In many human cultures, age is synonymous with wisdom – it is considered an asset rather than a liability.  Elders are respected for their experience and knowledge and often emerge as leaders when it comes to performing specialised tasks.  History presents many sages who bravely guide their people through perilous situations.  But what of the animal kingdom?  Do animals exhibit similar behaviour? 

Limited evidence exists as to the specific role that older leaders play in decision making in animal societies.  However, it has been suggested ‘that older leaders provide a vital source of ecological knowledge (e.g. about the location of scarce resources or migration routes), but direct tests of this in natural populations are lacking because of the difficulties in quantifying the relevant skills.’

Ground-breaking research on elephants, led by Dr Karen McComb from the University of Sussex, and involving UKZN ecologists from the Amarula Elephant Research Programme in the School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, Dr Graeme Shannon and Professor Rob Slotow, shows that age does affect the ability of female leaders to make important ecological decisions that are critical to survival.

‘Our study provides the first empirical evidence that individuals in a social group may derive significant benefits from the influence of an older leader because of their enhanced ability to make crucial decisions about predatory threat,’ said Slotow.

Elephant society comprises distinct family units which are dominated by the oldest female or matriarch who adopts a central role in co-ordinating group movements and responses to threats.  Although elephants are invulnerable to most predators, lions pose a significant threat.  A single male lion is quite capable of killing an elephant calf while female lions are usually only successful when hunting as a group. 

Dr Shannon, a postdoctoral fellow, took the lead role in the field work at Amboseli National Park in Kenya, studying approximately 1 500 African elephants, comprising 58 family groups between 2007 and 2009.  A series of novel experiments were used to establish just how adept elephants were at making critical decisions about predators.
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One would not normally associate the smell of rotting flesh with one of the world’s most beautiful flowers, the orchid.  However, research which is “hot off the press”, led by UKZN botanist, Dr Timotheus van der Niet, reveals that a South African orchid mimics the stench of a decaying corpse to attract its key pollinator, the flesh fly.

‘We know it is common for orchids to deceive insects into pollinating them.  We also know that some plant species can mimic carrion to attract flies.  What we didn’t know was how successful this was,’ said van der Niet. 

The researchers, who included A-rated Scientist, Professor Steve Johnson, set out to study the orchid Satyrium pumilum to try and discover how it was attracting flies.  The flowers were a puzzle to the researchers because they don’t use nectar to attract pollinators and their spurs (the tubes that normally lead to plants’ nectar) are the wrong shape, making them inaccessible to visitors.  

Conducted in Namaqualand in the Kamiesberg region, the study involved several thousand orchid plants scattered over one hectare of communal farm land.  These flowering plants were observed in four consecutive years (2006-2008) and insect visitors were recorded.  Initially the researchers did not see many flies visiting the flowers.  Therefore they adopted a novel approach to test their suppositions.  They used roadkill in the form of dassies, which were found in the vicinity of the orchids, and examined the flies that landed on these dead animals.

As expected, the roadkill attracted a great number of flies.  Much to the surprise of the researchers, many of them were covered in the orchid’s pollen, indicating that these flies had previously visited the flowers.  However, not every species of carrion fly found on the rotting flesh was carrying orchid pollen.  After catching, identifying and sexing the flies, the researchers found that the ones carrying the pollen were all flesh flies and mostly female, who tend to lay their eggs in corpses. 

Elaborate experiments on the flowers’ scent revealed that it perfectly mimics the smell of carrion; so much so that the flies cannot distinguish the difference
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Professor Max du Plessis of the Law Faculty in Durban, acted on behalf of the Helen Suzman Foundation in the case before the Constitutional Court challenging the disbanding of the Scorpions in 2007.  The case was brought by businessman Mr Hugh Glenister. On March 16 the Court ruled that the legislation that scrapped the Scorpions was constitutionally invalid because it did not provide enough protection against political influence for the Hawks, a specialist investigative unit within the police that replaced the Scorpions.

The Court ordered that Chapter 6A of the South Africa Police Services Act 68 of 1995, as amended, be sent back to Parliament, with the order of constitutional invalidity suspended for 18 months, until it has been rectified.

The decision to disband the Directorate of Special Operations, known as the Scorpions was taken at the African National Congres (ANC)'s 2007 Polokwane Conference. The ANC had repeatedly accused the Scorpions of harbouring a political agenda.

Glenister lost several times before his ultimate success before the Constitutional Court.

