UKZN’s leading academics and top researchers were honoured at the University’s Annual Research Dinner held at the Durban Country Club on December 1.

The prestigious dinner provides an opportunity for the University’s Research Office to recognise exceptional research and research-related scholarly activities as well as to honour and award UKZN researchers.

Those recognised were University Fellows, the Top Published Researcher, the Top Published Woman Researcher, and the Vice-Chancellor’s award and book prize winners.

The recipients of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Lifetime Achievement, National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) and Department of Science & Technology (DST) Women in Science Awards were also recognized.

During the function, Professor Nelson Ijumba, UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, launched the Annual Research Report which reflects on some of the University’s 2010 research highlights, developments and achievements.

In 2010, UKZN maintained its upward trend in research output and there was a number of significant research achievements which demonstrated its increasing stature as a research-led institution in line with its mission and vision.

In his is welcoming address, Professor Ijumba indicated that the proportion of publishing staff increased to 84 percent from 73 percent in 2009. In 2010, the research output per academic staff member was, for the first time, evaluated in terms of the newly-introduced Senate norms of 120, 90 and 60 Productive Units (PUs) for professors, senior lecturers and lecturers respectively.

‘On average in 2010, the professoriate produced at 92 percent of their norm, senior lecturers at 53 percent and lecturers at 29 percent.  Comparative figures for 2009 were 88 percent, 51 percent and 27 percent respectively.

‘About 71 percent of the professoriate produced at or above the norm, compared to 23 percent of the senior lecturers and 19 percent of the lecturers,’ said Ijumba.

According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), UKZN has for the ninth year running maintained its position in the top 500 listing of Universities, and was also ranked third nationally and in Africa.

Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UKZN, this year received the prestigious National Research Foundation (NRF) President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his extraordinary contribution to the development of science, his role in public health advocacy and higher education leadership.

The achievement was acknowledged at the dinner where he also congratulated fellow knowledge producers.

UKZN has identified a number of research focus areas which it believes are critical in supporting its vision, not only as a notable  Institution of African scholarship in South Africa, but as an integral player in the global partnership embodied in the Millennium Development Goals which seek to restore a sense of meaningful d
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As the world commemorated the 30th World AIDS day, the sad reality is that 30.2 percent of pregnant women in South Africa had HIV infection in 2010, a marginal increase from the 2009 HIV rate of 29.4 percent. Women are often unable to convince their male partners, especially husbands and regular partners, to be monogamous and/or to use condoms. Hence, new technologies for women to enable them to protect themselves from sexual transmission of HIV, are urgently needed. In 2010, tenofovir gel provided new hope as a HIV prevention tool for women.  Reports this week created the impression that new research results show that tenofovir gel does not prevent HIV.  This is not true.

Following the announcement in July 2010 that the CAPRISA 004 study demonstrated that tenofovir gel used before and after sex was effective in preventing HIV infection, there was high hope that a solution for HIV prevention in women would soon be available once the study results were confirmed. One of the studies, known as VOICE (Vaginal and Oral Interventions to Control the Epidemic) had been initiated in 2009 and was designed to test whether antiretrovirals, either as tablets or as gels, are safe and effective in preventing sexual transmission of HIV in 5029 women from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda.  The study included women who received either tenofovir either as tablets or gel (or identical placebos) and they were requested to use these medications every day regardless of whether they had sex.  

This week, the VOICE study revealed that the incidence rate of HIV infection in the women assigned to daily tenofovir gel was 6 percent, the same as women assigned to placebo gel. This follows similar unexpected results released 2 months from the VOICE study showing that the tenofovir tablet group of women had HIV infection rates no better than placebo, in contrast to results of a large study (PartnersPrEP) which reported 62 percent reduction in HIV incidence in HIV discordant couples using tenofovir tablets daily as prophylaxis.

The VOICE study finding of no protective effect against HIV in women assigned to daily tenofovir gel is disappointing and it is a temporary setback as it was widely hoped that the VOICE study would replicate the positive results of the CAPRISA 004 trial.  Confirmation of the CAPRISA results would enable the gel to be become licensed as a medicine, a pre-requisite before it can be made widely available in clinics and pharmacies.  

