoMthetho.

Umcimbi usube minyaka yonke kwikhalenda leSikole sezoMthetho okuhloswe ngawo ukuthi ufundise, uhlomise umqondo ngokuziphatha kahle.

Ngesikhathi benikezwa amafomu okwenza izifungo, abafundi bathola noMthethosisekelo waseNingizimu Afrika okukhombisa isidingo sokuba nolwazi ngalokhu okuqukethwe yiwo njengoba ngelinye ilanga beyoba abammeli. 

Balinganiselwa ema-330 abafundi abebeyingxenye yalo mcimbi eHoward College kanye nabanye abayi-100 ekhempasini yaseMgungundlovu abenze izifungo.

EThekwini, bekunezazimfundo ezikhulume nabafundi, uSolwazi Karthy Govender,  okunguyena owayewusizo ekwethuleni umcimbi wokwenza izifundo kwiSikole sezoMthetho ngonyaka we-2010.

Ekhuluma ngezinhlosongqangi zokwenza izifungo, oka-Govender uphinde wabalula ukubaluleka ukuhlonishwa kwezinsiza zeNyuvesi ngabafundi kanye nokuhlonipha abasebenzi okuyibona abaphonsa esivivaneni sokuthuthukisa uhlobo oluhle lwempilo yabafundi.

USolwazi Michael Kidd onguMholi wezazimfundo kumunxa wezifundo zomthetho-wenhlalakahle, ukhulume nabafundi eMgungundlovu ebatshela ukuthi babe nenhlanhla engandele bani ukuba babe ngabafundi base-UKZN, esikhiqize labo abaneziqu okumanje banezikhundla eziphezulu kulo mkhakha.

Ukhumbuze abafundi ngezinga eliphezulu lendlela yokuziphatha elilindelekile kubona. UGovender uphinde waphawula ukuthi ngokufunda kulesi sikole, abafundi kuzokwenzeka ukuthi bahlangabezane nezinselelo nokungazo kuzokhombisa impumelelo yabo yangomuso.

UNksz Sanjeevani Maharaj, ube omunye umfundi othathe izifungo kwi-khempasi yase Howard College, ubone lomcimbi njengendlela yokuziphatha kahle. “Kimina kuchaze izifungo esizithathayo ukulandela lo mkhakha ngokuziphatha ngengomuso, kanye nokulandela lokho esikufundiswa othisha bethu”.  Uphokophelele kakhulu ekutheni aphothule iziqu zakhe zoMthetho esikoleni esesikhiqize abammeli abaningi asebephumelelile.

UNksz. Nosipho Mkizwana naye obengomunye wabafundi eHoward College, ubeke wathi:

“ukwenza izifungo kungithobisile futhi kube umuzwa omuhle kakhulu. Ngizizwe njengoMmeli.

Umfundi wase Mgungundlovu, uNksz. Nolwazi Ncongo uthe, ukuba ingxenye yalo mcimbi kumenze wacabanga wajula ngolomkhakha awulandelayo.

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One of South Africa’s few black PhD Fine Arts students, Mr Thembalakhe Shibase of UKZN’s College of Humanities, presented his solo exhibition: Paint, Masculinity, Power & Violence at the Erdmann Contemporary & the Photographers Gallery in Cape Town recently.

Professor Rozena Maart of Gender Studies and Acting Director for the Centre of Critical Research on Race and Identity at UKZN gave the opening address.

Shibase’s exhibit stems from his current PhD thesis where he has gone further than critiquing leadership and institutions and showcases the direct link between and among masculinity, patriarchy, power, oppression and violence. Through paint and the process of painting he has attempted to reveal such links.

‘Being one of the few Black Fine Arts PhD students is exciting yet also challenging in a sense because there is that added pressure to succeed. Having Professor Maart as my supervisor is inspiring because she pushes me to do my best and has helped me immensely,’ said Shibase.

Shibase is a registered PhD student in UKZN’s Gender Studies department. ‘I have completed my postgraduate study but it’s great to step into another university as it opens one up to different influences and views on the Arts.’

