Mr Geoffrey Beck, a physics student on the Pietermaritzburg campus, graduated with an MSc degree summa cum laude at UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Pietermaritzburg Graduation ceremony on 23 April.

His supervisor, Dr Alessandro Sergi, described Beck as an “exceptional talent”.

‘Beck has been an exceptionally bright student and has obtained certificates of merit for all but one of his undergraduate modules, and for all of his Honours modules,’ he said.  ‘Most of his marks have been in the nineties. We only see this sort of exceptional talent pass through our University on rare occasions.’

Beck’s area of interest was originally theoretical astrophysics. He started working on this subject, showing a high degree of independence, during his Honours project.

For his MSc, owing to the necessity of changing supervisor, Beck changed his research field and found himself projected into the nano-world of quantum mechanics and its ondulatory characteristics.

His work concerned the computer simulation of the motion of a non-linear nano-oscillator coupled to a super-conductive circuit and the possibility of theoretically predicting the difference between the quantum and the classical behaviour of the nano-oscillator.

The results of Beck’s research have been published in an ISI journal under the title, “Quantum Dynamics of a Nano-rod Under Compression”.

Beck is currently writing another paper jointly with his supervisor and is pursuing his PhD on celestial dark matter at the University of the Witwatersrand.

‘We wish him the best for his career and are proud that his scientific foundations were given at UKZN,’ said Dr Sergi.

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A Biology thesis on crabs has earned its author an Honours degree summa cum laude and an Innovation Scholarship from the National Research Foundation (NRF). It has also been developed into a paper accepted for publication in the journal African Invertebrates and formed the basis of a fully-fledged Master of Science programme.

Ms Nasreen Peer’s Honours project titled “Diversity of true crabs (Crustacea: Brachyura) in the St Lucia Estuary” deals with the response of the crab community in the estuary to climatic variation and alternations of droughts and floods in the unique St Lucia ecosystem, which forms a crucial part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first United Nations, Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

Peer is now a recipient of the prestigious Innovation Scholarship from the NRF and is registered for a Master of Science degree at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. The results of her Honours project have led to the development of a fully-fledged MSc programme at UKZN.

According to Peer’s supervisor, Professor Renzo Perissinotto, Peer undertook her project as well as all other academic tasks ‘with remarkable passion and dedication’.

‘Combined with her extraordinary diligence and knowledge, this resulted in her achieving one of highest marks allocated for an Honours research project,’ he said.

Peer paid tribute to her supervisors, family members and the NRF for their support. ‘My supervisor Professor Renzo Perissinotto gave me the greatest opportunity, lots of support and hours of his valuable time; my co-supervisor Dr Ricky Taylor who is extremely knowledgeable about the St Lucia Estuary has been a great help in the field; and Dr Nelson Miranda who is of remarkable assistance in terms of new ideas, field work, technical and logistical matters, is an excellent mentor overall.’

Peer said her family had been “supportive and motivating”, encouraging her to never give up or lose sight of her goals.

She also acknowledged the funding provided by the NRF as important for the progress of her work.

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Tanzanian statistics student Ms Claire Ijumba received her Honours degree summa cum laude at this year’s Graduation ceremony in Pietermaritzburg. Ijumba, niece of UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, Professor Nelson Ijumba, was also the recipient of a scholarship that she will use to continue with her studies. She is currently completing her Masters degree on the Pietermaritzburg campus.

Feeling the need for international exposure in her studies, Ijumba enrolled for her Bachelor’s degree at UKZN in 2009. She said she felt UKZN was a good institution, and that the people she met on campus helped to create an environment conducive to academic success.

Studying in a foreign country always presents challenges and Ijumba said that she missed home, especially during the mid-semester breaks when many of the other resident students went away. However, she said she had been lucky to have met other Tanzanian students and had built great relationships with South African students too. She also acknowledged the support that she received from her uncle, but jokingly added that his being based in Durban gave her a little more freedom to enjoy her time on campus.

Ijumba plans to complete her Master’s degree and pursue industry options in Tanzania. Listing hard work and prayer as the two main ingredients in her success, she said she fully understood the cost of her education, and was appreciative of the support that she received from her family to further her studies.

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South Africa’s first Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Mosibudi Mangena, received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from UKZN in recognition of his contribution to the social upliftment of communities, service to the state, commitment to academic excellence and contribution to national and international research and development initiatives.

