It is rare for someone to be honoured with two of the country’s most prestigious scientific awards in one year.  UKZN Emeritus Professor, Johannes van Staden can lay claim to this achievement – he is the worthy recipient of the M.T. Steyn Medal for Natural Sciences and Technical Achievement and the 2010 Gold Medal of the Southern African Association for the Advancement of Science (S2A3).  Both these awards recognise his outstanding lifetime achievements and contribution to the advancement of science in the form of teaching, research, training, management, popularisation, editing and mentorship. 

The M.T. Steyn Medal, awarded by the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (South African Academy for Science and Art), is one of the Academy’s most important tributes for leadership at the highest level.  Receipt of the medal can be regarded as the culmination of an academic’s life’s-work and can only be awarded once to any particular person.  Described by the Academy as the most productive scientist in South Africa, Professor van Staden was presented with the award at a formal ceremony in Pretoria at the beginning of October.

The S2A3 Gold Medal “recognises the exceptional contribution to the advancement of science, on a broad front or in a specialised field, by an eminent South African scientist.  Awarded since 1908, the medal is one of the highest accolades for scientific merit in southern Africa. Nominations are received from science-related faculties of South African universities, universities of technology, research organisations, scientific associations and individuals.  Professor van Staden will receive the award at the annual awards ceremony in November at which he will present the Marloth Commemorative Lecture. 

Professor van Staden, who heads up UKZN’s Centre for Plant Growth and Development on the Pietermaritzburg campus, boasts a 40-year career at the University.  His work involves the regulation of plant growth and development and encompasses all aspects of plant biotechnology.   He has made important contributions in the field of plant hormones and much of his research has commercial implications. It has resulted in practical advances in the fields of seed germination, plant senescence (the study of aging in plants), tissue culture and ethnopharmacology.  Professor van Staden’s latest work involves the effect of fire and plant-derived smoke on the environment.  

One of the most highly cited scientists in the world, Professor van Staden has produced more than 1 050 refereed papers in national and international journals.  He has supervised or co-supervised 51 postdoctoral students, 86 PhD student
author email : crookesv@ukzn.ac.za



A partnership between UKZN and Karebo Power Projects, a Johannesburg-based engineering company, has resulted in the Integrated Renewable Energy Application Programme (I-REAP). Officially launched at the Westville campus on October 13, the initiative also involves the National Research Foundation (NRF)’s Technology and Human Resources Programme (THRIP), the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and UKZN Innovation, the University’s commercial arm.

The realities of climate change demand that South Africa move away from its high (almost 90 percent) reliance on coal for electricity generation to more renewable sources of power.  The UKZN-Karebo partnership aims to address this issue by establishing a multidisciplinary Renewable Energy Technology Centre aimed at: promoting excellence in sustainable energy research and technological development, fostering scholarship and skills transfer, and creating and disseminating knowledge on renewable energy.   

Speaking at the launch, Dr Pradeep Kumar, Project Director from Karebo, emphasised the importance of finding energy solutions that are sustainable and are technically and commercially viable.  “Renewable energy projects need to be commercially viable and innovative and tailor-made technical solutions are required in each case.  Hence a collaborative initiative such as I-REAP could help South Africa unlock the value in renewable energy,” he said.

The Renewable Energy Technology Centre will be the first of its kind in southern Africa.  Although there is already substantial interest in the renewable energy market in the country, all renewable energy centres in South Africa currently focus primarily on solar or wind power.  Instead, the UKZN-Karebo Centre will concentrate on energy from farm waste and will offer specific expertise on the broader field of waste-to-energy. 

Leading the project from UKZN’s side is Professor Cristina Trois from the School of Civil Engineering, Surveying and Construction.  She comes to the party with more than 10 years’ experience in the field.  Her earlier research on biogas production from waste formed the framework for the first biogas-to-energy project in Africa, implemented by the eThekwini Municipality from 2006-2009. 

In her welcome address, Professor Trois highlighted the research she and her students have conducted over the years and said that the time is right for the implementation and development phase.