Shibase encourages other Fine Arts students to strive and complete postgraduate study and to try and contribute significantly to the Arts in terms of research and teaching.

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Dr Lee-Anne McKinnell, Managing Director of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), has met sponsored postgraduate students in the School of Chemistry and Physics to discuss issues around their proposed projects.

McKinnell was accompanied by SANSA Research Support Unit Manager, Dr Kessie Govender,  and the agency’s Finance and Business Manager, Ms Sylnita Pijoos.

A key focus at SANSA is the development of transferable skills to enhance an exciting and viable space industry for the future. 

During the past decade, SANSA Space Science has collaborated with UKZN on various research projects, including the South African physical sciences flagship project in Antarctica,  the HF Radar Project.

In 2007, SANSA and UKZN jointly appointed a space physicist, Dr Andrew Collier, to carry out various research projects. 

The number of students sponsored by SANSA to undertake their postgraduate studies in space physics has increased over the past few years.

To address the skills shortage the National Space Programme will experience in delivering on its objectives, SANSA has broadened the range of subjects for the 2013 academic year to include physics, mathematics, computer science and engineering.

The success of this initiative has resulted in approximately 50 percent of all SANSA Space Science bursaries being awarded to UKZN students for 2013. This is the highest SANSA bursary allocation to a South African university in 2013.

‘It is encouraging to see the interest shown by the UKZN students to undertake space science related projects, as well as the commitment that the UKZN administration has given to this programme,’ said McKinnell. ‘The UKZN Space Physics Programme is well known nationally and internationally with many great space physicists being developed from it.

‘In expanding the country’s space programme we need to be mindful of our history, and make use of our expertise. In doing so, we will without a doubt create an exciting space programme that will provide a useful service to the nation.’

SANSA and UKZN are in the process of finalising a Memorandum of Understanding, formalising their intention to continue to collaborate in mutually beneficial ways in the field of space science. McKinnell said: ‘Our collaboration with UKZN is important in creating world-class research, transferable skills and developing a knowledge based economy for South Africa.’

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Senior citizens at Graceland Nursing Home in Durban enjoyed a fun-filled afternoon when final-year students from UKZN’s Audiology Discipline attended to their hearing needs in the spirit of International Ear Care Day on 3 March.

The students were led by Ms Zandile Blose, Senior Tutor in the Discipline, who said ear care was essential for the elderly because improper care could damage the ear and cause other ear-related problems which included hearing loss. Blose said the Ear Care campaign had been a success.

The elderly received free screening for hearing loss and the campaign included tips on how the participants could take care of their ears, hearing and hearing aids. They were treated to an “exciting” line-up of presentations, a skit, a bingo competition and information sessions where they received pamphlets together with much appreciated stress balls to exercise their fingers.

The students advised participants about the importance of seeking help if they had hearing difficulties. They said those with hearing problems should always ensure they could see the face and lips of those they were communicating with. 

The visit was part of the Audiology Discipline’s Clinical Practice and Aural Rehabilitation programme. 

Mrs Dorothy Brooker (92) and Mrs Irene Underhill (83) said the campaign was very informative and enjoyable. ‘I was surprised that I could hear everything,’ said Underhill.

One of the final-year groups is researching cerumen management – the control of earwax. They said everyone was supposed to have wax in their ears but too much led to several problems, including hearing loss.

Their study is investigating whether Durban-based audiologists in the public and private sector have taken up cerumen management in their practice – a specialty that was previously restricted to general practitioners and ear, throat and nose (ENT) specialists collectively known as otolaryngologists.

Most of the final-year students said they liked working with the elderly because they always showed appreciation. They said there was a direct link between the theory they had learnt at UKZN and the practical application in the clinical and community settings.

Final-year student Mr Ntando Zulu said he loved working with the elderly.

The campaign also drew attention to the causes of hearing loss and what could be done to prevent and treat the problem.

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Professor Sabiha Essack, Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Health Sciences and Chair of the South African Committee of Health Sciences Deans, has been appointed to serve on the KwaZulu-Natal Health Research and Ethics Committee.