However, these perplexing results do not automatically mean that tenofovir gel does not work. There is good evidence from laboratory research, animal studies and human trials showing that tenofovir gel prevents HIV. However, science does not always produce the answer we hope for. This new result, which is not consistent with other available evidence on tenofovir gel, could be due to any one of a number of reasons.  At present, it is unclear whether the VOICE study’s outcome could be due to inadequate or non-use of the gel by women in the study, to insufficient drug levels in women at the time of HIV exposure during sex, or to some other reason.

For example, the VOICE trial results
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The Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine is proud to announce a 96.4% pass rate for the Class of 2011. 146 medical doctors will embark on internships around the country in January 2012. Top student, Dr Zakariya Badat obtained a summa cum laude pass. Dr Mariam Peer, Dr Aayesha Ebrahim Moosa, Dr Leeshen Pillay, Dr Safeeya Osman and Dr Swabhavika Singh all obtained cum laude passes. 

Dean of the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, Professor Umesh Lalloo, congratulated the class on their top results. He was joined by excited family and friends of the class in the Medical School Campus car park.

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Professor Purshottama Reddy of the School of Public Administration and Development Management, attended the 33rd Roundtable Conference in Lilongwe, Malawi.

The conference titled: “Strengthening Citizen Engagement Through Decentralisation to Enhance Public Service Delivery in Africa,” was co–hosted by the African Association for Public Administration and Management (AAPAM) and the Government of Malawi.

“Democratic Decentralisation, Citizen Engagement and Service Delivery in South Africa: A Critique of Legislative and Policy Considerations,” was the title of a research paper presented by Reddy which was co–authored by Dr Jayanathan Govender from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Their paper concluded that despite ‘world class’ legislation and a ‘best practice’ local governance system which has as its basis people-centered development, engagement and decentralisation, several governance challenges had emerged.

 The challenges included unfunded mandates; rampant corruption and nepotism; poor service delivery; capacity constraints; crime, lack of communication, transparency and accountability; limited civic engagement and financial viability. The paper recommended these issues be prioritised if Chapter 7 of the Constitution was to become more meaningful to the majority of people in terms of discharging its developmental mandate.

The conference was attended by 365 delegates from 29 countries including cabinet ministers; heads of public/civil services and secretaries to cabinet; permanent /principal secretaries and other high–ranking government officials; chairpersons and commissioners of public service commissions, and heads of management development institutes. 

There were also representatives from AAPAM partner organisations, including the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs; the Institute of Public Administration of Canada; Commonwealth Secretariat, London; United Nations Development Programmes; and the United Nations Capital Development Fund.

The AAPAM Gold Medal for distinction and exceptional achievement in Public Administration and Management was awarded to Professor Malcom Wallis of the Durban University of Technology (DUT). Wallis is a former Head of Department of Public Administration at UKZN and Executive Dean of Commerce at DUT. A Gold Award in recognition of innovations in the public sector was awarded to the South African Independent Electoral Commission.  

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UKZN botanists are concerned about the conservation of the Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia pauciflora), a rare and indigenous African lily, that is being threatened with extinction as plans to sell its natural habitat for development are at an advanced stage.

The Clairwood Racecourse in Durban is the last standing natural environment of the flower - commonly known as the ‘Racecourse Lily’ -  and now the site is being sold to Calshelf Investments 216, under the Cavaleros Group.

The Cavaleros Group is a Gauteng-based commercial, industrial, hotel and retail property investment development company.

Calshelf Investments 216 and Cavaleros Group are set to develope the property, including the habitat of the lily, in the light of the expansion of the Durban harbour. The old Durban airport will be dug out by Transnet to extend the harbour, thus making the racecourse a perfect site for constructing office blocks, hotels or flats in years to come.

Red Hot Pokers, which have yellow funnel-shaped flowers, belong to the genus Kniphofia, and comprise about 70 species which grow mainly in moist grasslands.