Speaking at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Graduation ceremony on 23 April, Mangena encouraged graduates to be innovative and to dream big. 

‘The point is that I do not think we dream enough as a nation. Yes, we do dream a little, but nowhere near enough. And you are what you dream. No dreams, no movement, no progress,’ he said.

During his term as Minister, Mangena presided over the formulation of groundbreaking policies and the introduction of initiatives which drove the national research, development and innovation agendas. His enduring achievements include the development of the South African Ten-Year Innovation Plan and the National System of Innovation Policy, the establishment of the Technology Innovation Agency, the launch of the South African Space Programme and the bid for the SKA (Square Kilometre Array).

He was also involved in the commissioning of the South African Micro Satellite and the Sumbandile Sat, the development of the South African electric car, the launch of the South African Research Chairs Initiative and the programme for Centres of Excellence.

Mangena was responsible for winning and launching the African component of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. His tenure also saw the expansion of relations between the South African science and technology system and those of other countries. He chaired the SADC ministers responsible for science and technology, and the continental African Ministers’ Council on Science and Technology.

The former Minister told the UKZN audience that it is in new ventures – those which send countries in new directions, break the mould, and are not commercially attractive for ordinary companies – that the state should invest, in the interests of society and progress.

‘I own, together with many other South Africans, an iPhone 5, the ultimate standard in touch screen cell phone technology. It's a wonderful and enjoyable gadget. But why can't we have a South African smart phone?’ he asked.

‘The Koreans, through their Samsung Galaxy 4, are giving Apple, the makers of the iPhone, a run for their money. If the Koreans can do it, why can’t we? Are we content with just dreaming about having the latest smart phones and not about making them? Even if not a smart phone, why not an ordinary cell phone, for a start?’ he said.

Mangena was detained in 1973 and later charged and convicted under the Terrorism Act. He spent five years on Robben Island where he completed his BSc and BSc Honours degrees through UNISA. He also holds a Master of Science degree in Applied Mathematics.

Continuing to challenge the audience, he said: ‘We are the third most bio-diverse country in the world. Can’t we dream of exploiting this huge diversity in our plant species to develop a pharmaceutical industry that could contribute to the good health of humanity? In addition to medicines, we may also produce other chemicals that could contribute towards the growth of our economy and GDP. Why not?

‘Our country possesses around 75 percent of all known reserves of platinum group metals which are critical in fuel cell technologies. These technologies can be used to run vehicles and to generate electricity. Fuel cells are particularly well suited to generate electricity for small communities in rural areas,’ he said.

Mangena concluded by reminding graduates that dreams are highly contagious. ‘When we start dreaming big, we might just infect our children and their teachers, and by so doing, give them more energy, purpose and direction. Instead of just limping along, our education system might just start running again.

He said children were more susceptible to “infection” than anybody else, because they learn more by watching adults than by listening to them. ‘If we drink and smoke too much and beat our spouses, they are likely to do the same. If we dream a lot and aspire to greatness, so will our young and their children. And how fantastic will our future be, if, instead of smoking tik, nyaupe and other such habit-forming substances, our young could be driven by dreams of greatness,’ he said.

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Plant pathologist Ms Benice Sivparsad was capped with a doctoral degree at UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Pietermaritzburg Graduation ceremony. 

Sivparsad’s dissertation, titled, “The Development of Transgenic Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas L.) with Broad Virus Resistance in South Africa”, was supervised by Dr Augustine Gubba.

‘Sweet potato ranks among the top 10 food crops worldwide and yet it acts as a magnet for a number of plant-infecting viruses which impact negatively on its yield,’ explained Gubba. ‘Acting as a gene jockey, Dr Sivparsad used modern biotechnology techniques to develop sweet potato plants with resistance to four important viruses. Such plants will contribute to ensuring food security in rural KwaZulu-Natal.’

Sivparsad plans to remain in academia and is currently pursuing post-doctoral studies at UKZN.

She described obtaining her PhD as the realisation of a life-long dream. ‘I feel honored to have been given the opportunity to contribute to research that will have a positive impact on subsistence farming in KwaZulu-Natal,’ she said.

‘Benice has consistently performed outstandingly since she was an undergraduate student,’ said Gubba. ‘Over the years, she has been recognised for her research excellence on both provincial and national platforms. She has carried this through to her PhD research and it was a real pleasure to work with her over the past several years.’

