Showcasing excellence at UCT

04 June 2024 | Story Niémah Davids. Photos Je’nine May. Video Production Team Ruairi Abrahams, Boikhutso Ntsoko and Nomfundo Xolo. Voice Cwenga Koyana. Read time 7 min.
The Showcasing UCT event was organised by the Development & Alumni Department and was held at the d-school Afrika on Friday, 31 May.

As the top university in Africa, the University of Cape Town (UCT) has earned bragging rights for a list of ground-breaking initiatives, spearheaded by scholars and postgraduate students in a multitude of disciplines from across the institution.

On Friday, 31 May, during a special event dedicated to showcasing excellence at UCT, those at the coalface of this work took to the stage to share the monumental impact their projects have on the country and the continent.

Organised by the Development & Alumni Department (DAD) and hosted by DAD’s executive director, Sarah Archer, the event was held at UCT’s Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking Afrika (d-school Afrika) on middle campus. Academics, students, donors, as well as the vice-chancellor (VC) interim, Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy, listened attentively as each presentation got under way. More than a dozen scholars were invited to present at the TED Talk-style sitting and share the ground-breaking work they’re involved in that ticks crucial boxes and is at the heart of UCT’s Vision 2030 and its three key pillars: excellence, transformation and sustainability.

Showcasing ‘our outstanding’ work

During his welcome address, Emeritus Professor Reddy said the occasion served as an opportunity to open UCT’s doors and to showcase its achievements. These achievements, he said, are both innovative and highly impactful and benefit the world of scholarship, as well as broader society.

He said the extent of the programme, which included presentations from different centres, including the Children’s Institute, the African Climate and Development Institute, the Future Water Institute and the Centre for Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), provided a snapshot into what the university is all about and the work scholars and students get up to behind the scenes.

During a special TED Talk-style sitting, UCT researchers highlighted the impactful, pioneering work they are involved in at a local, national and continental level.

“I mention all of this because the reason we are all here today is to share some of this with you [because] much of what we do, much of what we achieve is not necessarily in the public domain. So, we have the opportunity to provide a glimpse of the outstanding work that goes on at UCT and to celebrate our work and achievements,” Reddy said.

A cross-faculty, postgraduate institute

The director of the IDM, Professor Digby Warner, delivered a succinct five-minute presentation on the cross-faculty, postgraduate research institute, whose mission is to conduct clinical and public health research that is leading-edge and relevant to the needs of African people.

Professor Warner, who’s been at the helm of the institute since January, told the audience that the IDM’s work includes developing indigenous scientific capacity and influencing health policy and practice through translational and transformational research. This work is underpinned by excellence, collaboration and transformation. He said although the institute is based within UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), many of its clinical research groups run multiple field sites that extend through the City of Cape Town, across the Western Cape and into the Eastern Cape.

An example of their work, he explained, is a recent study into tuberculosis (TB) transmission, carried out by a multidisciplinary team that compromised engineers, microbiologists and clinicians, who delivered critical insights into the fact that TB might be spread by mechanisms other than just a cough.

“It’s very difficult to predict the future, but I think there is consensus that there are a number of challenges and developments which are likely to characterise our next decade. We feel that we are well positioned through our past record and through looking forward – our capacitation of core facilities and our ability to attract top researchers – to take many of these challenges on,” he said.

A round up

Rounding up the morning’s formal programme, UCT’s Emeritus Professor Valerie Mizrahi, the former head of the IDM, who’s now responsible for showcasing UCT’s research areas to external stakeholders, said as an alumnus of UCT and a longstanding staff member, she was proud and “astounded at the breadth, depth [and] intellectual capacity that sits in our university”.

As she listened to each presentation, she said presenters’ talks contained a common thread and weaved in excellence, innovation, engagement, impact, interdisciplinarity, collaboration, community and opportunity. And these words “embody something very, very special”.


“We engage with a non-academic sector: government, civil society and community. And that community is embedded in the work that we do here at UCT.”

“Everything we have heard today, to me, encapsulates one of those key elements that we judge ourselves by at UCT. At other universities across the world, you’re expected to do research, to teach and to commit some of your time to service the institution. UCT has a fourth pillar, and that pillar is called social responsiveness. What does that mean? It means we engage with a non-academic sector: government, civil society and community. And that community is embedded in the work that we do here at UCT,” she said.

“Not one of the presentations that you heard today did not have that element of engagement with the people who we see ourselves serving, and that makes me feel incredibly proud.”

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