Celebrating women of excellence in research: NRF SA Research Chairs Initiative

Professor Brenda Wingfield

Professor Brenda Wingfield

Professor Brenda Wingfield

Professor Brenda Wingfield has been a National Research Foundation (NRF) rated scientist for many years and is internationally recognised as a research leader in her field. She has published more than 350 peer reviewed scientific articles and trained 46 master’s and 48 PhD students. She travels internationally on a regular basis and has active research collaborations with scientists in her field all over the world. She is currently the programme leader of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology and is the DST/NRF SARChI research chair-holder in Fungal Genomics. Brenda recently won the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Award for her work, and has published extensively on the issues of women in science and breast cancer.

Professor Laetitia Rispel

Professor Laetitia Rispel is Professor and head of the Wits School of Public Health.  She also holds The South African Research Chair onHealth Workforce for Equity and Quality. Rispel has published extensively on different aspects of health policy and the transformation of the South African health system. She has won several awards, and serves on the boards of national and international public health organisations. In May 2016, she was elected as vice-president/president elect of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the first African woman in the 50-year history of the organisation to achieve this honour. 

Professor Maggy Momba

Professor Maggy Momba holds the South African Research Chair in Water Quality and Wastewater Management, and is based at the Tshwane University of Technology. She chose this specialty to address skills shortages in the water sector. Since 1983, she has focused on various aspects of water, with the ultimate goal of securing adequate clean water and eradicating waterborne diseases. In addition to her work with her peers abroad, Momba works with small rural water supply operators and communities, educating them on treating water to make it fit for drinking. She has established one of the largest black postgraduate programmes in South Africa, with 50 graduates, 31 of whom are women, to date. She has authored and co-published more than 190 publications.

Professor Sanette Marx

Professor Sanette Marx holds the South African Research Chair in Biofuels, and is based at the School of Chemical and Minerals Engineering at North West University. She was first exposed to the chemical engineering discipline when PetroSA built MossGas in her hometown of Mosselbay. She elected to study this field because she believes it positively affects the lives of people and makes the world a better place. She has built an applied bio-energy research group, and has already established one pilot plant for biodiesel production, with another pilot project to be announced later this year. She believes that there is too much emphasis being placed on “women engineers”, believing that your skill as a professional is what defines you.

Professor Soraya Seedat

Professor Soraya Seedat holds the South African Research Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and co-directs the Medical Research Council Unit on Anxiety and Stress Disorders. She has received several awards, including a World Federation of the Society of Biological Psychiatry Fellowship, a Lundbeck Institute Fellowship Award, among others, and has co-authored more than 170 peer-reviewed journal articles and chapters. She is fascinated by the brain and disorders that affect it, and was inspired by psychiatry because her lecturers were as passionate about teaching the subject as providing the best possible care to their mentally ill patients.

Professor Sehliselo Ndlovu

Professor Sehliselo Ndlovu holds the South African Research Chair in Hydrometallurgy and Sustainable Development at the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, at the University of the Witwatersrand. As a student, she was drawn to mathematics, physics and inorganic chemistry, and became “hooked” after experiencing their application in metallurgical engineering. She aims to develop a portfolio of high quality fundamental research that maximizes returns from processing primary and secondary mineral resources, with a particular focus on minimising the impact that this has upon the environment.

Professor Ruth Simbao

Professor Ruth Simbao holds the South African Research Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa, and is Professor of Art History and Visual Culture in the fine art department at Rhodes University. She received her PhD from Harvard University and was an American Council of Learned Societies postdoctoral fellow. She has always been passionate about the arts, and is drawn to the intellectual project of analysing the arts of Africa, as it enables her to engage with pertinent socio- and geopolitical issues. She has established the SARChI Arts of Africa Research Team, which includes more than 20 postgraduate students and other collaborators across six countries.

Professor Amanda Gouws

Professor Amanda Gouws is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Stellenbosch, specialising in South African Politics and Gender Politics, and holds the South African Research Chair for Gender Politics. She holds a PhD from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in the United States, with her research focusing on women and citizenship, the National Gender Machinery and representation. Her childhood in a very patriarchal environment inspired her to this field of study, and she discovered the same type of environment when she first studied political science. She set out to transform the field to include a gender perspective, making it amenable to feminist theory and gender politics.