In its ruling, the Court explained that the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and international agreements on combating corruption, which had been approved by Parliament, required that South Africa create an independent anti-corruption entity.  The Court ruled that the legislation creating the Hawks did not meet this standard.

 The Helen Suzman Foundation was admitted as amicus curiae in the case and provided lengthy submissions on the duty on the Government under international law and the Constitution to ensure that South Africa creates and maintains a properly independent and dedicated anti-corruption unit.

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UKZN Grassland Scientist, Professor Kevin Kirkman and his postdoctorate student, Dr Nicole Hagena, are involved in a large global research co-operative aimed at providing new insights into significant unanswered ecological questions.   The Nutrient Network (NutNet) comprises ecological researchers located across the world in nine countries at 51 different sites.  Funded by the US National Science Foundation, it represents ‘the only collaboration of its kind where individual researchers have set up the same experiment at sites around the world.’

Ukulinga, the School of Agricultural Sciences and Agribusiness’ research farm, is one of the 51 sites that form part of the project.  Located on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, the farm is home to some of the oldest ecological experiments in the world and is, therefore, a valuable asset to the NutNet co-operative.

NutNet scientists across the world have spent the last three years collecting population, community and ecosystem-scale plant data utilising standard protocols and measures.  The first results from their study were recently published in Ecological Letters, one of the most prestigious and high-impact ecology journals.  Kirkman and Hagena were two of 36 co-authors of a paper that dealt with understanding the success of invasive plant species. 

Worldwide, invasive plants are dominating the habitat, creating serious environmental, economic and social problems.  Although biology suggests that native species should have the “upper hand” due to evolutionary familiarity with local conditions, newly-introduced species seem to take over in a short space of time. This paradox has foxed ecologists for centuries. Biologists refer to this phenomenon as the ‘abundance assumption’ which has been touted for many years and suggests that these invasive plants possess certain characteristics that allow them to behave in a certain way and survive in alien environments.  However, little research has been conducted to test this assumption. 

NutNet scientists tested the ‘abundance assumption’ for 26 plant species at 39 sites on four continents.  The results revealed that only a small subset of the species examined conformed to the assumption, indicating that it is severely lacking. The vast majority of the species were not more abundant in territories they have invaded, suggesting that ‘invasive plants have a similar or lower abundance at both introduced and native ranges.’  According to a scientist from Queensland University of Technology, this research indicates that ‘abundance at native sites can predict abundance at introduced sites, a criterion not currently included in biosecurity screening programs.’  Future research should, therefore, focus on ‘identifying the reasons for exceptions to the general trend of a similar abundance at home and away sites.’
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UKZN signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of Oslo, Norway, to facilitate student exchanges at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level in the School of Religion and Theology on March 25.


UKZN has been in partnership with the University of Oslo since 1997, and a number of students and academics have participated in exchange programmes, research projects and other shared initiatives.


This signing of the MOU took place during the University of Oslo’s two-day visit to UKZN to discuss student exchange experiences and possibilities. UKZN’s School of Religion and Theology and the University of Oslo’s Faculty of Theology recognised the benefit of establishing educational relations and co-operation in order to promote academic linkages and to widen the understanding of the culture of the two countries concerned.


In terms of the agreement, students will enrol in subjects at the host institution for credit which will be applied towards their degree at their home institution. Only high-achieving students will be selected by the home institution to participate in the exchange programme.  In addition, exchange agreements between Faculty staff will promote collaborative research and further mutual understanding.


Delegates from the University of Oslo said they were very happy with the partnership and noted the warm welcome extended by UKZN and the people of South Africa. The delegates met with UKZN’s Research Office and various academic disciplines on the Pietermaritzburg and Durban campuses.


There were also discussions on the possibility of Norwegian students doing the research part of their Masters thesis at UKZN and on future research co-operation, including financial arrangements.


As part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UKZN and the National University of Rwanda (NUR), a team led by the University Dean of Research, Professor Cheryl Potgieter, was invited to deliver a week-long series of training workshops on writing for publication and managing an academic career.

The workshop, targeted at emerging women scholars, mirrors the capacity development initiatives of the UKZN Women in Research Academy.

Potgieter said that MOU’s are dead documents that are given meaning by individuals who are committed to ‘giving life’ to them. She added that the MOU between NUR and UKZN has been driven by Professor Verdiana Grace Masanja who she described as being committed to transformation, particularly when it relates to the empowerment of women scholars, who will then contribute to the development of knowledge in the continent.

