Distinguished women researchers

Professor Leila Patel is on of the 2014 Women in Science Awards winners, in the Human and Social Sciences category. (Supplied)

Professor Leila Patel is on of the 2014 Women in Science Awards winners, in the Human and Social Sciences category. (Supplied)

Winner: Professor Leila Patel

Professor Patel received her PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand. She is currently a professor of social development studies and director of the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg. 

Her community engagement and research on “grassroots social welfare” in the 1980s laid the foundation for future welfare policy options in a post-apartheid society. This early work continues to inspire her current research and the development of a new generation of scholars. The nexus between theory and practice defines the essence of her intellectual work over more than two and a half decades.

Patel’s book Restructuring Social Welfare Options for South Africa, published in 1993, provided the conceptual basis for the social development approach to social welfare in South Africa, and later informed the White Paper for Social Welfare that was adopted by Parliament in 1997. Her subsequent book, Social Welfare and Social Development in South Africa published in 2005 set out the theory and practice of developmental welfare. 

These works coincided with other scholarly works internationally and the search for alternatives in the Global South to reduce poverty, build human capabilities and promote the engagement of communities, along with the state and markets, in social development. 

Patel was appointed Director-General of the then Department of Social Welfare in 1995. In this capacity, she and a team of public officials and independent researchers were instrumental in transforming the country’s welfare system. 

The applied nature of her research has contributed in part to social policy reforms in welfare services and social protection, now reaching close to 40% of the country’s poorest. The social development approach to social welfare is recognised internationally as an alternative to residual and institutional approaches to social welfare. 

It also inspired the design of innovative social assistance programmes in southern and eastern Africa. Patel collaborates actively with international scholars on various research projects. In 2013, she was awarded the Helen Harris Perlman Visiting Professorship of International Social Welfare at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.

In 2002, Patel returned to academia and founded the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg. She and her colleagues continue to conduct and disseminate cutting-edge research and evaluation studies on poverty and vulnerability, social protection in Southern Africa, gender and social protection, the voting behaviour of grant beneficiaries, youth assets and employability, civic engagement, and state, market and civil society relations in social development. 

These projects have attracted international and national support, as well as postgraduate students, and are often cited in national and community media. 

Patel’s published work include 41 journal articles, four books, 10 book chapters and 23 technical research reports and monographs. She has edited five special issues of local and international journals and serves on the editorial board of Development Southern Africa and the Human Sciences Research Council Press. 

In the past 10 years, she has successfully supervised six doctoral and six master’s students, as well as six postdoctoral fellows. Currently, she supervises four doctoral students and one master’s student. She was a Fulbright Fellow and at various times was a visiting scholar/research associate at Yale University, the University of California in Berkley, Washington University in St Louis, and the University of Chicago.

Winner: Professor Marie Poggenpoel

Professor Poggenpoel received her DPhil in Psychiatric Nursing in 1982 from Potchefstroom University (now North-West University). She currently works as associate professor in Nursing at the University of Johannesburg. She is also the co-ordinator of the Masters in Psychiatric Nursing programme, chairperson of the Nursing Science Committee, as well as the chairperson of the Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Health Sciences. 

Poggenpoel also serves on the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of the Witwatersrand, and on the board of the Academy of Nursing of South Africa since 2012. She is the editor-in-chief of Health SA Gesondheid and serves on the editorial boards of Education as Change, Qualitative Health Research and Clinical Nursing Science. For the past 10 years her research focus has been aggression in South African society. 

Initially she focused on aggression in secondary schools and then extended her focus to the workplace and families. 

Poggenpoel has been a National Research Foundation-rated researcher since 2002, and was rerated as a C2 researcher from 2013 to 2018. Her research has largely been funded by the National Research Foundation and been published in peer-reviewed articles, research papers and media reports. She has authored more than 150 peer-reviewed articles, two books and six chapters in books. 


She has delivered more than 200 research-based papers nationally and internationally. She has successfully supervised more than 160 master’s students, and more than 110 doctoral candidates. 

She also mentors novice researchers to develop as scientists and scholars. Her mission is the development of well-rounded scientists in Southern Africa.

Poggenpoel received the Iris Marwick Gold Medal from the South African Nursing Association in 1992 for her exceptional contribution to psychiatric nursing. In 2002 she received the Stals Prize for Nursing from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (South African Academy for Science and Arts) for her outstanding contribution to the nursing and human sciences. 

The International Institute for Qualitative Methodology of the University of Alberta, Canada, presented her with a leadership award in 2007 in recognition of her development of qualitative inquiry in Africa. 

In 2009 the Educational Association of South Africa (EASA) awarded her a Sanlam-EASA gold medal for her contribution to educational research. 

In 2013, she received the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame Award from Sigma Theta Tau International.

Runner up: Professor Naydene de Lange

Professor De Lange received her doctorate in Education in Educational Psychology from the University of Port Elizabeth (now Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) in 1998. 

She currently holds the HIV and Aids Education Research Chair at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Her research interest is in the social aspects of HIV and Aids and its effects on young people (particularly girls and young women). While working in KwaZulu-Natal between 2003 and 2009, her research interest shifted to HIV and Aids in educational contexts. 

Social change

This shift coincided with her introduction to visual participatory methodologies by her colleague and mentor, Professor Claudia Mitchell of McGill University in Canada, who is also an honorary professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, pushing her research to take a social change focus, something she passionately advocates. Her inaugural lecture, “Researching to make a difference in the age of Aids — The times they are a-changin” (published in SAHARA-Journal in 2012), argues that social science research should make a difference to the communities universities serve. Her research, using participatory approaches and visual participatory methods (drawing, photovoice, participatory video and cellphilm), focuses on addressing HIV and Aids and gender-based violence in schools and communities, contributing to knowledge production and simultaneously enabling the participants to be agents of social change in addressing issues that are of concern to them. De Lange has worked as technical advisor/collaborator in projects taking this approach in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Vietnam.

She also promotes research for social change through her postgraduate supervision, and 32 master’s and doctoral students have successfully graduated drawing on visual participatory methodologies. 

Her National Research Foundation-funded projects provide opportunities to explore the use of innovative methodologies in collaboration with national and international scholars, and several postgraduate students have received bursaries linked to National Research Foundation grants. She has authored or co-authored 73 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, co-authored a book called Picturing Hope — In the face of poverty, as seen through the eyes of teachers, and co-edited three more books: Putting people in the picture: Visual methodologies for social change, Handbook of Participatory Video, and School-University Partnerships for Educational Change in Rural South Africa. 

De Lange has been instrumental in promoting the importance of visual research nationally through the HIV and Aids Education Community of Practice supported by Higher Education South Africa. Drawing on one of the recommendations of the HIV and Aids in Teacher Education Pilot Project in South African Higher Education Institutions, a project in which she participated as regional expert, De Lange led the establishment of the HIV and Aids Education Community of Practice under the auspices of the Higher Education HIV and Aids programme, which brings together teacher educators from 23 higher education institutions, to consider and to learn from each other how to integrate HIV and Aids into the academic curriculum. 

Here too, visual participatory methodologies are promoted as is demonstrated in a forthcoming exhibition, called “Seeing, Believing and Acting for Change: Integrating HIV and Aids in Higher Education Curricula”.

De Lange has a National Research Foundation rating of C2, and has won several awards for her innovative participatory research. She received a Research Excellence Award from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2013, and a Medal of Honour from the Education Association of South Africa in 2012.