Gubba said that Sivparsad’s research findings pointed in the direction in which research at UKZN’s Plant Virology Research Group was headed: ‘Using cutting-edge biotechnology to control the notoriously difficult plant viral pathogens that are a constant threat to food security worldwide.’

Sivparsad said she will continue to focus her research efforts on the control of those plant diseases that have a detrimental effect on subsistence farming in Africa. Her current postdoctoral research is directed towards ensuring a healthy food supply by preventing and controlling mycotoxin contamination.

The output of Sivparsad’s postdoctoral research will provide the framework for the development of an effective mycotoxin contamination control system that will make a substantial enhancement to food security in Africa.

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Cum laude Master of Civil Engineering graduates Nathaniel Sawyerr, Mzamoyendoda Zondi, Abmutaleb Zorgani and Reevin Frank, like to call themselves “CrisDEANa’s Boys”. The brainy quartet are all supervised by the Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Engineering, Professor Cristina Trois. 

Sawyerr and Zondi, both Civil Engineers and Frank, a Microbiologist, researched aspects of the denitrification of leachate.  Sawyerr’s thesis looked at the denitrification of leachate using domestic waste at different levels of stability, while Zondi researched the denitrification of high-strength nitrified landfill leachate using raw and lightly composted commercial garden refuse as carbon sources. 

Frank’s dissertation examined preliminary studies on the microbial population dynamics in the bio-denitrification of high-strength leachate using garden refuse and pine bark as a carbon source. Zorgani, a Petroleum Engineer from Libya, researched the treatment of industrial effluents using permeable reactive barriers.

The four graduates had nothing but praise for their supervisor and Dean. Trois heads up the Environmental Engineering Group within UKZN’s Centre for Research on Environmental, Coastal and Hydrological Engineering (CRECHE). The Centre conducts research on water and environmental engineering issues, including waste and resources management. CRECHE promotes sustainable practice, and deals with the interaction between engineering and the natural environment. Current active projects include the management of hazardous emissions; the dispersion of pollutants in the atmosphere and coastal waters; spatial rainfall modelling; estuary biohydrodynamics; climate change; control of greenhouse emissions and the production of energy from renewable resources.

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The Prithipal family from Reservoir Hills had double the reason to celebrate at UKZN’s School of Engineering Graduation. Sisters Rasmika and Arisha both received their Masters degrees cum Laude at this year’s ceremony.

When reflecting on their time at UKZN, both sisters were appreciative of the environment and people that they had spent their studies with. They were full of praise for the academics at Chemical Engineering who guided them toward the achievement of their degrees with distinction.

Rasmika, the elder of the sisters, worked as a research assistant at the Thermodynamics Research Group prior to the commencement of her postgraduate studies. Arisha began her Masters immediately after completing her undergraduate degree.

The sisters both cited an interest in laboratory experiments as the main reason behind the decision to study Chemical Engineering in the first place. Rasmika said that her and her sister were both motivated to excel by the support and encouragement received from their parents. They also said that it was a very special experience being able to study together, as they always had someone to share their experiences with.

Arisha’s immediate future has been secured with Sasol, where she is currently employed as a candidate Process Engineer, while Rasmika is weighing up her options.

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Tanzanian national, Dr Monica Ndoile, left her home and lecturing position at the University of Dar es Salaam in 2009 to come to UKZN to pursue a PhD in Chemistry under the guidance of respected organic and natural product chemist Professor Fanie van Heerden.

Ndoile joined the UKZN team investigating a number of indigenous medicinal plants with a view to understanding their potential commercial use in treating serious illnesses such as cancer, malaria, HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis. 

Ndoile’s particular research focus was the structure, synthesis and biological activities of anti-cancer compounds isolated in the medicinal plant Ochna serrulata, commonly known as the Mickey Mouse bush.  

Ndoile’s research epitomises the fusion of indigenous knowledge and wisdom with modern scientific understanding. ‘My research used traditional knowledge, passed on from generation to generation, pertaining to the use of plants for healing different infections,’ said Ndoile. ‘Many people use plant products as medicine. This research scientifically validates the use of these plant products,’ she said.

Ndoile firmly believes her research will help people. ‘Currently, many people are dying of cancer, malaria and HIV infections. Infective micro-organisms have developed a resistance to many available medicines. My research contributes to the growing pool of knowledge about more effective compounds, with new structures,’ she said.  ‘My research is expected to produce new and effective anti-infective compounds that can be used to reverse the current situation.’

