17 June 1949 – 19 February 2023
George Ekama was a giant of the wastewater treatment world. Initially, from 1978, a protégé of Gerrit Marais, another giant in the field, George quickly established himself as a world-leader in his own right and was promoted to Professor of Water Quality Engineering at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1991, where he focused on municipal and industrial wastewater treatment.
In 2006, he received a National Research Foundation (NRF) A1-rating in recognition of his research in wastewater treatment systems. He was one of very few environmental engineering professors listed on Thomson’s 2002–2013 ISI Highly Cited website. He was a major contributor to the International Water Association (IWA) best-selling book Biological Wastewater Treatment: Principles, Modelling and Design, which has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabic – and is now in its second edition.
In 2013 he was awarded the South Africa Order of Mapungubwe Silver for his research. In 2017 he was mentioned as one of the “Legends of South African Science” by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), while he was listed as a Water Research Commission (WRC) “Legend” in 2021. A timely gala dinner was held in his honour on 21 January 2023 by the 8th IWA Water Resource Recovery Modelling Seminar in Somerset West where he was present to acknowledge the accolades of former students and local and international colleagues.
However, George will be best remembered by his colleagues and students as being an amazing human being with a strong Christian faith. Despite his enormous workload, he always had time for others. When he was head of department (2003–2007), he would go out of his way to shield his colleagues from much of the bureaucracy that comes with being an academic. He would voluntarily take on additional teaching responsibilities to relieve overloaded junior staff. He never lost his temper. He was humble about his many achievements. He was always available to his many students – both at UCT and around the world – and sought tirelessly to bring out their true potential. Worldwide, he had a monumental impact on countless professionals in the field of wastewater treatment.
George passed away on 19 February 2023. He leaves behind his wife, Janet, and only daughter, Katie. He will be sorely missed.
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