In line with the National Health Act of South Africa, the committee decides whether to approve research proposals and protocols of all human subject-related health research projects undertaken within the province for the purposes of ensuring the protection of the dignity, rights, safety and well-being of all human participants, especially vulnerable participants.

It also decides on approvals of health-related research premised on the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki which focuses on ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects, including research on identifiable human material and data.

Essack said this appointment by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health was in line with her Ministerial appointment on the National Health Research Ethics Council.

A firm believer in evidence based outcomes and leading by example, Essack heads a vibrant research unit – the Antimicrobial Research Unit at UKZN – which is currently training some 15 postgraduate students, for whom she serves as supervisor, contributing to the knowledge base in her specialist field of pharmaceutical microbiology through research and publication.

Essack is co-Chair of the South African Chapter of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA) and country representative on the Global Respiratory Infections Partnership (GRIP).

She also serves on bodies such as the International Society of Chemotherapy Antimicrobial Stewardship Working Group, the South African National Working Group of the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership (GARP) and the South African Antibiotic Stewardship Programme Working Group.

Essack said serving on any committee presents an invaluable learning and personal development opportunity in addition to the opportunity to provide a national service.

Her accolades include having received several prestigious scholarships and bursaries from the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council, the National Research Foundation and having successfully secured several research grants for Essential National Health Research.

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Three academics from the disciplines of Rural Health and Family Medicine at UKZN recently presented findings from a study in which they evaluated the District Based Learning (DBL) Project of final-year medical students who completed the “rural block” of their Family Medicine programme training at district-based hospitals affiliated to the University. 

The results of this research were not included in the final DBL close-out report delivered by the Centre for Rural Health (CRH) in 2011/2012. 

The review was presented at the CRH by Dr Patrick McNeill, Professor Andrew Ross and Dr Paula Diab who had identified the need to assess whether students completing the programme felt comfortable, competent and confident about working in rural settings as doctors in family medicine. 

The study followed the 2011 cohort of final-year MBChB students placed in the Church of Scotland Hospital, Eshowe Hospital, G J Crookes Hospital, Manguzi Hospital, Mosvold Hospital, Mseleni Hospital and Murchison Hospital. The researchers said the findings would lend themselves for careful consideration in curriculum design and ensuring that students who complete the new six-year MBChB programme in 2015 would have had a “holistic” training experience as doctors working in family medicine within a rural setting.

A total of 168 questionnaires were completed by students and 86 percent reported that what they had learnt in the MBChB programme prior to entering the community was very useful.  In certain instances some said they needed additional skills to what they already had, and others said having not received rosters at some hospitals left them feeling they were lacking guidance while progressing through the programme. 

The study found that 76 percent of the students rated the accommodation provided as average or above average. Issues of maintenance, upkeep and cleaning of these University facilities at distant rural sites was said to be an on-going challenge which needed attention. The vast majority of students used the University facilities with a small percent opting to make their own accommodation arrangements. 

It was a concern that the studies of some students suffered in the rural setting due to a lack of technical support such as access to computers, libraries, hospital intranet and telemedicine. However, students did have adequate access to formal teaching in the rural hospitals as well as other academic activities. The students said the practical experience was invaluable; they liked working in smaller groups, and rural doctors were willing to teach them. 

The research included interviews with supervisors at the hospitals, the majority of whom had been newly appointed in their roles as a supervisors. They saw their roles mainly as a liaison between the University and the hospital and expressed the desire to become more involved with University activities in order to better understand what was required of them as well as the students. 

The supervisors enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the students and that mutual learning opportunities were presented. They also mentioned that exposure of their hospital to students had positive effects for future recruitment of staff at the hospital. 

The researchers said it was important to understand the programme’s efficacy in training the students, saying there was always room for improvement. The study factored in the students’ preparation and skills training prior to entering the community, logistical issues, onsite teaching and supervision, accommodation, technical support available, benefits to the hospital, benefits to the students, and a review of their activities and learning experiences at the hospitals. 

