Beyond the call of duty
Professor Njabulo Ndebele, Professor Thokozani Majozi and Professor Tebello Nyokong are recognised for working towards real transformation in their academic fields
Professor Njabulo Ndebele
One of South Africa’s great literary icons, the author and scholar Professor Njabulo Ndebele, was honoured with the 2009 NRF President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Over several decades, the role that art and literature have played in political struggle has been a central theme in Ndebele’s work. His books and incisive political commentaries have reflected critically on the tone and tenor of the South African struggle for liberation.
He has been a leading light in the Congress of South African Writers and remains its honorary life president.
Ndebele received his master’s in English literature from Cambridge University and his PhD from the University of Denver.
He has received worldwide acclaim for his published works, which include The Cry of Winnie Mandela, Rediscovery of the Ordinary, Fools & Other Stories and the children’s book Bonolo and the Peach Tree. Much of his working life has been in academia and his last appointment was as vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town.
He also chaired the South African University Vice-Chancellors’ Association. While he was vice-chancellor of the former University of the North (now Limpopo), he was active in the Forum of Historically Disadvantaged Institutions.
He also served as vice-rector at the University of the Western Cape and pro vicechancellor at the National University of Lesotho. He has served a stint as president of the Association of African Universities and on the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
Board and executive appointments include seats on the Mandela Rhodes Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. His lifetime’s work has been acknowledged around the globe through awards and a host of honorary doctorates, including one from Cambridge University.
Professor Thokozani Majozi
Professor Thokozani Majozi, of the University of Pretoria, was presented with the NRF President’s Award for his role in the Transformation of the Science Cohort in South Africa. This award recognises an individual who has played an outstanding role in addressing the challenges of bringing more women and black scientists to world-class research performance.
Attached to the department of chemical engineering at the University of Pretoria, his primary research interest is in batch process integration.
He completed his BSc in chemical engineering in 1994 and his MSc in 1998 at the former University of Natal. Majozi started his career as a junior process engineer at Unilever in 1994 and quickly rose through the professional ranks.
In 1999 he won a Commonwealth scholarship to read for a PhD in process integration at the University of Manchester’s Institute of Science and Technology. On completion of his PhD in 2002 he joined Sasol as technology leader for optimisation and integration.
He was appointed as an associate professor at the University of Pretoria in 2004 and has been an associate professor at the University of Pannonia in Hungary since 2005. He is a member of various local and international committees and organisations, including the Academy of Sciences of South Africa.
In 2005 he was elected vice-chairperson of the professional advisory committee for chemical engineering by the Engineering Council of South Africa and is also a national council member of the South African Institute of Chemical Engineers.
An NRF-rated researcher, he has received numerous awards for his research, including the Star Performer of the Year Award (Sastech), (2003), was the winner in the South African Institution of Chemical Engineers’ chemical technology competition (2004), the Zdenek Burianec Memorial Award (Italy, 2005), the University of Pretoria Award for Outstanding Young Researcher (2006) and the National Science and Technology Forum Award for Distinguished Young Black Researcher (2006).
He was the recipient of a Leading Minds (1908-2008) Centenary Award from the University of Pretoria—one of only 97 researchers in a century to receive this award. More recently he was the 2008 recipient of the British Association medal (silver) and was also appointed Council of Scientific and Industrial research fellow for 2009 to 2012.
Professor Tebello Nyokong
The inaugural NRF President’s Award for Champion of Transformation in Research was presented to Professor Tebello Nyokong. She is an NRF-rated researcher and holds the department of science and technology and NRF-funded chair in medicinal chemistry and nanotechnology at Rhodes University.
The award recognises an individual whose efforts in the transformation of the research community stand out. This includes discovering research talent and potential in people as well as nurturing and moulding that talent to achieve world-class research performance.
Described as a supreme role model, Nyokong has been acknowledged by her peers for investing an enormous amount of time and energy in capacity building among young scientists.
A total of 38 students were awarded PhD and MSc degrees under her supervision. This represents students from diverse cultural backgrounds, notably a high proportion from disadvantaged backgrounds and a high proportion of women.
An impressively high number of her MSc students have achieved distinctions. She is supervising 12 students at present. She has also played an extensive role in assisting staff and students from less advantaged universities.
The motivation in support of her nomination states: ‘—she has single-handedly done an enormous amount to promote transformation in science and research generally, through her own example and through the explicit strategy she has employed in composing her research group over time—it is the largest and most productive at Rhodes by far, and simultaneously the most diverse by far.”
In addition she has been a strong advocate for promoting women in science. Her colleagues at Rhodes University acknowledge that her reputation and example have rubbed off, especially ‘— her example of transformation — her love of knowledge, high standards, and hard work”.
Nyokong’s own research focus lies in harnessing light for cancer therapy and environmental cleanups, which recently won her a prestigious United Nations award worth almost R1-million.
The Unesco- L’Oreal Laureate for 2009—Africa and the Arab States was presented to her in Paris in May. She is now busy with research on a new cancer diagnosis and treatment methodology called ‘photo-dynamic therapy”, which is intended as an alternative to chemotherapy.
The new therapy uses blue dye (used to colour denim clothing) and although it is inert and harmless by itself, it can be activated by exposure to a red laser beam. The system, which has been approved in some countries, reportedly does not destroy hair, healthy cells or cause nausea.
In 2007, Nyokong emerged as the third-highest publisher in International Science Index (ISI) journals from South Africa. Her tally of 35 ISI papers bears testimony to a remarkable researcher and an extremely productive research group that has emerged on the Rhodes campus over the past few years.
To date, she has assimilated 176 ISI papers, her work has been cited 1 818 times and she has achieved an H-index of 26. In 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) named her as one of the world’s top five ‘exceptional women scientists”. This capped a host of prestigious awards which include the Order of Mapungubwe (bronze) in 2005, and the SABC2/ Shoprite-Checkers Woman of the Year 2004 in Science and Technology.
Through her international reputation, Nyokong has contributed considerably to enhancing the reputation of South African science.
She has undertaken formal international collaborations with counterparts in France, Russia, China, UK, Belgium, Japan, Germany and Chile, and has recently been awarded a prestigious Adjunct Professorship by the University of Tromso in Norway.
Many international scientists have been drawn by her work to visit South Africa and her laboratory at Rhodes, and she has hosted postdoctoral candidates from around the world.