/ 10 June 2009

300 Young South Africans: Science and Education (Part 2)

In this section: Andrew McKechnie, Paul Holden, Naadiya Moosajee, Thabo Msibi, Loren Landau and more...

In this section: Andrew McKechnie, Paul Holden, Naadiya Moosajee, Thabo Msibi, Loren Landau and more…

Andrew McKechnie, Associate professor, department of zoology, University of Pretoria

Awarded for his work with a prestigious President’s Award by the National Research Foundation, Andrew McKechnie is driven by a fascination with animals and a desire to understand them better. As an associate professor at the Department of Zoology at the University of Pretoria, this 34-year-old
admits to being at his happiest studying animals in remote places– preferably a desert.

McKechnie grew up on a farm in Polokwane and spent a large part of his childhood surrounded by nature. His current research focuses on the physiological and behavioural traits that shape the ways in which birds and other vertebrates interact with physical environments and the consequences of variation in these traits for their evolutionary fitness.

He aims to make a significant contribution to biology and to train others to generate knowledge that will address conservation questions.–Liesl

Lunch spot: Under a camelthorn tree, somewhere in the Kalahari

Paul Holden, Historian

Paul Holden is a young academic completing his master’s at the University of the Witwatersrand. And it was his thesis topic that inspired him to write
The Arm’s Deal in Your Pocket, as a way of unpacking the long and complicated arms deal issue for ordinary South Africans. That the book went into three print runs is positive proof individuals want to know how the deal unfolded.

This creative mind is also a DJ andmusician and he’s been working on his follow up book due for release later this year. It’s based on a research
project done for theInstitute of Security Studies on the pre-history of the arms deal.–Eamon Allan

Lunch spot: Barrington’s, Killarney Mall, Johannesburg

Naadiya Moosajee, Civil engineer and Mabohlale Mapuru co-founder of SAWomEng

Colleagues and friends describe them as women who make things happen. Naadiya Moosajee (24) and Mabohlale Mapuru (23) started the non-profit organisation SAWomEng in 2006 while studying at the University of Cape Town. Aimed at celebrating, empowering and educating women in the field
of engineering, the organisation is also about attracting and retaining women to engineering– a field in which women are still under-represented.

Passionate and dedicated the two are more than just colleagues, they are friends who compliment each other and bringing various strengths to the organisation. With Moosajee heading up the organisation from Cape Town and Mapuru in Johannesburg they continue to exceed expectations and are making a difference on the way to the top where they are destined to be.–Liesl Venter

Lunch spot: Mountain View Café, Cape Town

Thabo Msibi, Lecturer, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Born in the rural village of Ntabamhlophe in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, Msibi realised the value of education at a young age. Nicknamed Thishomkhulu (meaning principal) by the villagers because of his love for gathering children in the neighbourhood to play school with him, he seemed destined for a life of teaching. Msibi received an honours degree in education (cum laude) but this was just the first step for this 26-year old in attaining his goals.

He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue his master’s at Columbia University and he received the Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue a PhD at Cambridge. He also founded the Community Development Association, a student-driven community outreach project that has over 11 different projects reaching hundreds of schools across KwaZulu-Natal. And that puts him one step closer to improving the quality of education in the country. —Liesl Venter

Lunch spot: Anywhere will do as long as they serve prawns and no vegetables

Loren Landau, Director, Forced Migration Studies Programme, Wits

Loren Landau is fascinated with movement and assimilation, having been born into a family of Polish immigrants in the United States. Landau came to South Africa in 2002 after working on immigration and refugee issues at institutions such as Human Rights Watch and Refugees International and teaching courses on refugees at Oxford. His literary contribution to the field reads like a bibliography in a thesis, including countless books and journal articles; not to mention the two master’s degrees and a PhD in Political Science from Berkeley.

But it’s his work at Wits that has placed forced migration — and its effects, such as the xenophobic attacks across the country last year — high on
the local agenda. But the most fun he’s had since he made South Africa his home? The time he challenged Jesse Duarte on a television debate and the wrath that ensued. —Ilham Rawoot

Lunch spot: La Parreirinha, Rosettenville, Johannesburg

Olihile Sebolai, Research capacity developer, University of the Free State

Olihile Sebolai made headlines when he discovered a lubricant that could allow nano-robots to travel through the body and unblock clogged arteries. His research on the yeast in which the lubricant was found earned him an MSc in microbiology and his work was published in scientific journals and presented at conferences.But the applications of his research are futuristic and could be in development for years, says Sebolai. After completing a PhD in microbiology, he decided to pursue a path that would have more concrete results: research development.