This red hot poker was first collected in Durban back in 1841 by the renowned Swedish naturalist, Johan August Wahlberg. In 1914 two specimens were gathered by an ‘Indian collector’ in moist ground near Durban. By the 1940s other natural sites in the Marianhill and Pinetown areas were found, but have since been destroyed.

During the 1960s the lily was found and collected at the Clairwood Racecourse, and some of the plants were propagated at the University nursery with a specimen housed in the Ward Herbarium. The plants from the racecourse population have provided the material for the South African horticulture trade.

UKZN Botanist from the School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, Professor Himansu (Snowy) Baijnath notes that indications were that the lily had disappeared from the racecourse site by 1995 because of disturbances. Baijnath and several of his colleagues tried to repopulate the plant from the UKZN nursery to its natural habitat, but did not succeed. It was therefore thought to be extinct as a natural and wild flower.

However, in 2003 they found a small field of the pokers on a different site at the racecourse, and rejoiced at its tenacity as it fought to keep its natural habitat.

Although indigenous gardening is popular in South Africa, red-hot pokers have not been targeted, making this one of the rarest plant species in KwaZulu-Natal. All K. pauciflora plants in cultivation have originated from the single clone in the Clairwo
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A UKZN scientist was chosen as the best oral presenter in a section at the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation’s (ANDI) annual stakeholder meeting in Ethiopia recently.

The meeting was held to recognise 32 African institutions being declared ANDI Centres of Excellence in Health Innovation.

Postdoctoral research fellow, Dr James Dama Habila, was selected as the best oral presenter in the natural product traditional medicine plenary session during the conference.

The ANDI centres of excellence are spread across the five sub-regions of Africa and conduct research and development (R&D) and innovation activities on drugs, diagnostics, vaccines, medical devices and traditional medicines. They contribute to implementing ANDI stated objectives in drugs development, R&Ds and capacity building on the continent.

Habila was born and raised in Nigeria and currently lectures at the Ahmadu Bello University of Zaria in that country.

‘I work with organic compounds from natural sources in order to capitalise on finding a natural cure that minimises harm to human beings. In essence, if this compound is found in the natural sphere it means it will also be easily accessible to people in Africa who often rely on expensive and exported medication,’ said Habila.

Habila’s commitment in creating medicine that is organic and non-harmful steered him in the direction of fighting one of Africa’s longest suffered diseases - malaria. Research over the past six months has resulted in Habila and his team from UKZN’s School of Chemistry Natural Product Research Group discovering a ground-breaking anti-malaria compound. 

Habila’s research is titled, “Novel anti malaria agent: 3ß-hydroxyolean-12-en-28-Cinnamic anhydride, Synthesis, Characterisation and in vivo studies.” The primary objective of the study is to semi-synthesize this compound and evaluate its anti-malarial properties…we tested the compound on mice infected with the deadly malaria parasite and found positive results comparable with the standard drugs, chloroquine and artemisinin,’ said Habila.

Malaria is a life-threatening parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito carrying Plasmodium falciparum. It has caused more 300 million deaths in Africa.

‘It is important to undertake research of this magnitude because of the emergence of a drug resistant strain of the malaria parasite. With support from institutions and organizations such as UKZN and ANDI we (scientists) are able to pursue leads towards discovering better curative compounds for malaria,’ said Habila.

The 4th ANDI also focused on various heal
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UKZN academics presented papers at the Network for Regional Integration Studies (NETRIS) Conference hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Ethiopia last month.

The conference titled: “Regional Integration in ACP Countries: Challenges and Prospects,” took into consideration past and relevant contributions made by the NETRIS-ACP Higher Education partner institutions and associates in the field of comparative regional integration.

Academics and policy-makers contributions to the fourth NETRIS conference covered a number of important issues related to the various regional integration arrangements in the ACP.

The conference produced a wealth of discussion and an exchange of ideas on the challenges and prospects of regionalism within the ACP group.

UKZN’s School of Economics and Finance representatives Ms Vanessa Tang and Mr Richard Simson presented a paper on policy responses to aid and investments flow in ECOWAS, and Mr James Fairburn provided a contemporary economic analysis of regional trade agreements.