Professor Fiona Tregenna

Professor Fiona Tregenna holds the South African Research Chair in Industrial Development, and is a Professor in the department of economics and econometrics at the University of Johannesburg. She has a PhD in Economics from the University of Cambridge, a Master’s degree in Economics from the University of Massachusetts, completing her undergraduate degrees at the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Natal. Her primary research interest concerns issues of structural change and industrial development, and she holds a B rating from the NRF. She believes that economics is fundamentally linked to virtually all spheres of development and policy, and enjoys the mix of analytical research and policy relevance of the discipline.

Professor Jill Farrant

Professor Jill Farrant holds the South African Research Chair in Systems Biology studies on Plant Desiccation Tolerance for Food Security, at the University of Cape Town. Her research focuses on plant sciences and how they might contribute to food security, along with instilling a passion for research in this field in young scientists. She has supervised 18 PhD students, with 80 postgraduate students having already passed under her supervision, and 14 working with her at present. She has written 117 full-length publications in peer-reviewed journals, 31 peer-reviewed conference abstracts, 26 plenary and keynote addresses and the book The State of Biosafety and Biosecurity in South Africa.


Professor Hamsa Venkatakrishnan

Professor Hamsa Venkatakrishnan holds the South African Research Chair in Numeracy at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her work focuses on mathematical literacy and primary mathematics teaching and learning. Before she came to South Africa, Venkatakrishnan was a high school mathematics teacher in London, before moving into teacher education and research in mathematics education at Kings College, London. She enjoys the variety that her work offers, from working with grade one teachers in South African schools, to working with doctoral and post-doctoral students in mathematics education. She has established a solid research trajectory in primary school mathematics education.

Prof Christine Winberg

Profesor Christine Winberg holds a South African Research Chair in Work-integrated Learning and is the project leader of the Work-integrated Learning Research Unit supported by the NRF. Prior to taking up the chair, she was the director of the Fundani Centre for Higher Education Development at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, which enhances teaching, learning, and educational research at the institution, preparing students to engage meaningfully with the world beyond their university environment. Her research focus is professional and vocational education and technical communication. Previously she lectured in applied linguistics and language education in South Africa and in Sweden, and was chairperson of the South African Association for Applied Linguistics from 2010-2012.

Professor Marla Trindade

Professor Marla Trindade holds the South African Research Chair in Microbial Genomics, and is director of the Institute of Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics. Based at the University of the Western Cape, Trindade pursued a career in Microbiology because she is passionate about understanding how things work, viewing her research as akin to building a never-ending giant puzzle that collects tiny pieces of information to create an overall image. Her work highlights that South Africa’s ecosystems — on land and at sea — host astounding microbial biodiversity and endemism that can be sustainably used to deliver products and services that humans require daily.

Professor Tana Pistorius

Professor Tana Pistorius holds the South Research Chair in Law, Society and Technology, and is a research fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition. She specialises in intellectual property law, information technology law and the management of intellectual property law, and is based at Unisa in Pretoria. She is an International Expert for the International Telecommunication Union on e-commerce and electronic transactions and is involved in several World Intellectual Property Organisation projects. Pistorius is a member of the National Cybersecurity Advisory Council, the Dalro Board and the Advisory Committee of the South African Law Reform Commission on electronic evidence, in addition to multiple other leadership roles.

Professor Sarah Bracking

Professor Sarah Bracking holds the South African Research Chair in Applied Poverty Reduction Assessment, researching ways to reduce the scale and scope of poverty in South Africa by designing better ways to assess policy intervention and implementation. Based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, her research covers economic, political and environmental aspects, finding ways to reduce poverty at macro and micro levels. Her most recent work focused on the developmental co-benefits of climate finance designated for adaptation projects, while she has ongoing theoretical and field research on private sector development and corruption in the extractive industries and infrastructure build projects in South Africa.

Professor Wilmien Luus-Powell

Professor Wilmien Luus-Powell holds the South African Research Chair in Ecosystem Health, and is based at the University of Limpopo. Her multidisciplinary research focuses on the natural environment, with a focus on aquatic ecosystems and ecosystem services. Her main interest lies in ecosystem health and the influence of pollution levels on the diversity of fish parasites and the health of fish. She has received multiple awards for her contributions at conferences, and has supervised award-winning PhD students, as well as multiple honours, master’s, and PhD students. She has published 34 abstracts, nine technical reports, and has presented at national and international conferences.