Once she has the compounds, her next target will be to synthesise them from commercially available starting materials. ‘This synthesis part is important for the sake of our natural environment. By creating these compounds artificially, we can ensure that the plant survives in its natural state and is not uprooted,’ she said.

Ndoile praised her supervisor, Professor Van Heerden, for her knowledge of Chemistry and commitment to maintaining academic excellence

She also thanked her father for the motivation he had given her.  ‘He always insisted that excellence does not come easily. It needs one’s total commitment. I have taken this to heart,’ she said.

Ndoile said she enjoyed studying Chemistry in Pietermaritzburg because the staff were so friendly.  ‘This makes UKZN a very conducive learning environment for students,’ she said. She was also complimentary of the facilities the Department had to offer.

Ndoile explained how she came to the world of Chemistry:  ‘I have liked Chemistry since the day my secondary school teacher mixed acid, base and phenolphthalein,’ she said.  ‘The resultant colour change was so obvious and instant, I was captivated!’ 

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Dr Iona Basdew was awarded her PhD degree in Plant Pathology by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science at its Pietermaritzburg Graduation ceremony for her research on the use of viruses to control bovine mastitis.

Her thesis, titled, “Biological and Molecular Characterisation of South African Bacteriophages Infective Against Staphylococcus aureus subsp. aureus Rosenbach 1884, Causal Agent of Bovine Mastitis”, was supervised by Professor Mark Laing, Senior Professor in Plant Pathology and Director of the internationally-acclaimed African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI).

Laing described her work as a “fascinating study”.

‘Viruses called bacteriophages infect specific bacteria, multiply a thousand-fold, then burst the cells in only two hours. We can use these beneficial viruses to control antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that cause diseases in plants, animals and humans,’ he said.

‘In a groundbreaking study Basdew has discovered numerous strains of bacteriophages that infect and kill antibiotic-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus, the causal agent of mastitis in dairy cows,’ Laing said. ‘She defined the novel identities of the three most effective virus strains using proteomic and genomic tools and photographed them using an electron microscope, magnifying them at times 210,000.’

Basdew’s study demonstrates the need for a paradigm shift in the diagnosis and treatment of bovine mastitis, both within South Africa and worldwide.

‘Dairy production in South Africa is faced with the serious problem of antibiotic resistance,’ said Basdew, ‘with very few treatment alternatives outside of this sphere.’

She said that the first step in the revolution must be focused on a more precise method for disease diagnosis based on methods other than somatic cell counts of raw milk alone. Furthermore, the phages that were discovered during the course of the study showed great potential for use within a dairy system.

‘The phages have shown stability under variable conditions and when grown in a glycerol-based medium,’ said Basdew. ‘The application of a phage cocktail infused in a glycerol base shows promise as a post-milking treatment. This has laid the foundation for studies that are already under way.’

Currently, Basdew is undertaking post-doctoral studies on the in vivo application of phage treatments to infected dairy cattle. She is looking at the effect of phages on the treatment of bovine mastitis in affected cattle, more especially against the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are most commonly associated with the disease.

Basdew said that the long-term objective of the project was to establish phage therapy as a standard veterinary practice.

‘I feel privileged to have been afforded the opportunity to undertake my PhD study,’ said Basdew. ‘Undertaking a PhD engages one’s mind in a profound way and I feel that I have forever been positively changed by it. It has proven to be a learning curve like no other.’  

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When Dr Reannah Otanga, a Lecturer at Egerton University in Nakuru, Kenya, decided to embark on a PhD, she turned to Google.

Searching for experts in the field of Plant Pathology and a university with suitable facilities for her research, she found that Professor Mark Laing at the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) and UKZN seemed to offer the best option.

Otanga’s PhD research focused on the identification of soil bacteria that could enhance plant growth and yields, and also control plant diseases. The goal was to provide nitrogen to small-scale farmers who cannot afford to apply fertilisers, and to commercial farmers so that they can cut their input costs by reducing their nitrogen fertiliser applications.

Otanga found that application of these bacteria significantly improved the growth and yields of maize and wheat at reduced levels of nitrogenous fertiliser under both field and greenhouse conditions. Some of the bacteria also provided biological control against a common root rot pathogen of wheat. 