The Centre for Civil Society (CCS) held a seminar on Rising to the Adaption Challenge? Responding to Global Environmental Change in the Durban Metropolitan and Ugu District Regions by Ms Hayley Leck where she presented an overview of her research and fieldwork experiences and provided a tentative outline of some of her main findings so far.

Ms Leck is a PhD student at the Royal Holloway University London and a UKZN graduate. She has been a visiting scholar at the CCS during her fieldwork period which began in October 2009 and will be shortly returning to London where she will complete her final year.

Ms Leck said that global environmental change or, more narrowly, climate change is now widely recognised as the most formidable challenge facing humanity in the 21st century and beyond. The adverse effects of climate change are disproportionately distributed and it is the already vulnerable and marginalised who stand to be most affected.

Her research explores the opportunities and constraints to adapting to global environmental change in the eThekwini and Ugu District Municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal. Particular emphasis is placed on the human dimensions of adaptation to environmental change, while recognising the coupled nature of social and ecological systems. Specific attention is paid to how apparent disparities in vulnerability amongst households in different municipal spaces can be better addressed and accounted for in environmental change adaptation initiatives.

Ms Leck said that she had found that experiences of climate change are different in rural and urban areas. She added that South Africa needs to ensure that the adaption initiatives and existing disparities and injustices are not further eroded.

Ms Leck also found that religious and cultural beliefs systems play a role in shaping understandings of and responses to climate change. “Cultural and religious beliefs may provide barriers to adaptation, but on the other hand, if appropriately accounted for and recognised, can indeed be a positive factor for facilitating adaptation which can only be done through community engagement,” she said.

She concluded by highlighting that it is nec
author email : shabangus@ukzn.ac.za



Guests attending the panel discussion South African Indians – 150 years and Beyond at UKZN on September 29 celebrated the heritage of the Indian community whose beginnings in South Africa date back to the 1860s when they were brought to the country to work as indentured labour.

Great grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi and the Chancellor of the Durban University of Technology Mrs Ela Gandhi, and UKZN academics, Professors Hoosen Coovadia, Brij Maharaj and Dr Lubna Nadvi addressed a diverse audience on the history of the Indian community in South Africa and their meteoric rise in all sectors of society from humble beginnings.

Lecturer in Geography Professor Maharaj, presented a historical perspective on the Indian community and their resilience in making a success of their lives despite numerous hardships, and living conditions tantamount to slavery.

Mrs Gandhi extolled the virtues of Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of Satyagraha in a presentation that encouraged a revival of the concept in contemporary South Africa. She said the concept of Satyagraha should not be regarded as “passive resistance”, but rather an “active resistance” against discrimination. According to Ms Gandhi Satyagraha is about empowerment of individuals in working towards a society whereby people maintain themselves and are self-sufficient.

Professor Coovadia, an Emeritus Professor at UKZN and the Director of the HIV Management Cluster at the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit highlighted the role of Indian South Africans in politics, academia and business. What had always impressed Professor Coovadia was the integrated family lives among people of Indian origin which had been a strength that led to the growth and success of the community.

Dr Nadvi, a Lecturer in the School of Politics paid homage to great Indian South Africans whose contributions have led to the advancement of the community. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Mr Soofie Saheb (founder of the Soofie Saheb Mosque in Riverside) helped the Indian community break away from the indentured labour system which was akin to slavery. She spoke of the importance the Indian community placed on education. The Indian-African riots of 1949, while straining relations between these communities, had brought the Indian community closer. Her talk emphasised the significant political lead taken by Indians such Monty Naicker, Fatima Meer and Amad Kathrada and this community’s unity with African and Coloureds in the fight against apartheid.

The Faculty of Education’s Postgraduate Sector and Research Office held a Faculty Research Day on October 1.


Masters and doctoral students presented oral and poster presentations based on a chapter from their dissertation, thesis or research publication. The oral presentations were intended to provide them with support in developing their ideas and enhancing the quality of their individual research projects.


In her lecture titled, The Question(s) of Education Research, education linguist from the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Education Practice Research, Professor Elizabeth Henning emphasised the importance of research in education.