Following the success of these workshops, the women scholars in NUR have formed the NUR Women Research Group (NURWAS), in the spirit of the UKZN Women in Research Academy. Correspondence from NUR confirmed that, of the 28 women who participated in the workshop and who are part of NURWAS, ‘at least 45 percent of them will have submitted an article for publication in a ranked journal within nine months’.

Potgieter said the formation of this group is a testament to NUR’s commitment to the advancement of women, and it gives meaning to UKZN’s vision of engaging with partners in the continent.

Some of the issues that were engaged with in the workshop included ‘Managing your academic career: from junior lecturer to professor; developing a publications plan; ethics of publishing; popular writing’s contribution to women’s career development as public intellectuals; and balancing personal, professional and institutional goals.’

‘Many of the women brought a wealth of experience to the training especially those who already had doctoral degrees. The fact that the workshop was opened by the Vice-Chancellor of the University gave us assurance that the initiative had the support of decision makers at NUR,’ Potgieter added.

UKZN staff members who facilitated the workshop included Potgieter; Professor Urmilla Bob, School of Environment
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A contentious topic, seldom publicly debated in institutions of higher learning, was under the spotlight at a seminar hosted by UKZN’s Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO), on March 11. 

The focus of keynote speaker, Mr Andile Mngxitama’s presentation was transformation in Higher Education – or the lack of it – against the recommendations contained in the Report of the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education Institutions.

Key issues in the report centred on discrimination and the extent and nature of racism and racialised Higher Education. According to the report, racial discrimination, which centres on white supremacy, is often intertwined with other related forms of discrimination such as ethnicity, gender, age, social class, religion, culture, language and xenophobia. The Report also underlines the policies, strategies and interventions needed to combat discrimination, based on the values and principles enshrined in the South African Constitution.  

One of the aims of the seminar was to determine the extent to which the recommended steps were taken to combat the various forms of discrimination in Higher Education Institutions. The presenter’s point of departure was insights drawn from the Black Consciousness Movement, including the works of Steve Biko, Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral in relation to the prevailing conditions in South Africa’s tertiary institutions. Mngxitama’s topic – which hinged on South Africa’s explosive race/class discourse – was titled: “How do Biko, Fanon and Cabral challenge conservatism, liberalism and progressivism in Higher Education teaching and learning?”

The ensuing debate highlighted Steve Biko’s attempts to advocate for Black Consciousness over 30 years ago, versus white supremacy in society in general and the academy in particular. In his opening remarks, Mngxitama expressed concern that Higher Education establishments had replicated the neo-colonial state form, engaging in ongoing battles between different factions in a bid to capture institutional power on the basis of race and class. Mngxitama identified his main contention against the 2008 Ministerial Committee Report as the glaring omission of the practical application of critical anti-racism theory without which, he emphasised, white supremacy would continue to dominate indefinitely.

Consequently, he argued, little transformation had occurred since the new dispensation came into power in 1994, based on three factors under-girded by a lack of Black Consciousness. One was the pervasiveness of white supremacy that has prevailed since 1994; followed by the way in which different Faculties continue relating seamlessly with the state, apartheid-style; and thirdly the perpetuation of curricula which failed to undergo substantive transformation. All three, he said, entrenched the current lack of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, which merely result in superficial transformation.

It was a proud day for the School of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Genetics at UKZN, when the Microbiology Students’ Society (MICROSOC) was launched on the Westville campus. 

MICROSOC was initiated by students who share a love of Microbiology, and are motivated to make knowledge useful for everyone who has interest in Microbiology.

The society was founded in September, 2010. The Steering Committee was chaired by the Head of Microbiology, Dr Ademola Olaniran, and included most of the current Executive Committee members. The team has received the full support of the Head of School, Professor Bala Pillay and Department staff, who pledged generously toward the start-up of the society.

The launch at the Comsa Lounge was attended by Pillay as well as other dignitaries from the Department. Mr Phephelani Zondi, a featured poet from GagasiFm, presented  inspirational poetry.

The Executive Committee is made up of: Miss Rose Mokhosi, President; Mr Mlungisi Mtolo, Deputy-President; Mr Bafana Madida, General Secretary; Miss Tahni-Ann Wilson, Assistant General Secretary; Mr Thomas Hayangah, Treasurer; Miss Silindile Ngobese, Events Co-ordinator; and Miss Nompilo Ngaleka; Public Relations Officer.

