The annual South African Women in Science Awards (SAWiSA) honour research excellence in both well-established and emerging women researchers. The ceremony profiles women in science and research as role models to younger women and girls across the country. Seven University of Cape Town (UCT) recipients were named at the flagship initiative hosted by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).
This year the national award ceremony took place in Durban on Friday, 8 September. Adapted from the 67th session of the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women which took place in March, the theme for this 17th edition was: Harnessing technological change and innovation to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls. All seven finalists from the university were recognised at the event.
“It is a great honour for UCT to have so many of our women in science lauded in these prestigious awards,” said Professor Sue Harrison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation. “And in congratulating the scientists awarded, I also recognise all UCT staff members who buttress UCT’s research endeavour by continuesly providing critical support to make this work happen. Awards like these are always a team effort.”
Three UCT academics were recognised as Distinguished Women Researchers:
Professor Catherine Ward
Also awarded in the Humanities and Social Sciences category was winner, Catherine Ward, professor of psychology and director of the Safety and Violence Initiative at UCT. Her research is on violence against children, and crucially, ways of preventing it. Recently her work has focused on developing the Parenting for Lifelong Health (PLH) programmes, which are designed both to prevent violence against children and to promote child wellbeing.
As one of the founding developers of PLH, Professor Ward subscribes to the values that these programmes should be open source, freely available, suitable for the least developed context, and – critically – they must be evidence-based. While the initial programmes were designed to be face-to-face, restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic led to digital innovations which open the possibility of reaching parents more broadly, with the level of support they need.
Professor Floretta Boonzaier
Acknowledged for her work in the Humanities and Social Sciences category was second runner-up, professor Boonzaier. She is professor of Psychology and the co-director of The Hub for Decolonial Feminist Psychologies in Africa at UCT. She is also president of the Psychological Society of South Africa. Her research focus is on gendered and sexual violence, and identity and decolonial feminist psychology. Areas in which she has gained an international reputation as a leading scholar.
Her research findings have contributed to advancing gender equality through explorations of best practices in working with men to end violence against women. She also partners with organisations in the gender-based violence (GBV) sector and through development of conceptual models to drive policy and practice in the GBV sector nationally and regionally.
Professor Liesl Zühlke
Recognised for her work in Natural and Engineering Sciences was second runner-up, professor Zühlke, who is the vice-president of the South African Medical Research Council. She is also a paediatric cardiologist in the Division of Paediatric Cardiology at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and director UCT’s Children’s Heart Disease Research Unit. The unit focuses on family-centred research into children’s heart diseases of relevance on the African continent.
Her research projects span rheumatic heart disease (RHD) and congenital heart disease (CHD), HIV in adolescents, and cardiac disease in women of childbearing age. She is passionate about the prioritisation of women and children in the global health agenda, both as co-creators and recipients of efforts to improve the lives of women and children across the world.
One UCT academic was recognised with Distinguished Young Women Researchers
Associate Professor Nomusa Makhubu
Awarded for her work in Human and Social Sciences was first runner-up, A/Prof Makhubu. Her research focus is on African popular culture, (artistic) citizenship and socially engaged art. She is the founder of the NRF-funded Creative Knowledge Resources (CKR) project. This is aimed at addressing the need for broader creative mentorship in African art history, transnational collaborative practice, and socially responsive art.
She is committed to social justice and has been the Chair of the Africa South Art Initiative (ASAI), a non-profit organisation based in Cape Town. ASAI’s emphasis on research and resources is rooted in activism, in conceiving of art as both a force for social change, as well as a site of struggle in its own right.
Her creative work has received numerous awards including the Fresnoy Prize at the Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal in 2014 and the ABSA L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award in 2006.
A young legacy lives on
Renowned environmental researcher, Ndoni Mcunu, passed away in an accident in April 2022. She was founder of the mentoring and education programme, Black Women in Science.
In the minister’s foreword, Dr Blade Nzimande noted that Mcunu was a social entrepreneur who facilitated the developmental training of more than 400 postgraduate students in business and entrepreneurship skills, research, scientific writing, project leadership, science communications and research career preparation. Mcunu, a high-flyer, had received various accolades during her short and impactful career, and was pursing her PhD in climate change and agriculture. The DSI Fellowship was renamed in her honour.
Three DSI–Ndoni Mcunu Fellowships – Doctoral Awards were presented
Munira Hoosain is based in theDepartment of Astronomy, Faculty of Science. She has been awarded a fellowship for her work on galaxy evolution and the history of the universe. Her research uses data from the country’s flagship MeerKAT radio telescope the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT).
Nicole Richardson is based in the Faculty of Science’s Department of Chemistry. She received the fellowship for her research on computational modelling of bacterial structures to improve the design of future vaccines. Her research focuses on diseases like pneumonia and meningitis which primarily affect lower-and middle-income countries. This interdisciplinary work leans on aspects of structural biology, computational chemistry, and immunology.
Lusani Mamushiane is based in the Department of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment. Her award was for the fellowship for her PhD focusing on machine learning-empowered 5G networks. Internet has become an integral part of daily living. Her project proposes a strategy to build and roll out 5G networks for rural broadband connectivity, by exploring the technical possibilities of cost-effective implementation of 5G networks in developing countries.
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