“The question of education research needs to be ‘complexified’… Why are we doing research and what is the reason for your choice of topic? … A researcher takes a position towards the object of inquiry, finds her or his footing, and ultimately cultivates a voice,” she said.


Professor Henning is lobbying for the Departments of Education and Higher Education and Training to give educators paid leave to enrol for masters and doctorial studies full-time.


Lecturers presented research papers on a range of topics. My Vuvuzela will not be silenced: a Linguistic Equity in South Africa presented by Professor Ayob Sheik of UKZN’s School of Language, Literacies and Media Education examined the dominance of the English language and the looming extinction of indigenous languages. Dr Vusi Mncube of UKZN’s School of Education Studies presented a paper on school governing bodies and the role of parents in democracy at schools.


Deputy Dean for Postgraduate Studies and Research, Professor Deevia Bhana presented a paper titled, Girls’ Violence in a Single-sex School in Durban. Professor Henning also conducted a workshop on research projects and publications.


UKZN alumnus Mr Robert Spaull has been awarded the prestigious Anglo American-Chevening Scholarship for fully funded study at the University of Cambridge this year where he will be reading for an MPhil International Relations at Peterhouse. 

After graduating from the former University of Natal in 1997 with a BSocSci degree Mr Spaull went on to work at Parliament in Cape Town as a researcher and speechwriter for the Leader of the Opposition.  He subsequently held positions as Director of Communications in the Office of the Western Cape Premier and Head of Communications in the national Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism before joining the private sector as a partner in a private equity fund providing start-up funding to small and medium size businesses.

“Although I spent a year in 1999 in the USA at Indiana University on the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship it was for non-degree purposes,” said Mr Spaull, “so this return to academia will be something of an adjustment but it is something I have wanted to do for a long time.”  The planned focus of his dissertation will be the role that should be played by South Africa in the multi-lateral negotiations on global climate change.  “Having had the chance to work with the former Minister in this field, and having been present at a number of the international negotiations, I am intrigued by the opportunity South Africa has to be a bridge between the developed and developing world on issues like climate change negotiations,” said Mr Spaull.

The British Chevening Scholarship is a programme of the Foreign Commonwealth Office of the British Government and is administered in South Africa by the British Council.  Over 600 graduate scholars are selected annually from around the world to attend leading universities in the United Kingdom – especially in fields that promote development, democratisation, and environmental sustainability.  For more information on the Chevening Scholarship in South Africa visit http://www.britishcouncil.org/africa-chevening.htm.

Speaking about the connection between his award and Anglo American Mr Spaull added, “Every year one of the South African Chevening Scholars is selected to receive the Anglo American-Chevening Scholarship, which is co-funded by Anglo American.  I am really grateful to both the Foreign Commonwealth Office and Anglo American to have been selected this year.” 

author email : rspaull@gmail.com



The South African Research Ethics Training Initiative (SARETI), a project funded by the US NIH Fogarty International Center, based at the UKZN School of Psychology on the Pietermaritzburg campus, in collaboration with the School of Medicine, University of Pretoria, directed by Professor Doug Wassenaar, hosted the second African Health Research Ethics Symposium (AHRES II) in Umhlanga Rocks, from September 29 to October 1.

The Symposium was attended by 39 delegates from 12 African countries, including the Director of the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), Professor Carel IJsselmuiden, who is based in Geneva, Switzerland and the Dean of Humanities at UKZN, Professor Nhlanhla J Mkhize.

This event, which is held every four years, aims to bring together all graduates of the SARETI programme, the SARETI Executive, and African scholars in research ethics. It is a forum for SARETI graduates to present their research work in the field of health research ethics and demonstrate how they have implemented their SARETI training in their home countries. This forum also allows SARETI trainees to build a collective identity and to network with trainees from similar programmes and with African experts in this area in general.

The Symposium was also attended by other interested parties thanks to a supplementary grant from the UK Wellcome Trust.

author email : wassenaar@ukzn.ac.za



We are all aware of global environmental deterioration, and the critical issues of lack of water and energy here in South Africa. But are we doing something ourselves to combat the environmental crisis? As an initiative to spark environmental awareness on Howard College, a group of concerned students and staff has decided to do something to make a change and have launched the “Greening UKZN Campaign.” 