Otanga expressed her gratitude to Dr Kwasi Sackey Yobo and Professor Laing, for their support and guidance during her studies. She said the most difficult part of studying at UKZN was leaving her family and friends behind in Vihiga County, in Kenya’s Western Province, and her colleagues at Egerton University in Nakuru County. However, Otanga said she very quickly found the support she needed at the Hosanna Church in Pietermaritzburg, and from her supervisors, staff and colleagues at Plant Pathology at UKZN. She spoke of the positive atmosphere she experienced at UKZN, and said that everyone within her discipline was always willing to help. Otanga said that within Plant Pathology specifically, there was a strong bond between the students and staff, with people providing support at every juncture.

Otanga said she experienced some challenges with the wildlife in KwaZulu-Natal when conducting her research at the University’s Ukulinga research farm. Her research was delayed by almost a year when monkeys and birds destroyed part of the maize and wheat crops she had cultivated for field testing.

This meant that she had to find novel ways of not only studying the soil bacteria, but of protecting her crops for the duration of the study.

Otanga reflected fondly on her time at UKZN. She will now focus on returning to her post as an academic at Egerton University, but would like to return to UKZN to further her studies as a post-doctoral research fellow.

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Ms Londiwe Magagula was capped with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Graduation ceremony held at the Royal Agricultural Show grounds on Tuesday, 23 April. She told UKZNOnline it was “guts and determination” that had seen her succeed.  

‘I come from a large family and lost both my parents – my dad when I was in Grade seven and my mom in December 2009, just before I came to university,’ she said.  ‘Owing to my dad’s long illness and his losing his job whilst I was in second grade, I had no finances reserved for tertiary studies. But a degree was my dream.’

During her first few months at university, Magagula struggled financially until she was granted financial aid. ‘This wasn’t the only struggle. Having just lost my mom, who was my best friend, I found it hard to adapt and cope far from family. Every night I would cry by myself. What kept me going at that time was that I believed that God wouldn’t have brought me this far to leave me.’

Magagula joined the Biological Sciences Peer Support Group, run by postgraduate student Seth Hakizimana. ‘Seth and his colleagues motivated us to work hard and cultivated excellence in us,’ she said. ‘In second year we were signed up to tutor Biology 101 and 102. Earnings from the programme helped me get textbooks and extra study materials.’

In 2011 Magagula became part of the undergraduate vacation apprenticeship programme organised by Professor Colleen Downs. ‘This programme exposed me to the working environment and was very relevant to my degree,’ said Magagula. ‘It also sustained me financially. I was groomed as a mentor and started mentoring students outside the academic setting.’

Magagula said that she enjoyed mentoring other students because she had felt lonely in her first year and didn’t want other students to feel the same. She has continued to be involved in the mentorship programme and has addressed matriculants at Ixopo. She has also taken on a variety of leadership roles within the UKZN student body.

Magagula has been fortunate to receive both bursary and scholarship funding to further her studies.  ‘Coming from a poor background taught me to take responsibility and shape my life with each little step that I take,’ she said. ‘It also taught me to be the captain of my own ship and never to find excuses in life.’

Magagula is currently pursuing an Honours degree in Ecology and Wildlife Conservation and Management and hopes to take up a career doing research in environmental ecology or environmental education.

‘To me my degree is a tool and my background was a journey that helped me gain the skills, experience and capacity to make this world a better place,’ she said. ‘I would like to thank my family, especially Sis Coren, for their support.’ 

Magagula also thanked Seth Hakizama for his inspirational guidance, Professor Downs for ‘being like a mother to me’, her sponsor Cathsseta, her church and her friends.

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Top Dietetic student for 2012, Ms Stephanie Salzmann, danced her way up to the podium at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Graduation ceremony to accept the Dux award for academic performance, and her BSc in Dietetics, which she earned cum laude.

A renowned belly dancer, Salzmann’s passion for the dance has clearly not encumbered her academic performance. A firm believer in exercise, she said: ‘Exercise is not only beneficial to our health, but is a fantastic way to unwind after a hard day’s work. Additionally, having hobbies helps one express individuality and form a definitive self-concept.’

However, for Salzmann her studies are and will continue to be a top priority. ‘I thoroughly enjoy my belly dancing, along with the occasional spending money it earns me, but realistically, youth fades and interests change. A quality tertiary education will remain with me for life and may set the tone for my future lifestyle and job satisfaction,’ she said.