NETRIS is funded through EDULINK – the ACP-EU Partnership in Higher Education and is co-ordinated by the College of Europe and UNU-CRIS.

The overall objectives of NETRIS are to strengthen the research and training capacities of the partners in the field of regional integration studies, to stimulate mutual learning, share research practices and encourage policy relevant research.

To facilitate such exchanges, NETRIS has established a mobility programme. In November 2011, Tang and Professor Timothy Shaw of the University of West Indies jointly gave a seminar at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.

Tang discussed the major impediments to Africa’s continental economic integration and assessed the link between trade openness and growth for small islands. Shaw examined regionalism after the ‘global’ crisis and the rise of the BRICS.

Past Netris seminars have addressed issues of good governance (UWI/IIR, Trinidad, March 2010); trade and economic integration (UKZN/School of Economics and Finance September 2010) and migration policies (UCAD, Dakar, March 2011). 
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The University of KwaZulu-Natal is intimately involved in a project to develop writing and publishing in local languages in Uganda and Ethiopia.

UKZN’s New Readers Publishers, attached to the Centre for Adult Education, is a Delphe project– Development Partnerships in Higher Education partnership – which is funded by the UK's Department for International Development (DfID).

Others partners are the Makerere University in Uganda, Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University and the Association of Adult and Non-Formal Education, Kings College, the Institute of Education, and Uppingham Seminars, all based in the United Kingdom.

The project, which runs until the end of next year, is being co-ordinated by Dr George Openjuru, who completed his PhD in Adult Education at UKZN in 2008.

Openjuru is currently the Dean of the School of Distance and Lifelong Learning (College of Education and External Studies) at Makerere University.

The overall purpose of the project is to introduce adult education practitioners, trainers and course organisers to ethnographic style approaches to the study of indigenous beliefs and values which structure learners' understanding and experience of literacy/numeracy.

The project also seeks to explore how such knowledge could be used to develop and publish reading materials which can support and promote the use of adult literacy/numeracy in everyday livelihood practices of rural communities in Uganda and Ethiopia.

New Readers Publishers recently facilitated a workshop in Uganda for 10 Ethiopian and 18 Ugandan adult educators/community development practitioners from NGOs, universities and government departments.

The workshop covered topics related to writing and publishing interesting and relevant stories for adults with low levels of literacy. The workshop was based on an experiential model of learning in which each participant, regardless of roles or positions in their respective organisations, went through the process of planning, writing, editing and preparing a story for publication. Stories were written in six different languages – four Ugandan languages (Luo, Lugbara, Karamojong and Luganda) and two Ethiopian languages (Amharic and Oromiffa).

The stories generated in this workshop will be published, under the guidance of New Readers Publishers, in Uganda and Ethiopia, using local illustrators and printers. The books will be used in adult literacy programmes and will promote the key principle of the publishers which is that learning to read enjoyable stories in local languages enhances and promotes a culture of reading.

The following comments are from workshop participants:

I found the training was beneficial not only professionally but also pe
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The Faculty of Health Sciences’ Awards Day was an event of celebration, thanksgiving and acknowledgement of the successes and achievements of the Faculty since its inception in 2005.

This was the final awards ceremony for the Faculty as next year ushers in UKZN’s new College model with unified super schools instead of faculties.

‘As the era of faculties at UKZN comes to a close, I want to formally acknowledge and extend my appreciation to the academic and administrative leadership of the faculty in the past seven years,’ said Dean and Head of the new School of Health Sciences, Professor Sabiha Essack.

‘I am immensely grateful for the calibre, commitment and work ethic of the people I have worked with,’ she said.

The festivities of the day began by honouring long-serving staff – those with 15 or 25 years of service - who received certificates. Essack thanked all staff, distinguished teachers and top researchers who were ambassadors for Health Sciences and played an important role in the Faculty’s research, teaching and learning and community engagement projects.

Essack also took the opportunity to bid farewell to retiring staff and welcomed new appointments to the new School.