They said this had implications on how the programme would be rolled out for family medicine and rural health in future, mentioning that it would help detect which hospitals were feasible to place students in.

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Unemployed young people in the eThekwini Municipality region were the subject of a Local Economic Development (LED) guest lecture at the Graduate School of Business and Leadership (GSB&L).

Presenting the lecture, titled: Leading the Young, were guest speakers Ms Caili Forrest, a researcher in eThekwini Municipality’s Economic Development and Investment Promotion Unit, and Ms Phumla Jali, a research Intern in the same Unit.

Forrest and Jali told LED students that tackling youth unemployment should be the priority when addressing the development of the local economy.  

They said 600 000 young people in the eThekwini region were unemployed due to limited job opportunities, lack of skills and poor education and suggested more jobs be generated in transport, finance and manufacturing sectors within the private sector rather than depending too heavily on the public sector.

An immediate priority in creating youth employment would be to up-scale all existing effective mentoring and entrepreneurship programmes.

According to the researchers, entrepreneurship can only be a solution in addressing youth unemployment if effective entrepreneurial support mechanisms are provided.

Forrest suggested that entrepreneurial support mechanisms should extend to the provision and development of soft skills which include: business skills, the ability to generate ideas, manage time and skills necessary to run an organisation successfully.

Secondly, she suggested psycho-social support for the youth who may have had to deal with the trauma of difficult backgrounds before they become productive members of society. ‘Young vulnerable people must be supported with employment opportunities first before they venture into entrepreneurship,’ said Forrest.

She said universities played an important role in producing skilled professionals but they needed to adopt an entrepreneurial mind set even if they worked for a company.

The GSB&L at UKZN plays a significant role in developing entrepreneurship with the academic programmes it offers. A new addition this year is the launch of the Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship which combines theoretical knowledge with practical applications.

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A joint project involving UKZN has resulted in 1 100 Grade 9 learners being informed about the advantages of choosing mathematics and science subjects for the senior phase of high school.

The project was held with five secondary schools on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast as well as various schools from the Cato Manor area in the first two weeks of February.

Also involved in the project were the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) and the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education (CASME).

UKZN representatives Dr Tanja Reinhardt and Mrs Prashina Kallideen were on hand to entertain and inform the learners.

Reinhardt, the Co-ordinator of the University’s Science and Technology Education Centre, gave a career talk and presented a highly engaging science show while Kallideen, the outreach and public relations co-ordinator at the Astronomy and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU), provided the audience with some insight into astronomy and cosmology.

In addition to the talks and shows, each learner was provided with a resource pack which included a mathematics set to aid their geometry lessons and various kits with which they could conduct scientific experiments at home. The high schools selected for the project received large mathematics sets to assist in teaching geometry, “rock boxes” to improve the teaching and learning of geology and the sciences, as well as other small tools to improve the appeal of the sciences.

Reinhardt, who served as project co-ordinator, said she hoped the intervention would translate into positive results in a few years’ time.

The aim, said Reinhardt, was for the project to encourage the targeted learners to opt for mathematics and science at high school, and that this would lead to an increased interest in science and engineering degrees at UKZN.

She thanked SAASTA and the DST, who provided funding for the project.

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Ninety three percent of UKZN’s 2011 BCom Accounting and Honours in Accounting graduates are on track to become fully fledged chartered accountants after receiving the good news that  they have passed the qualifying Public Practice Examination (PPE)

The result surpasses the national average pass rate of 76 percent.

The Independent Board for Auditors, the body that administers the examination, released the results recently. The PPE is the final competency examination accounting graduates sit for before they are allowed to practice as chartered accountants.

Qualifying for the PPE is a stringent process where graduates have to acquire work training with a registered chartered accountant and pass the South African Institute for Chartered Accountants (SAICA) Initial Test of Competence taken a year before the PPE.

Professor Philip Stegen, the Co-ordinator of Accounting Programmes in the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance, said the School was delighted with the results of its past students.