Coming from a family made up of individuals with diverse interests, Salzmann said her parents always encouraged her to pursue her passions and are supportive of whatever those may be. Her mum shares her passion for belly dancing and the whole family attends annual concerts to show their support.

In terms of her plans for the future, Salzmann hopes to complete her Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics and thereafter go on to do community service. She plans to work in a state hospital long enough to gain the necessary expertise and knowledge to open a private practice and make a contribution to the economy and individual patients, “as an enterprising professional dietitian”. She said she hopes her happily-ever-after will also include an attractive doctor to complete the picture!

Salzmann said she was grateful to each and every member of staff of the Pietermaritzburg campus who assisted her in her academic endeavours. In particular, she expressed her gratitude to the “brilliant individuals” in the Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition for their consistent guidance and support. ‘I believe that I have received superior quality tuition and that the three years taken to complete my degree were exceptionally well spent’, she said.

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Uhlelo lwe-LEAP, (Leadership and Equity Programme) e-UKZN lubungaza enye impumelelo  kulo nyaka emcimbini wokwethweswa iziqu eMgungundlovu njengoba uMichele Warburton, ongumfundisi kwiSikole seSayensi yeZolimo, ezomhlaba kanye nemvelo ,ebethweswa iziqu zobudokotela.

Oka-Warburton ngaphambi kokuba abe ingxenye yabasebenzi kwisikhungo, uphothule izifundo zakhe zalabo abangena ziqu kanye nalabo abaneziqu e-UKZN. Ucwaningo lwakhe beluhlola izinguquko ezikhona eNingizimu Afrika ezidalwa isivuvu-kumhlaba wonke esithi phecelezi - global warming. Ucwaninge ngezindlela ezinsulu ezihlangene zokusetshenziswa komhlaba kanye noguquko lwesimo sezulu kwisayensi ephathelene nezamanzi ezindaweni ezintathu zalapha eNingizimu Afrika ngokusebenzisa izindlela eziwubungcweti.

Isihloko socwaningo, esithi,: “izinselelo ekuhambiseni nasekukhombiseni izimbangela kanye nobudlelwano bokusetshenziswa komhlaba kanye noguquko lwesimo sezulu,” elulekwa uSolwazi Roland Schulze kanye noSolwazi Graham  Jewitt, bobabili abangongqondongqondo kulomkhakha wezamanzi.

Phakathi kwezinye zezinhloso ze-LEAP, ukubutha kanye nokukhulisa labo abasebancane abayizazimfundo kanye nokubahlanganisa nempilo yezemfundo yangaphakathi eNyuvesi. Lokhu kuhlose ukuthuthukisa amandla kanye nobuholi.

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Mr Louis La Grange is the proud recipient of an MSc in Parasitology, awarded by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science for his work on Trichinella (roundworm) infections in crocodiles.

Trichinella zimbabwensis is a roundworm parasite that in nature can infect a large variety of animals but has a proven propensity towards infecting crocodiles. It has potential to infect humans and thus constitutes a public health risk. However, little was known about the parasite’s interaction with crocodiles and most of the research on this parasite in the past revolved around mammalian hosts.

La Grange’s study, titled, “Influence of Trichinella zimbabwensis Infection on Predilection Sites, Blood Biochemical Values and Humoral Immune Response in Experimentally Infected Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus)”, has shown that the parasite prefers to infect different muscles in crocodiles from those in mammals and even differs from those in other reptiles. The study also supports findings of previous studies and showed that biopsy samples collected from superficial tail muscles may be used in surveillance studies to detect the parasite, negating the need to euthanize animals for surveillance purposes.

The above results may aid in establishing more effective control measures and more suitable methods for the detection of the parasite, especially where the testing of crocodile meat for export markets is concerned.

La Grange has a real passion for reptiles, especially crocodiles, and said the most enjoyable part of the study, apart from gaining new insight into the parasite-crocodile relationship, was the opportunity to conduct experimental work on crocodiles and to learn more about aspects of husbandry and the biology of crocodiles. ‘Being able to work closely with these magnificent creatures and to study the microscopic parasites was a blessing beyond expectation,’ he said.

La Grange was supervised by Dean and Head of the School of Life Sciences Professor Sam Mukaratirwa, who described the thesis as “an excellent piece of work”.