The Campaign kicked off on the Howard College campus on September 30 with students setting up a green corner that engaged both students and staff on issues pertaining to the environment.  Students and staff across the disciplines were seen at the green corner to learn more on how to create a more sustainable environmental behaviour.

Campaign member Ms Anja Bakken said a walk about of the Howard College campus alone had shown that lights are turned on 24 hours a day; air conditioners are left on and taps are often left open. “The wastage of huge amounts of paper, energy and water has a negative impact on the environment. Pollution is a big problem in Durban but we do not actively do much to address the problem. We would like students to become more involved in our programme to create a safer environment,” said Ms Bakken.

Ms Bakken said people do not consciously consider the implications of every decision they make. For example every time they use an electrical appliance or print documents their carbon footprint is increased.

A few ideas suggested by Ms Bakken to create a green University environment were: the use of energy efficient light bulbs around campuses; the installation of taps with sensors to avoid wastage of water; and recycling of paper. 

The campaign has introduced an energy management competition to discourage excessive energy usage in three student residences. The competition will run from September 27 until October 22. The residences involved in the competition are Louis Botha, Ansell May and Townley Williams on the Howard College campus. They were chosen because they were the only ones with functioning meters, which have also been working for a long period of time, so that the average consumption level was obtainable.

According to the energy management at UKZN new meters will be installed at all residences, and th
author email : maharajne@ukzn.ac.za


This was the topic of a public lecture on October 12 at UKZN by Professor Gareth Jones, Director of the Bioethics Centre and Professor of Anatomy and Structural Biology at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Professor Jones said, “Anatomists need ethics, however this has not always been so. After all, if anatomists fail to address ethical issues of direct relevance to the study of the dead human body, who is expected to do this? And yet anatomists have repeatedly fallen down when it has come to asserting the primacy of ethical standards in their profession. They have paid far too little attention to ethical strictures, and this has opened the way to some appalling ethical lapses in anatomical practice.

“As I have reflected on these issues, it has seemed that the manner in which we respond to the dead, the use we make of their skeletal remains and tissues, and the ways in which we learn about ourselves by studying them, raise ethical queries that go to the heart of what it means to be human, said Professor Jones”. 

For many years issues that anatomists would now consider to have ethical overtones were taken for granted.  Most people failed to recognise that there are ethical issues in anatomy.  Those in anatomy departments were spared from having to confront issues like informed consent, or of deciding what to tell patients faced by imminent death, or when to turn off respirators.  They simply dealt with dead people. The bodies had been obtained by legal, and usually legitimate, means, as had the brains used in neuro-anatomy classes and the skeletons that decorated the walls of the dissecting room, the anatomy museum, and sometimes the lecture theatre.

All this began to change as a revolutionary renaissance we now know as bioethics broadened and transformed what had been the much more confined domain of medical ethics.  Ethical analysis that had been confined to specifically clinical realms and to isolated topics such as abortion began to be applied to the reproductive technologies and organ transplantation, immediately raising profound ethical queries at both ends of life. 

Very simply it means taking great care that the interests of
author email : francism@ukan.ac.za



Humbled by the completion of her doctoral degree in Nursing Education, Dr Sindisiwe Mthembu, who likens the experience to having conquered the world, was congratulated by UKZN’s Faculty of Health Sciences on her achievement.


Dr Mthembu started her PhD titled: The analysis of knowledge construction in community based service-learning programmes for basic nursing education at two selected nursing education institutions in South Africa in 2007.

This study explored the phenomenon of knowledge construction in basic nursing programmes in two selected South African nursing schools to generate a middle range theoretical model that may be used to guide the process of knowledge construction in community based service-learning programmes.

Dr Mthembu said she was drawn to the subject by the world-wide concern challenging Higher Education Institutions to engage more closely with their surrounding communities.“This community engagement phenomenon is underpinned by values of social responsibility, political commitment and academic excellence,” she said.

“In South Africa, the Education White Paper of 1997 on ‘A programme for Higher Education transformation’ laid the foundations for making community engagement and community service an integral part of Higher Education, hence the generation of a model to guide students' learning or knowledge construction in communities,” she said.