‘We realise that the PPE is a very rigorous examination and we are therefore proud that we’ve accomplished a pass rate of 96 percent which is better than the national average. These former students will be completing their training contracts at the end of this year and will be qualified chartered accountants in a position to contribute to the economy of the country in numerous sectors,’ said Stegen.

Miss Heather Snyman, who is serving her articles at KPMG in Pietermaritzburg, says she felt a sense of accomplishment that almost seven years of studying and training will be over soon. ‘For me the challenge was juggling my studying together with the demands of articles.’

Snyman’s ultimate goal is to become a financial director.

Miss Laura Atkinson, who graduated cum laude in 2011, was relieved that all examinations for qualifying as a chartered accountant were now over.

Atkinson, who is serving her final year of articles at PWC in Pietermaritzburg, said: ‘It’s a relief that there are no more hurdles in my way to becoming a CA. The reality that I have passed this important exam has yet to sink in. Working here (PWC) is a great opportunity where I see the theoretical work I learnt at university being practised.’

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Organisations representing the spectrum of law professions in South Africa converged on both the Howard College and Pietermaritzburg campuses last week (February 27 and 28) to participate in Law Profession’s Day hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Law.

Law Profession’s Day is an annual event enabling a student-recruiter interface aimed at informing law students of their job prospects. Recruiters in-turn have an opportunity to seek out candidates they’d like to recruit to serve articles. About 24 companies including a series of recruiters representing commercial law firms, Legal Aid South Africa, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Law Society of South Africa were in search of law talent among UKZN’s students.

The Dean and Head of the School of Law Professor Managay Reddi indicated that the event ensured that students were exposed to all branches of the legal profession. ‘Students have the opportunity to speak to lawyers from a range of organisations and have their questions answered by people they may not otherwise have access to. Once law firms have decided who they want to hire the Law School provides venues for interviews.’

An accomplishment that the School of Law is particularly proud of was that it had conferred the highest number of cum laude and summa cum laude law degrees in the country to graduates, last year. ‘The quality of education that student get here (School of Law) is comparable to that of leading institutions nationally and internationally. Any graduate of this institution is an asset to the firms.’

According to Reddi the event has allowed the School to form close relations with many of the law firms who have been known to fund projects and provide scholarships for students and members of staff.

Students Miss Tafazwm Chiposa and Miss Londiwe Goba found the event to be informative. They found the recruiters eager to assist. They liked the eye-catching presentations and found the promotional material contained important details.

A Masters student Mr Nishal Maharaj who is interested in criminal justice said: ‘It’s a good initiative by the School. The event allows us to interact with law firms and realise their expectations. It’s a good experience to meet and greet them (recruiters).’

The event was good for student Miss Jodi van Wyk who said all her questions on her law career had been answered. ‘It has given me focus on what I need to do. I would like to focus on corporate law in the business sector,’ she added. Her friend Miss Cathryn Dorasamy who chose law to help people in need of legal help on labour matters, found the representatives of the various firms “extremely helpful”.

A Human Resources Manager for the Legal Aid South Africa, Mr Baboo Brijall said: ‘We are looking for candidates who in the main are passionate for justice, caring and want to assist the poor and vulnerable, and who fit within the culture of the organisation. We want people who can go the extra mile for our clients.’ He added that successful candidates recruited by the organisation are provided with technological resources and the necessary training.

Another recruiter, Ms Cheryl Payne, a Senior Associate at Spoor and Fisher said the well rounded graduate was sought after by her company – graduates who produced good marks consistently and are into community work because social responsibility was important to the company. ‘We want the outgoing yet academically inclined student who is approachable and easy to talk – people with drive.’

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Keyan G Tomaselli*

‘Wow, this is absolutely brilliant! I wish you were on our campus. I’ve never seen writing remotely like this here and our staff/campus publications don’t seem to publish stuff like this … just how great we are at research. It would be such a breath of fresh air if we could inject some humour here. I get the impression staff are way too serious and angry here!’