‘Mr La Grange produced very interesting results which constitute new knowledge on the host-parasite interactions of crocodiles and T. Zimbabwensis,’ he said.

Mukaratirwa said the study was all the more impressive as La Grange did not come to do his MSc via the traditional route, but came via a national diploma which meant he had to get a special dispensation to study. 

La Grange obtained a National Diploma in Veterinary Technology in 1996 and started research on Trichinella (round worm) in 2006 in Mpumalanga Province. In 2010 UKZN agreed to allow La Grange to conduct an MSc study since his research had led to the publication of several articles in scientific journals.

As a full-time employee of the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration in Mpumalanga, this meant that La Grange had to study part-time and balance his studies with his work and family responsibilities.

La Grange is married and has two sons aged 11 and 7. In addition, his wife has been battling to cope with the effects of chemotherapy and radiation after being diagnosed with cancer in August 2010, resulting in greater than usual demands from his family. Nevertheless, La Grange decided to face the challenges head-on and registered for his MSc in 2011. As a prerequisite for his admission to the MSc programme he also had to complete two Honours modules during the same period of registration.

Added pressure came from the fact that his physical work on crocodiles could only be conducted during the summer months, as stress during colder spells can be fatal to crocodiles.

Then, after three months of hard work and significant financial input into the MSc project, La Grange learnt that the parasites used to infect the crocodiles had not established in the hosts and he was forced to redo the whole experiment. It was successfully concluded in April 2012 but this left La Grange with limited time to conduct his data analysis and complete his dissertation. But he refused to quit and completed his dissertation in time.

La Grange said:  ‘To obtain my MSc means a great deal to me and serves as a tangible reward for the years of research that I have been doing. It can also serve as a reminder to my children that anything is possible if you want it badly enough. One day, if finances and time permit, I wish to complete a PhD.’

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Hydrology Masters graduate Mr Simphiwe Ngcobo has always been passionate about the rarest commodity of this century: water.

Growing up on the banks of Midmar Dam near Howick helped Ngcobo to realise at an early age how precious and limited water resources are and how easy it is to take for granted the privilege of having clean, running water.

‘When you can literally see where the water comes from, how it rises and falls each season, how it sustains ecological goods and services, and maintains the beauty of our natural environments, and how some of us abuse it, it’s hard not to appreciate it,’ said Ngcobo.

The special relationship forged with water inspired him to further his studies in the hydrological field. It was no easy feat, coming as he did from an impoverished background and attending mainly farm and state schools with limited resources. However, Ngcobo persevered and achieved numerous accolades throughout his academic career and all of this hard work has now culminated in his Masters degree in Hydrology.

Ngcobo’s passion for his field of study is evident in his concern around issues such as access to water in rural areas.

‘Rural areas do not have nearly enough safe water resources,’ he told UKZNOnline. ‘In fact, the majority of basic health problems in these areas can be traced back to inadequate sanitation, water purification and sub-standard reticulation systems and services.’ 

He said despite government and bulk water supplier efforts, citizens in rural areas are still worse off than their urban counterparts. ‘We are learning from this and it is my firm belief that we will eventually get it right,’ he said.

Ngcobo said he could not stress enough the need to conserve water, particularly in our rapidly changing world. 

‘Our climate is changing and we are growing in numbers. These are major risks related to water quality and supply. Indeed, if these conditions persist, water conservation is going to shift from being “optional” to being a matter with serious socio-economic and political implications.

‘If the research that I am doing can assist in making a change in people’s perceptions of and appreciation for this rapidly dwindling commodity, then my goals and aspirations would be achieved.

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UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science conferred degrees on the first contingent of Bachelor of Agriculture students from the innovative joint degree programme launched in 2010 in collaboration with the Cedara College of Agriculture.

Programme Co-ordinator Dr Steve Worth said the Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management (AERRM) programme was designed to build the capacity of extension services through the provision of training and education that was relevant to the urgent issues facing agricultural and rural development in South Africa.

‘The programme offers a powerful combination of theoretical knowledge and practical skills in agricultural extension, rural development, project management, agricultural production, farm engineering and farm economics and management,’ said Worth. ‘It follows a challenging teaching and learning approach as well as a fresh approach to the theory and practice of agricultural extension. It draws on the best of UKZN and of Cedara – both of which are recognised for the quality of their respective courses in extension and agricultural production,’ he said.