With the old guard of academia heading for retirement, Sebolai hopes to help ‘replenish and build a new generation of academics’. He is the manager
for research capacity development at the University of the Free State, where he focuses on recruiting dedicated young academics and helping them to pursue their research. —Faranaaz Parker

Lunch spot: New York, Westdene, Johannesburg

Tsepo wa Mamatu, Drama lecturer, University of Witwatersrand

‘Poetry makes nothing happen’ WH Auden wrote in his tribute to WB Yeats. This is a line Wits theatre arts lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu, who describes
himself as an ‘activist through and through’ would have problems with. Wa Mamatu has written and staged a few political plays. In 2006, he wrote
100% Zulu Boy, an activist piece. He followed this with Stormpie, a play based on the life of Winnie Mandela. At the moment he’s working on a piece called Mbeki and Other Nitemares.

Wa Mamatu, born in 1979, is collaborating with a similar minded rabble-rouser, columnist and scholar, Andile Mngxitama, on a book, which examines the representation of blackness in post-apartheid South Africa. Wa Mamatu is a PhD candidate at Wits and his thesis is concerned with the question –posed since Ghana’s independence from Britain in 1957 — about the capacity of Africans to govern.

Wa Mamatu says the intellectuals of this country ‘must resist the temptation to be bought to dance in the king’s court. It’s not likely he will be tempted to the new king’s court because he has been chosen as this year’s Johannesburg Repertory Fellow and will be spending more time in New York. — Percy Zvomuya

Lunch spot: Gramadoelas, Newtown, Johannesburg

Claire Reid, Inventor

Claire Reid can’t get enough of sushi. Or veggies. When she was 22 years old, she invented reel gardening: the vegetable planting method that saves 80% of water during seeds’ germination phase. She became the first South African to win first place for the Junior Water Prize at the World Water Week in Stockholm, beating contestants from 23 other countries. That was back in 2003, right after she won the South African leg of the same competition.

Reid graduated with a BSc architecture in 2007 at the University of Pretoria and is completing her honours degree. In 2008, she was able to explore her other passion: housing, through an internship with the Johannesburg architecture firm TPSP. Her focus there was on developing environmentally friendly low-income housing. Reid is now starting her own company, Claire Reid Reel Gardening, with the help of the Anglo Zimele Small Business Start Up Fund.–Percy Mabandu

Lunch spot: Tsunami, Rosebank, Johannesburg

Margot Rubin, Development consultant

Urban environments, especially cities and the hustle and bustle of the multitude of people that occupy the same space, fascinate Margot Rubin. The urban specialist says that it’s not just urban development that gets her out of bed in the morning but all aspects of living in a city.

Formerly a researcher and coordinator with the Centre for Urban and Built Environment Studies at Wits, Rubin is now studying towards her PhD in urban planning and politics. She wants to look at the role of the legal system in urban governance and how that will effect the distribution of scarce resources and larger questions around democracy.

In the meantime, Rubin acts as a development consultant for various government departments and private institutions to ensure that the engine of her banged-up Nissan Sentra keeps ticking below its rusting bonnet. —Hendri Pelser

Lunch spot: Doppio Zero, Greenside, Johannesburg

Gina Ziervogel, Researcher, department of environmental and geographical science, UCT

The world needs more people like Gina Zeirvogel. She holds a doctorate in geography from Oxford, but more importantly she understands how changing weather patterns affect African food systems. Ziervogel has worked with the Malawi Red Cross Society exploring the link between climate change and the communities living along Lake Malawi. She documented how these communities responded to the flooding and advocated for improved response should it happen again.

For the past six years, she has been based at the Climate Systems Analysis Group of the University of Cape Town where she helps provincial water resource managers access climate information more effectively. Ziervogel has also helped develop some of South Africa’s climate change policies, including reporting on Cape Town’s food security and climate change for the Western Cape. —Percy Mabandu

Lunch spot: Queen of Tarts, Observatory, Cape Town