The 42-year-old from Umlazi is completing her second decade as a professional sister and has juggled this with the demanding roles she plays as a wife, a mother of three, and a determined academic.


Students from the UKZN’s College of Health Sciences enrolled in undergraduate programmes participated in a Young Health Scientists Research Symposium which was held at UKZN and hosted in partnership with Pfizer - the largest private pharmaceutical research organisation in the world, on October 4.


“This annual Research Symposium is designed to showcase and highlight the recent scientific and clinical research from the College’s young health scientists,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Tahir Pillay.


Seven groups of students had the opportunity to present research projects which were judged by a panel of health scientists from UKZN and Pfizer South Africa - the main sponsor of the event. These presentations are an integral part of what the students can anticipate in their careers.


Chief Executive Officer and Country Manager of Pfizer SA, Mr Brian Daniel said that the Symposium is a critical platform for engagement and learning in the field of research excellence which has the potential to save lives.


“Part of Pfizer’s vision in terms of ‘living its full potential in striving for a healthier South Africa’, pertains to providing South Africans with access to life-changing and life-saving medication,” said Mr Daniel.


In her keynote address Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim who is the Associate Scientific Director at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) said, “If you don’t bring together and apply the best available tools in science and technology to address major health challenges facing us, we will be unable to ensure the full development of all South Africans.”

Reflecting on the impact HIV and AIDS has had thus far, she illustrated how HIV is impacting on every one of the millennium development goals and said that investment in science and technology for research in the health sciences is essen
author email : memelal@ukzn.ac.za



The 14th Poetry Africa festival at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on the Howard College campus created a wonderful buzz. This annual event ran from October 4-8 at UKZN and closed at Durban’s Bat Centre on October 9.


This year’s festival featured 22 participants from 12 different countries. Apart from thoroughly entertaining nights at the Sneddon Theatre, the activities included seminars, workshops, poetry competitions, open mic opportunities and school visits.


The Director for the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) Peter Rorvik said it is evident that music and poetry spring from the same well of creativity. The festival opened with a spectacular performance by internationally acclaimed artists, Ernie Smith and Concord Nkabinde, followed by a poetry marathon which featured the various poets that presented their work throughout the week.


Speaking in harmony with one of South Africa’s most celebrated poets, Lebo Mashile who hosted the opening night of the event, Rorvik said that poetry is a language of enrichment. With the stage being an iconic platform for freedom of expression, both Mashile and Rorvik seized the opportunity to speak out against South Africa’s Protection of Information Bill and Media Tribunal which threaten freedom of speech, freedom of expression and basic human rights.


Rorvik thanked all funders who have supported Poetry Africa, while Mashile said that through the Poetry Africa festival, the CCA provides a haven for all South African poets. She added that both established and aspirant poets expressed delight and gratitude for the countless opportunities Poetry Africa availed to them as artists.


Apart from mainstream performances and recitals by established poets, some of the highlights of this year’s festival were performances by Durban Spotlight Poets and the interplay between music, poetry and its educational features.


Those attending were able to buy T-shirts and a wide range of books and CDs by the poets.

author email : memelal@ukzn.ac.za



UKZN’s Drama and Performance Studies programme at Howard College staged Henrik Ibsen’s famous play Ghosts in an expressionist style production this October.


The play is often studied by students of drama because the playwright is commonly referred to as the 'father of modern drama'. At the turn of the century his work was an important part of the move away from the Romantic style of 19th century theatre toward realism. Students and the general public came out to see Ibsen’s play which explores hypocrisy around issues such as illegitimate children, venereal disease, incest, infidelity, and euthanasia.  


The Director Dr Christopher John asked, “Can we find a way in which the play might resonate for a contemporary audience in KwaZulu-Natal?” and set the play in a contemporary South African context. This experiment and a well-rehearsed cast has enlivened a text that otherwise might only be read by students.  Strong performances were given by Ms Derosha Moodley who played Mrs Alving and Mr Derek de Froberville who played Pastor Manders convincingly.

author email : memelal@ukzn.ac.za