To find out more about the society and its activities, visit facebook (Microsoc- UKZN Westville) or

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Four engineers from UKZN’s School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering participated in the second Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) international conference on Wireless Communication, Vehicular Technology, Information Theory and Aerospace and Electronic Systems Technology (VITAE) held in Chennai, India, from February 28 to March 3: Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Professor Fambirai Takawira, Head of School, Professor Stanley Mneney; Professor Thomas Afullo; and PhD student,  Mr Ilesanmi Oluwafemi.

Attended by over 200 delegates from 30 countries, Wireless VITAE ‘is the only international conference broadly addressing the wireless developments in the world by merging communities from four different IEEE societies.’ The central theme of the conference was “Global, Personalised, Cloud and Green Communcations” and addressed the trends and challenges and future roadmaps within a conglomerate of existing and novel wireless technologies.   The Conference was organised by the world-renowned Professor Ramjee Prasad, Wireless VITAE Steering Board Chair and Director of the Centre of Telecommunications Infrastructure (CTIF), Aalborg University, Denmark.

One of the highlights of the conference was Oluwafemi’s receipt of the Best Paper Award for one of the two papers he presented.  Titled “Super-Quasi-Orthogonal Space-Time BPSK Trellis Coded OFDM System for Four Transmit Antennas,” his paper focused on the design of a space-time code which can be deployed in a wireless communication system that will improve system performance.  Both of his papers were co-authored with Professor Mneney. 

When asked what he enjoyed most about the conference, Oluwafemi said, ‘I enjoyed mostly the technical presentations especially on global ICT standardisation, green ICT and spectrum management.’  He also cited the ‘spicy Indian foods’ as high on his list.  

Mneney and Afullo also presented two invited papers: “Wireless and Mobile Communication – the Impact on Africa,” and “Progress in Radioclimatological Modeling in Southern Africa.” Both professors also chaired technical sessions at the event.

For Afullo, the conference provided him with the opportunity to interact and compare notes with colleagues working in the same area as him.  He commented that both industry and academia were well represented and, ‘the interaction enabled academia
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Ngomhlaka 23 kuMbasa abafundisi nabafundi asebezinze kwezocwaningo kwiSchool of Politics eNyuvesi yaKwaZulu-Natali (UKZN) bebethamele ukwethulwa kocwaningo lwaMnz Jeremy Grest ofundisa eNyuvesi alwenze eMozambique ngonyaka ka-2009 olubizwa ngokuthi “Youth Violence and Civic Engagement in Mozambique”.


Kulezi zingqungquthela ezizoqhubeka unyaka wonke kubuthelana ochwepheshe beNyuvezi kanye nabafundi asebeqhuba ezocwaningo ukuba babelane ngolwazi, babonisane ocwaningweni abalwenzayo, baphinde badingide ezepolitiki ngenqubo yeNyuvesi.


Ocwaningweni lakhe uGrest uveze ukuthi intsha yaseMozambique esengozini yokubhekana nobudlova ngenxa yezizathu eziningi okubalwa kuzo ukunganakwa uhulumeni.  Uphinde wathi noma isimo sishubile zikhona izindlela ezingaletha ushitsho kulesi simo.


Ucwaningo lwaGrest ulenze ngaphansi kweSouth Africa Trust lapho esebenzise izindlela ezahlukahlukene ukuphothula ulwazi ngentsha yaseMozambique.

UGrest uthe lentsha iyaye izithole inganakiwe uhulumeni wakhona kanti kubalulekile ukuba uzibandakanye nayo intsha, ugqugquzele amakhono ayo nezinye izindlela zentuthuko.


USolwazi Mabogo More ofundisa kwiSchool of Politics obephethe uhlelo kulengqungquthela ukhuthaze ingxoxompilkiswano eshisayo ngocwaningo lukaGrest kanti nezihambeli aziwuvalanga umlomo lapho kuhlanza indlu.

Click here for english version

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UKZN’s Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity (ccrri) hosted a seminar by US academic Dr Eloise Linger on March 15 on the contrasts between the vivid recollections of women participants in the Cuban insurrection of the 1950s and the revolution of 1959, and the ways in which women were presented in the revolutionary print media in the years 1959-1963. Linger is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics, Economics and Law at the State University of New York (SUNY).