The joint UKZN/Cedara BAgric qualification has been adopted by the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and by the Department of Higher Education and Training as the launching agricultural qualification for the new university in Mpumalanga, where it will be initiated in 2014. Owen Sithole College of Agriculture (in Empangeni) and the Cape Institute for Agricultural Training (in Elsenburg) are also exploring the UKZN BAgric qualification as a template for joint degrees with nearby universities.

Proud graduates of the pioneering three-year degree were Nokulunga Gasa, Nohuhle Gumede, Sinesipho Madlala, Thobile Maphumulo, Samukelo Mbambo, Phiwokuhle Mngomezulu, Sanele Ndlovu and Mr Lloyd Domleo. Six of these eight students have gone on to register for the BAgric Honours programme.

Worth said they are excited about the outcome of the first round of the new qualification. ‘Graduates have a more focused qualification – squarely grounded in practical agricultural production and farm business management, in addition to agricultural extension. The third-year curriculum places students in the field in a real-world job setting; this lays a firm foundation for gaining much-needed work experience for post-qualification employment,’ he said.

According to Worth the BAgric is able to take 20 students per year. It is currently running at near full capacity with 19 students in first-year, 18 in second-year and 10 in third-year.’

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Coming from a township school and a family which relied solely on her grandmother’s income meant that adjusting to university study and life was a huge challenge for Ms Lindiwe Mtshali.

But the Environmental Science major was determined to succeed and was among the 185 proud UKZN students studying on the Pietermaritzburg campus who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Sciences’ Graduation ceremony held at the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds on Tuesday, 23 April.  

Mtshali has now been bitten by the study bug and is furthering her studies in 2013, pursuing an Honours degree in Ecology and Environmental Conservation and Management. But looking back, it has not been easy.

‘Coming from a township school which had very few academic resources made the adjustment to university quite a challenge,’ said Mtshali. ‘I had to adjust not only to the language but also to the equipment that we used, especially in the laboratory.’

Funding was also an issue for Mtshali as she came from a family in which her grandmother was the only breadwinner.  ‘This meant that I would have very rough days,’ said Mtshali, ‘but my grandmother’s love kept me strong,’ she said.  

Sadly, Mtshali lost her grandmother in 2011 and with her, her source of strength. ‘Despite this I refused to give up,’ said Mtshali.  ‘Most importantly, God kept me focused and I knew I had to break through my challenges.’

With her dream to succeed, Mtshali set herself realistic goals.  Hard work earned her a spot in the Golden Key Honour Society, where she is now an executive committee member.  Hard work also earned her several merit certificates in the course of her degree.

‘Graduating certainly means a lot to me,’ said Mtshali. ‘It shows how hard work, patience and time management pay off.  It demonstrates that it doesn’t matter what background one comes from.  If one puts one’s mind to it, one can always make it. God has been my foundation.’

‘Lindiwe succeeded despite her circumstances,’ said Professor Colleen Downs, who got to know her when she was part of her undergraduate vacation apprenticeship programme.

Mtshali thanked the staff at the School of Life Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus, and especially Professor Downs who, she said, had been really supportive. ‘She kept me going and this has stirred more enthusiasm for me to continue further with my studies,’ she said.

Mtshali plans to pursue a career as an Environmental Ecologist.  ‘The challenges faced by our natural ecosystems calls for more environmentally aware people,’ she said. 

And, joked Mtshali, imagining herself in a red PhD gown in years to come is the greatest motivation of all.

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The numbers added up this week for Sudanese husband and wife team, Dr Ayoub Basheer and Mrs Muna Elshareef, when they were both capped at UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Pietermaritzburg Graduation ceremony. While Basheer graduated with a PhD in Mathematics, his wife received her MSc in Statistics.

Basheer, who was supervised by Professor Jamshid Moori, was awarded a PhD for his thesis titled, “Clifford-Fischer Theory Applied to Certain Groups Associated with Symplectic, Unitary and Thompson Groups”.

Elshareef received an MSc in Statistics for her thesis which evaluated strategies to combine multiple biomarkers in diagnostic testing.  She was supervised by Professor Henry Mwambi and Dr L D Dodd.

The couple plans to remain at UKZN – Basheer to pursue postdoctoral studies, and Elshareef to embark upon her PhD.

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