Change the world


Marine predators and climate change, renewing university traditions, greener chemical processes, media expression in Africa, new era-economics, construction safety, creative thinking skills, medicine effectiveness and a framework for hate crimes and speech, are all areas of our top researchers, who received awards at the recent Vice-Chancellor’s Excellent Awards function.

Researcher of the Year and Science Faculty Researcher of the Year: Prof Pierre Pistorius

“The vulnerability of marine predators to human activities and the excellent postgraduate student learning opportunities they provide, motivates my ongoing research.”

Zoology’s Prof Pistorius focuses most of his research on the population ecology and behaviour of marine predators, such as seabirds, seals and dolphins.

Of particular interest are the influences of climate change and human activities on these species and their trophic interactions.

His research focuses strongly on the use of marine top predators as ecological indicators for marine ecosystem based management and spatial planning.

His research involves international collaboration with researchers from France, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Seychelles and the Falkland Islands.

Prof Pistorius has published over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and obtained an H-index of 22.

During 2018, he authored 16 scientific papers in high impact international journals while supervising nine MSc and PhD students, as well as three post-doctoral candidates

Research Excellence Award: Prof Benita Barton - Chemistry

“To be able to empower young, inquisitive minds through education is a privilege that will never escape me.”

Associate professor in Chemistry, Prof Barton investigates a new, entirely different and considerably less energy demanding and greener separation strategy for chemical mixtures, using host-guest chemistry.

Currently, 10 to 15 percent of the world’s energy consumption goes towards separating chemicals from one another.

Many chemicals have very similar physical properties, and because they are derived as mixtures from fossil fuels or unselective syntheses, they are incredibly difficult, expensive and time-consuming to separate using the more usual physical techniques (fractional distillations, crystallisations).

Selective host compounds are able to extract one particular compound from the mixture.

A simple filtration is employed to separate the host-guest complex from the other chemicals, and the host can then be readily recycled back into the process.

Research Excellence Award: Prof AndrĂ© Keet – Research and Teaching

“Transformative research – its own re/award.”

Located within and supported by a team of research assistants, research and postdoctoral fellows, research associates and visiting and honorary professors, Prof Keet’s research explores universities as social institutions through notions of critique, plasticity and transformability, as ways to renew our academic traditions and practices in socially-just directions.

His research interests seamlessly align with the intellectual pursuits of Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation (CriSHET), of which he is the current Chair.

Firmly rooted in the interior of the transformation project of Mandela University, CriSHET systematically builds networks, collaborations and solidarities across various intellectual, disciplinary, socio-cultural and geographical contexts to bring together different efforts on university transformation in conversation with one another around the broader objective of an engaged, civic institution.

Arts Faculty Researcher of the Year: Prof Janina Wozniak

“You have to take ownership and leadership of tomorrow. For that to be possible, you have to strengthen your capacity and widen your vision as a global citizen.” Ban Ki-moon

Prof Wozniak is an associate professor in Media and Communication and her research focuses on media expression on the African continent.

Visual and written texts respond to complex experiences of their audiences, whose views are informed by history and power play in their immediate environment and by external forces.

Through the media, politicians regularly evoke facets of group identities as election currency.

The historical trajectory of group identities and its impact since ancient trade, shifting religious identities, slavery, colonial periods and labour history against global economic patterns and ideologies over time are reflected.

The present media outlet and its products are interrogated against changing periods of governance and global economic pressures, since independence in Africa, to identify current ideologies and suggest possible improvements.

Business & Economic Sciences Faculty Researcher of the Year: Dr Andrew Phiri

“As is the case with mankind, it is really doubtful that any economy can truly prosper without being highly sacrificial.”

‘New-era economics’ is a discipline which emerged from the ashes of the global financial pandemic of 2007/2008, which many mainstream economists failed to predict and hence prevent, and this is the research focus of Dr Phiri, a senior economics lecturer.

‘New-era economics’ assumes an extremely liberal, multidisciplinary stance, allowing data to speak for itself, rather than prematurely subscribe to particular schools of thought.

This new field separates the ‘wheat from the chaff’ in terms of which economic welfare policies are working and which are not.

Dr Phiri has published 13 peer-reviewed articles that highlight key inadequacies in fiscal, monetary, education, foreign investment, exchange-rate, household-debt and energy-related issues, all of which government needs to take heed, thereby ensuring the future well-being of citizens.

EBEIT Faculty Researcher of the Year: Prof John Smallwood

“Given that health and safety is a ‘life and death’ issue, meaningful research, and implementable recommendations, do ‘make a difference’.”

Construction, globally, not least in South Africa, generates a disproportionate number of fatalities, injuries, and occupational diseases, which has a negative impact on the health and well-being of participants and contributes to the cost of construction and developments.

Construction Management Professor Smallwood lectures and supervises primarily construction health and safety-related research at postgraduate levels.

He conducts extensive personal and collaborative research relative to construction health and safety, occupational health, ergonomics, health and well-being, primary health promotion, quality management and risk management.

Prof Smallwood believes that research precedes lecturing and engagement, to add value to knowledge development among students and society.

Extensive interfacing with the built environment and contracting sector, in terms of students’ and personal research, enables him to make a difference.

Education Faculty Researcher of the Year: Prof Logamurthie Athiemoolam

“My research is driven by a passion to seek out new ways of knowing, new ways of doing and new ways of understanding the world.”

Exploring the value of creative arts-based approaches to teach across the curriculum, such as drama and theatre-in-education, is the research focus of Prof Athiemoolam, a professor in Language Education.

His research has uncovered the link between creative arts-based approaches and the enhancement of critical and creative thinking skills.

He has also discovered that drama-in-education, as a teaching strategy, contributes to the enhancement of reflective skills, leading to a better understanding of events, issues and the participants’ experiences.

Globally, there is a realisation of the value of creative arts-based approaches as teaching strategies to enhance thinking skills.

Hence, he has received numerous invitations from a range of institutions, both nationally and internationally, to present research papers and conduct workshops in this field.

Health Sciences Faculty Researcher of the Year: Prof Ilse Truter

“Never stop dreaming, and never stop being curious … the (research) journey is as important as the destination. Enjoy the journey!”

Pharmacy’s Prof Truter, is the leader of the Drug Utilisation Research Unit (DURU) in the Faculty of Health Sciences, which was established 25 years ago, making this a special year.

The unit’s research involves the study of the uses, effects and cost of medicine in defined populations. In the past year, studies have focused on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), treatment of pain, over-the-counter medicine and vaccines.

Studies typically analyse the usage patterns of medicine and their effectiveness and make recommendations to ensure that medicines provide cost-effective care.

Prof Truter’s research, therefore, primarily focuses on management principles in the context of pharmacy. From a health education perspective, an article was also published on the expectations among academic pharmacists in the workplace.

Law Faculty Researcher of the Year: Prof Joanna Botha

"You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” C. S. Lewis

Prof Botha is an associate professor in the Department of Public Law and her research focuses on the development of a regulatory framework for hate crimes and hate speech, which appreciates that inter-group hostility is linked to social hierarchies and the power dynamics between marginalised communities and those with ‘in-group’ status.

Prof Botha explores this issue by way of a contextually sensitive and people-orientated approach and with reference to South Africa’s constitutional paradigm.

Her goal is to use engaged research to enhance the law’s capacity to construct meaningful change and development in an inclusive South Africa.

View the photos of all the winners and the event

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160