While the male heroes of the Cuban Revolution, including key figures Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara are international household names, little is known about the women who were part of the same struggle.  Linger’s research sought to locate the missing pieces of the puzzle of Cuban women’s involvement. She used a “words to numbers” system to construct and analyse a database with information from nearly 2 000 newspaper articles from daily periodicals of three revolutionary organisations.  She then demographically grouped individuals involved after the change in state power such as civil servants, women, the people or workers. The results showed the number of times the groups mentioned were portrayed as a subject or an object.

Linger also conducted oral history interviews from 1992-1995 during the course of which she interviewed 45 Cuban people. 

“In my research, I discovered that when Castro was in prison for the 1953 attack on Moncada women such as Haydee Santamarie, Melba Hernandez, Aida Pelayo and Natalia Ruvuelta were instrumental in distributing documents … describing the unjustified imprisonment of Fidel Castro. These women continued to organise task teams to spread the July 26th movement in other provinces’, said Dr Linger.

’These women are well-known but there is still little or no information regarding the involvement of other women who were part of revolutionary organisations such as Mariana Grajales. These are the women history has forgotten ... these are the women I had hoped to find in my research,’ Linger added.

Turning to the revolutionary print media, Linger said that while revolutionary men did support the idea of (and worked alongside) women in the movement, as news writers and editors they did not present women as equal and vital participants in the insurrection of the 1950s.

For the third year in a row, UKZN’s Campbell Collections were on the itinerary of a group of students from the Furman University in the USA. The Collections also attracted the attention of a BBC4 film crew making a documentary titled, Lost Kingdoms of Africa.

The Campbell Collections comprise important sources relating to the social, political and economic history of the province of KwaZulu-Natal.  Killie and William Campbell established the Collections in their home, Muckleneuk, which was built by their father Sir Marshall Campbell.  The Collections were bequeathed to the then University of Natal in 1965 and comprise of Killie Campbell Africana Library; the William Campbell Furniture and Picture Collection; and the Mashu Museum of Ethnology.

The Furman University group comprised of 22 students accompanied by Professor Kristy Maher. On this occasion their area of interest was migrant labour. They attended a lecture by the Campbell Collections’ Museologist, Mr Vusi Buthelezi, on the history of migrant labour in South African. The group also learnt how to go about finding material in the Campbell archives and the handling of archival documents, and enjoyed a tour of the Campbell museum.

The BBC4 film crew was attracted by the Collections’ original notebooks and papers in its James Stuart Collection.  These gave them insight into the history of King Shaka, which was recorded by James Stuart in the early 20th century through the oral testimonies of Zulus.

The filming of the papers took place at the Campbell Collections, and Mr Siyabonga Mkhize, a specialist in the area of Zulu history, explained and contextualised the papers for the documentary. Mkhize has published a book about the history of the Mkhize people, titled Uhlanga LwaEmbo.
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Local and international students in UKZN’s Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS) provided their insights on what Human Rights Day (March 21) means to them as the youth of today.

Honours student, Ms Dudu Zwane said that most South African learners are taught in school about how different national holidays came about ‘but as we get older we forget the history and significance of such days as Human Rights Day’. She feels that it is very important for the youth to learn about the historical events that shaped the South Africa we enjoy today.

Masters student, Ms Wandile Sibisi, reflected on the events that occurred in Sharpeville on March 21 1960. ‘Had those protesters not done what they did, I wouldn’t have graduated in this Institution, [or be able to] apply for any job I want and live wherever I want. We [the African youth] have endless opportunities because of them and we should honour those people, and reflect on what that day really means to us as individuals,’ she said.

Zimbabwean Mr Musasa Lubombo who is pursuing his PhD degree at the CCMS, was very knowledgeable about Human Rights Day and applauded South Africa’s efforts to bring about equality. However, he raised the question of the Protection of Information Bill which has come under much criticism. ‘It is very embarrassing and ironic that South Africa was the celebrated Mother of Democracy in all of Africa, and today you [South Africans] celebrate human rights, but the government wants to deny people their right to information,’ he said.

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The School of Music’s evening concerts for 2011 were launched with a remarkable performance by British concert pianist, Mr Antony Peebles.


Peebles has performed in 131 different countries and in the UK he has played as concerto soloist with a host of orchestras. He broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 and plays for music clubs around the country. ‘What a perfect start to our evening concerts,’ said Ms Fiona Tozer, the School’s Concert Organiser.


Peebles performed classical works by Schubert, Ravel and Liszt and the energy exuded in each performance reflected his life-long experience and passion for the piano. His carefully crafted song selection and the fluidity of his fingers left the audience awestruck.
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