Hard work pays off if you are patient enough to see it through.


Technology & Innovation


The Aurum Institute

Sandile Cele’s research output has helped put South Africa at the forefront of Covid-19 research. Sandile, 35, is a scientist at the Aurum Institute and previously worked for the Africa Health Research Institute in KwaZulu-Natal.

From 2020, he led some of the South African and global research response to the coronavirus, including the studies that were the first to isolate and characterise the live beta and omicron variant. These findings helped to inform the government’s policy regarding Covid-19 vaccines.

Sandile led the study that described how variants can evolve in sub-Saharan Africa. His work has been published as two first-author papers in the academic journal, Nature; and one as first author in Cell Host & Microbes journal.

While most research groups use pseudostyle SARS-CoV-2 for their research, Sandile also developed a unique method to isolate live viruses from infected individuals. The isolated beta and omicron variants were shared with universities and research institutes globally for research purposes.

Working with the media has been an important part of promoting public understanding of Covid-19 research and combating misinformation. In March 2022, he was awarded a special ministerial award at the seventh Batho Pele excellence awards for his contribution to Covid-19 research. In September 2022, Sandile was awarded a certificate (best scientist) of recognition by the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry at their 166th annual gala dinner.

  • BSc Biomedical Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal 
  • Honours Medical Microbiology, UKZN
  • Masters Biochemistry, UKZN
  • PhD Medical Microbiology, UKZN

  • Recipient of a special ministerial award at the seventh Batho Pele Excellence Awards for his contribution to Covid-19 research
  • Certificate (Best Scientist) of recognition by the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry in their 166th Annual Gala Dinner
  • Invited in 2022 by the Gates Foundation to share my work at the Global Challenges Annual Meeting in Belgium

Before my mother died, she sat us down and said: “One day I will be gone and I want you to know, there are no shortcuts in life. Work hard and look after one another and you will be okay.”

Do not be afraid, you are a force to be reckoned with.

I grew up in a small village (Ndwedwe), where we did not have electricity or running water. Every single day one had to collect water from the river. I wish to see every child, especially in rural areas, have access to basic education and be given equal opportunities. We must do better.

View previous winners from 2018 to 2022

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