The event ended with a lunch at UKZN’s Comsa Lounge. 

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The College of Health Sciences hosted a public lecture by Dr Robert Fleischmann, Professor at the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) and Administrative Director of the Pathogen Functional Genomics Resource Centre in the United States.

Fleischmann’s talk was titled: “The Pathogen Functional Genomic Resource Centre (PFGRC) in drug resistance and a novel platform for Mtb drug resistance surveillance.” The centre assists biodefence communities in their fight against several infectious diseases.

The PFGRC, created in 2001 as a centralised resource for functional genome reagents and biodefence communities, developed DNA micro arrays, gateway entry clone resources, proteomics, bioinformatics and several white papers to assist communities in several countries. The centre began with developing micro arrays to enable any laboratory, including those in an under-resourced setting, to be able to perform functional genomics, making it far more accessible.

During the period of 2001 to 2011, the Centre identified 45 different pathogens of interest to biodefence, covered 132 strains, supported 600 investigations and distributed 50 000 micro arrays to communities in more than 20 countries. Through the gateway entry clone resource, the centre produced libraries of complete clone sets which supported 375 investigators with 247 000 clones. Fleischmann said: ‘The centre will continue to build an ongoing library based on the demand from the community.’

In assessing Mtb resistance, the PFGRC discovered that co-mutations conferred high levels of drug resistance in Mtb. Fleischmann also mentioned that the proteins embB and embC are needed together to confer high levels of drug resistance.

‘Step wise drug selection in laboratories in combination with the next generation of sequencing technology can lead to the identification of mutations associated with drug resistance. The detection and surveillance of Mtb provides a temporal and geographical profile of changing drug susceptibility and resistance patterns. In this way, one would be able to provide targeted interventions in specific areas,’ said Fleischmann.

Dr Fleischmann was lead scientist in the ground breaking project to complete the sequence, annotation, and publication of the first complete genome sequence from H. influenzae.  This shotgun sequencing approach to large scale genome sequencing has become the cornerstone of essentially all complete genome sequencing projects to follow, from virus to man.  

Fleischmann has led the sequencing efforts of several Mycobacterial and dental pathogens.  He completed the sequence of the first clinical M. tuberculosis isolate and published the detailed comparative analyses of the laboratory and clinical strains.  

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Staff with long service at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine were recognised at a well attended awards ceremony.

The School’s Dean, Professor Umesh Lalloo, congratulated academic and support staff members who had served 15 or 25 years in the Faculty. Retiring staff members were also lauded for their many years of service to the Medical School and provincial hospitals.

Lalloo encouraged the entire faculty to continue their hard work, commitment and dedication they displayed for the Medical School, its development and research.

‘To those who are retiring this year, I hope each one of you will find a niche that will retain you at the Medical School,’ said Lalloo.

Lalloo received a 25-year award and his wife, Professor Raziya Bobat, a 15-year award. Head of the Department of Orthopaedics, Professor Shunmugam Govender, who is retiring, received an award for his sterling work in the field of HIV and spinal co-infections. 

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Water Harvesting Technologies Revisited (WHaTeR) is a four-year collaborative project funded by the European Commission which includes UKZN as one of its nine research partners.

UKZN participates in the projects through the School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology on the Pietermaritzburg campus. The School’s expertise in water harvesting and South Africa’s need for more effective water harvesting make UKZN a critical partner in the research project.

The project will be implemented in three stages, with site revisits and situational analysis comprising the initial stage.

 WHaTeR held its first Methodology Workshop titled: “Water Harvesting Technologies Revisited,” at the Ascot Conference Centre in Pietermaritzburg from 21-25 November. Delegates shared insight into water harvesting technologies (WHTs) used in 15 African countries, and the current state and challenges of water harvesting in four countries, including South Africa.

The project was sparked by recent water management assessments revealing that farmed areas solely dependent on rainfall offered great potential for improving agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa - especially in the light of poverty and hunger.

Traditionally WHTs were used in Sub-Saharan Africa but now need to evolve. ‘Traditional technologies and methods of water harvesting are no longer effective as the environment has changed due to demographic, environmental and economic factors,’ said Denyse Snelder of Vrije University in Amsterdam.

