New UCT Fellows welcomed

27 October 2003

The university's top researchers and scholars gathered for the annual Fellows dinner at the Breakwater Lodge last week to welcome two new UCT Fellows to this prestigious group: the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Njabulo Ndebele, and Professor Peter Folb (head of pharmacology).

This brings the total number of UCT Fellows to 49 (excluding the 22 Sometime Fellows and the 32 Life Fellows). Among the 49 Fellows are three women: Professors Pippa Skotnes, Lyn Cooper and Brenda Cooper. The Fellowships will be officially awarded to Ndebele and Folb (who was away and unable to attend the dinner) at the December graduations. UCT Fellowships recognise original and distinguished research, both in the local and international arenas, as well as the publication of a major work.

Njabulo Ndebele

Ndebele was honoured for the impact he has made as a creative writer and essayist on issues of language, literature and culture and as an intellectual who has influenced the cultural and educational politics of our time.

As a writer, the Vice-Chancellor has published a renowned collection of short stories, Fools and other Stories, in 1983. He has also published poetry in numerous collections and stories for children, as well as a play. In 2003, The Cry Of Winnie Mandela was published and has been described as "ground-breaking work", which "blurs the borders between fiction and fact".

The Fools collection has become a South African classic and stories from it have been extensively anthologised, cited and reprinted. Stories from this collection have been set and taught in universities in Africa, North America and the United Kingdom. It has entered the canon of world literature.

Among his honours and awards, Ndebele has garnered the Noma award for best book published in Africa in 1983, and the Sanlam prize for outstanding fiction in 1986. He is a respected and renowned commentator and writer on cultural issues in South Africa today and regarded so internationally. It is difficult to exaggerate, for example, the impact made by the publication of his paper Turkish Tales and Some Thoughts on South African Fiction in his definitive collection of essay entitled Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture.

Ndebele was the first African writer and intellectual to take stock of the sad, anti-apartheid platitudes and repetitive choruses of gloom and misery that characterised writing in this country during the apartheid era. The Turkish Tales paper began a trend, taken up by Albie Sachs and others, which significantly changed the direction of thinking about the role of culture in political contexts.

Peter Folb

In his 27 years as professor of pharmacology at UCT and chief specialist at Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH), Folb has distinguished the discipline of clinical pharmacology in South Africa. Under his inspired leadership, the department has set up a number of internationally reputable research and service units providing national support.

The pharmacology department includes: a national drug information centre, the South African Medicines Formulary, that is a benchmark for prescribing and used by between 30 000 to 40 000 health professionals, the national adverse drug event monitoring centre, one that also serves as a World Health Organisation contributing centre, as well as the South African Medical Research Council Traditional Medicines Research Unit. In 1995 the department was designated as a WHO collaborating centre for drug policy and research into drug development and safety. It is the only WHO centre of its kind in Africa and in the developing world.

In his early work, Folb established original animal and in vivo experimental models for determining the pathogenesis of opportunistic candida and nocardia infections complicating immunosuppressive drug therapy as well as the genetic basis for development of amyloidosis in the experimental animal with fungal infection. He and his colleagues have also applied experimental systems for determining and understanding the nature of drug injury in the early foetus.

Folb has been widely published in all aspects of new drug development, from both scientific and legal points of view. His special expertise lies in predicting drug safety from the chemical and experimental data available for new chemical entities. In recent years, the Medical Research Council (MRC) unit that he directs has concentrated on malaria and traditional medicines research, and on scientific systems for new drug development from traditional medicinal plants (see article on pg 1). In 2001 he received an Innovation Fund award for his work from the former Department of Arts, Culture, Science and technology (now Department of Science and Technology).

His work for the WHO has included successfully directing the development of a novel anti-malarial drug for life-threatening malaria, that in 2002 was unanimously recommended for approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration. He was chair of the South African Medicines Control Council, the national drug regulatory authority responsible for the efficacy, safety and quality of all medicines available in South Africa. In 1999 he was elected fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in recognition of his contributions to science and medicine.

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