This was just one of many responses I received on my February Column, Of Wheat and PUs, from a staffer at another institution.   Life at UKZN is obviously not that bad comparatively.   Or, maybe, humour seems to be the best way nowadays to bring otherwise taboo issues to the institutional surface in relatively unthreatening and even entertaining ways. 

When thinking about what to write I mull over small and big issues that bother me. I try to find angles, small things that I notice or hear when interacting with colleagues, walking corridors, attending meetings, and so on.  Sometimes I respond to suggestions sent me by colleagues and often, an entire column quickly materialises from an off-the-cuff remark. 

I then identify a single likely reader – a real person – for each column.  I speak directly to that person – who is never identified - as an exemplar perhaps of wider groups of readers who are grappling with similar issues or who take similar or counter positions.  This has worked well in the sense that, as I explained in one column, Corporate Relations has received the odd complaint from individuals I did not name and perhaps do not even know, about my supposed criticism of them personally.  That tells me that my readership is reading my column, they’re reacting to it, and I am connected to my readers – whether or not they agree with me.   I am not writing in the abstract for unknown readers.  I never mention names negatively, but I tilt my lance at collectively constructed hybrid personalities, who are exemplars of particular ways of thinking and doing things.

Like griots in West African story-telling, in their representations in African film my bardic role is to work within-the-possible to achieve the not-yet-possible.  We are all implicated in relations of power and exploitation.  In fact, few can escape these relations. Even our Vice-Chancellor is embedded in policies and demands of state on which he is required to deliver.  He is not entirely a free agent.  If we recognise our respective locations, and how we can manoeuvre through the contradictions that confront us, then we might be able to make a little difference, to re-open small but systematic spaces for broader dialogue, a micro public sphere if you will. 

As an authorised columnist, writing in an authorised institutional publication, my contribution possibly functions as a safety valve as far as management is concerned.  If an authorised staffer is able to let off steam and draw the attention of the Executive to pressing issues (reflecting the general experiences of the subaltern collectives), then such communication is placed on the public record.  I am aware, for example, that some of my columns are debated by students in seminars, and one column on international relations was revised from an address I offered at an official university conference.  The column, I am told, has on occasion popped up in Senate dispatches.  However, I have few illusions that my column will change policy or shift the University into more humanistic Ubuntu-led directions.   Some academics are just as much responsible for the conditions under which we find ourselves as is any overarching management structure.  A recurring theme in my column is the need for mutual respect and for us each to treat each other better.    But, also, we all need to take our opportunities with regard to the many incentives offered by the institution.  Few do, though this is changing slowly.

I am an equal opportunity dispenser of critique, advice and praise.  That’s the griot way.   As my Rhodes colleague, journalism Professor Gavin Stewart, used to say: ‘I’m attacked by the right wing, I’m pilloried by the left wing, but I feel just the same.  I must be doing something right.’ I have been at UKZN now for 28 years and I can get inside the institution’s foibles and discern patterns and nuances and illustrate these for my readers.  I am available, as I stated in my column on Soaps and Hoaxes, to engage in the dialectic by debating counter arguments, but one reader at least I think wanted censorship when he recognised in himself the hybrid personality I had constructed.  That attitude kills the dialectic, it kills democracy, it kills debate.

We are living through a kind of IMF-like structural adjustment programme applied to the educational sector globally.  Pressing issues need to be addressed.  It’s the task of columnists (and cartoonists, satirists, comedians) to fasten on foibles, to mock and pillory seeming official stupidity.  However, unlike early griots and imbongis, no-one is going chop off my head or banish me to the wilderness.    I am a subject of Authority (the system) even though I may question its procedures, values and intentions, and indeed, Authority itself.  We are all subjects of Authority.  We need to find ways of negotiating Authority.  My column offers one platform for effecting discussion of, and with Authority, and responses to it in ways that are entertaining and simultaneously engaging.  Intelligent outcomes are the real issue.

*Keyan G Tomaselli is Director of The Centre for Communication, Media and Society. For this column he is indebted to Phebbie Sakarombe who studied The UKZN Griot columns last year for an Honours project.  Much of the above comes from his responses to an interview she conducted with him. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the author’s own.

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