According to WHaTeR research, an estimated 70-85 percent of rainfall is lost through non-productive evaporation, surface runoff and drainage. Therefore, WHTs can strengthen the productivity of rainfed agriculture.

WHaTeR’s objectives are to conduct research and recommendations for government policies in innovative WHTs; to strengthen the potential and sustainability of rainfed agriculture in Africa; contribute to food production and security, and to contribute to rural livelihood improvements.

The Workshop first gave insight on the revisits of WHTs and water harvesting projects in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa, where country/project representatives gave insight to their on-going progress in each region.  It then delved into cross-cutting research and development themes; environmental sustainability, technological development, livelihood improvement, uptake and upscaling, and global and regional impact.

South Africa’s revisit focused on a project headed by the School of Bioresource Engineering and Environmental Hydrology at Potshini in KwaZulu-Natal and another project at Thaba Nchu in the Free State.

Spokesperson Mrs Lauren Bulcock said: ‘Potshini residences are resource poor with many depe
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UKZN’s School of Nursing hosted a World Health Organisation’s (WHO) capacity building workshop on the use of innovative tools and approaches to support evidence-informed policy making.

Uniting international delegates from France, Cameroon, Brazzaville, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Malawi, Ouagadougou, South Africa’s National Department of Health, and WHO Collaborating Centres, the workshop was highly successful.

It tackled several issues affecting emerging leaders in nursing and academics internationally, who were advocating health care delivery through policy, based on evidence.

Presenting a road map for scaling up the health workforce in the African Region, Mrs Margaret Phiri, responsible for Nursing and Midwifery in the region, focused on key Human Resources for Health (HRH) issues and went on to suggest five key strategic directions.

She listed: strengthening health workforce leadership and governance, scaling up education and training of health workers, optimising utilisation and performance of available health workforce, improving health workforce information and evidence, and strengthening health workforce partnership and dialogue.

The conference heard that latest HRH trends and challenges in South Africa involve factors such as historical expenditure on health personnel in the public sector, current health professionals registered with the Councils, current numbers by professional category in the public and private sectors, access to health professionals in rural areas, and traditional healers.

Also involved are the migration of South African health professionals, attrition of Community Service professionals, graduate unemployment and lack of absorption, shortages and vacancies, international benchmarking, recruitment of foreign-trained health professionals, and recommendations to inform strategic priorities.

When sharing nursing challenges as experienced in each country’s given context during the workshop, certain similarities and empathy towards each setting concluded that more often than not, the profession had difficulty in implementing policies and interventions to strengthen and improve health care from nurses.

‘We are putting ourselves out there not because we think we know but rather to enhance the profession,’ said UKZN’s Professor Busi Ncama, who spoke on the importance of nurses making their voices heard.

Ncama, who is also the Head of UKZN’s School of Nursing, mentioned there was a
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The Margaret Kirkwood Hall on the Pietermaritzburg campus was the venue for the reunion of graduates from UKZN’s Student Leadership Course in 2000.

It was also an occasion to celebrate the leadership of Ms Marie Odendaal, the Head of the Student Leadership Development Office, who retires this year.

Co-ordinated by Ms Rose Makoae - a graduate from the 2000 cohort and now a UKZN staff member - the reunion brought together six other graduates from as far as Cape Town, some of whom are leaders in public life.

A packed programme was framed by a short video of the late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, for her outstanding leadership skills in leading the ecological movement and challenging oppression in Kenya.

Guest speakers included Ms Khanyi Nyembezi, Deputy Dean of Students on the Pietermaritzburg campus; Professor Terence King, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Humanities and Management; Mr Trevor Wills, former Executive Dean of Students; Dr Mark Dent of the Centre for Environment, Agriculture and Development, and Professor Kriben Pillay of the Leadership Centre.

All the speakers touched on the important leadership development work Ms Odendaal initiated through her programme, and all the graduates emphasised the need for this to continue.

Below is a list of the graduates and the positions they occupy: