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From left: Professors Rob Slotow, Theresa Coetzer
and Precious Sibanda.

Three UKZN professors were among 31 academics inaugurated as new members of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) at its annual awards ceremony in Stellenbosch.

They were Professor Rob Slotow, Professor Theresa Coetzer and Professor Precious Sibanda.         

Emeritus Professor Thomas (Tony) Ford, formerly of UKZN’s Discipline of Theoretical Chemistry and a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa (RSSAf), was also awarded membership.

Recognition by the Academy is one of the highest honours accorded to outstanding scholars in South Africa, and greatly raises the profile of their research.

There are just 472 members of the Academy, which is an indication of the significance and high quality of work and research they are involved in.

Being a member involves participation on national and international levels in studies which influence policy and practice, and facilitates academics liaising locally and internationally with various stakeholders in the sciences.

Slotow is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for UKZN’s College of Health Sciences, having previously also held the position of Deputy Vice- Chancellor and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. His expertise rests primarily in the study of the management of ecologically and economically important large mammals such as lion, elephant and rhino, and he has contributed valuable expertise to the formulation of strategies to protect these animals. He is director of the Amarula Elephant Research Programme, which conducts studies that contribute to better understanding of elephant populations and behaviours. Slotow is also well-versed in the processes influencing biodiversity and conservation management.

Slotow was recently involved in a significant study, begun in 1999, which used data from hunting operations and aerial surveys put through population viability analysis software to conclude that trophy hunting in the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA) could result in the disappearance of trophy bull elephants in the area in as little as 10 years.

Coetzer, who was recently awarded a South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) in Proteolysis in Homeostasis Health and Disease, is Professor of Biochemistry and the Acting Dean of Research for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. She is renowned for her research into the proteolytic enzymes of African trypanosomes, unicellular parasitic organisms that infect animals and humans, causing African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness or nagana), a fatal parasitic disease spread by the bite of the tsetse fly. The disease causes enormous damage to both humans and animals.

Three of the diagnostic targets developed in her laboratory are currently being adapted by an international company to a ‘dip-stick’ type test for nagana for use in rural sub-Saharan Africa. She holds a B-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and frequently collaborates with international scientists, although she is passionate about training bright young South Africans and retaining their talent to contribute to this country.

Sibanda of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) is a prolific C-rated researcher, known for his work in the Applied Mathematics field of theoretical fluid dynamics, with broader interest in numerical analysis and mathematical biology. Having graduated more than a dozen postgraduate students, Sibanda is passionate about training the next generation of researchers and promoting excellence in his field.

He serves as the Vice-President of the South African Mathematical Society (SAMS), having previously served a full term as Financial Manager of the Society. Outside of academia he has also previously contributed to society through using his mathematical skills to reconstruct road accidents, and teach techniques for investigating these incidents to traffic police officers in Harare.

‘Nomination to the ASSAf provides an opportunity to serve the broader society beyond the narrow confines of the Discipline of Mathematics in South Africa,’ said Sibanda.

 Dr Albert Van Jaarsveld, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of KwaZulu-Natal commented, ‘This represents due recognition for these academics after making significant contributions to science and the academy in South Africa. Being elected as a Fellow of the South African Academy of Sciences means that your peers from across the system acknowledge your academic and research achievements and value the merits of your scientific work.’