University of the Western Cape

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august 2020

Foreword W

elcome to the first edition of our digital magazine – aptly launched during Women’s Month. The magazine is a celebration of excellent women in academia and leadership at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). During the nationwide lockdown, it became evident that the Covid-19 pandemic had a gendered impact in many cases. Often women took the reins to home school while running their households and caring for their families. On top of that, their careers could not suffer – they had to perform while working remotely. This first edition shines the spotlight on a top woman academic and a rising star in every faculty. It also details the journeys of three women leaders at the university. I am proud to have initiated this digital magazine, and we will continue to showcase excellence in our women at UWC, where we look to the past to learn for your future. The women featured in this edition have been nominated by their Deans, based on distinction in learning and teaching, research and the integration of community engagement in their scholarly work. We do this to recognise excellence as part of our reward and recognition approach. I applaud all of you phenomenal women! Professor Vivienne Lawack UWC Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic

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Faculty of Arts

PROFESSOR Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie

The award-winning academic who still sees herself as an ‘accidental historian’

Always be proactive, independent of mind and speak up, even when those in power may not like what you say.

PROFESSOR Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie has always regarded herself as an ‘accidental historian’. When she was younger, she thought she would become a teacher, and as a result enrolled to study history at the University of Durban-Westville in 1974. But as the years piled up, and her love for academia grew, she simply never stopped studying. In 1987 she became the first female black historian in the country to attain a doctorate. “No songs were sung for me then,” she remembers with a smile. At UWC, the professor has enjoyed a long and rich career. She joined in 1993 and has won several awards alongside her teaching role, while also doing meaningful work on Ministerial Committees as well. She was elected to the Academy of Sciences of South Africa in 2015 and obtained an NRF B1 rating in 2018. Within her faculty, she served several terms as Deputy Dean of Research. One of Professor Dhupelia-Mesthrie’s proudest moments was when she published the book, From Cane Fields to Freedom (2000), which told the history of Indians in South Africa through visuals and captions. “It brought me much joy since it was bought by people who would generally never read. When a historian touches the public, that counts the most. “My real moment of growth as a black historian began at UWC where I began to think differently about the subject as a result of my colleagues and the debates about History that we had.” She has published extensively and undertaken important work in the United States as a visiting fellow at universities such as Yale and the University of Urbana-Champaign. Professor Dhupelia-Mesthrie’s working career is coming to a close, and she is looking forward to embracing retirement next year. Her journey from a shy and nervous assistant to an esteemed professor has been long and rewarding. “Reflecting on all my self-doubt and difficulties in the early stages of my career, I would say always believe in yourself, and if there are hard times, they will pass. Always be proactive, independent of mind and speak up, even when those in power may not like what you say. That way, you remain true to yourself.”

Faculty of Arts

Dr Phindezwa Mnyaka

Letting go of romantic ideas of education, and engaging in the real world “Listen to your instincts,” says Dr Phindezwa Mnyaka, a senior lecturer in the history department. “Trust that the world is a messy place and have the courage to act according to what feels right to you.” As an academic, she cut her teeth at the University of Fort Hare, moving from her first position as a research assistant in 2004 to lecturer, and then finally into the role as the NRF Sarchi Chair in Social Change Post-doctoral Research Fellow. Dr Mnyaka has always had an ambivalent relationship with academia. While she has always enjoyed learning and broadening her world, she, at times, has felt like an outsider looking in. “I think I carried this idea in my head for a long time that a large percentage of those who make up that community (academia) feel deeply embedded in it. Now, I am not so sure.” She spent a year at UWC in 2013 as the Dulcie September Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Humanities before taking up a position as Senior Lecturer in the Fine Arts Department at Rhodes University, where she developed and lectured courses in Art History and Visual Culture. Dr Mnyaka believes that the biggest challenge she has faced is letting go of this romantic notion that knowledge and the university can somehow save her. “This I learnt through experiences of intense inter-personal conflict in prior work experiences,” she explains, “and bearing witness to hypocrisy, competition for resources, racism and sexism. Dealing with such experiences taught me that the university is very much part of the world we unpack in the classroom.” After two years at Rhodes, she joined the University of the Western Cape as a Senior Lecturer in the History Department, where she has been instrumental in developing courses for Gender and African History, Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, Slavery and much more. When thinking about young and upcoming students, she knows how important it is to “stay connected to those individuals that appreciate and also nurture whatever it is that you bring uniquely to the academic community and beyond, even if that is a small group of people. And if it’s at all possible, do inject a sense of humour in your work!”

Trust that the world is a messy place and have the courage to act according to what feels right to you.

Faculty of community health sciences

PROFESSOR helen schneider

The scientist with a front row seat to South Africa’s healthcare challenges

Gravitate towards the spaces and places that respect and nurture your capabilities.

PROFESSOR Helen Schneider has enjoyed a long and illustrious career, and her contributions to Public Health have been recognised by institutions worldwide. She currently serves as the DST/NRF Research Chair in Health Systems Governance; the Director of Health Services to Systems Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council as well as Professor at UWC’s School of Public Health. “My journey as a health policy and systems researcher began with the transition to democracy nearly 30 years ago,” she explains, “and has spanned four South African higher education institutions. I have been witness to the emergence of significant threats to South Africa’s health system (most tragically the HIV epidemic and now COVID-19), the dynamics of inertia and change, and endless cycles of new ideas and initiatives – only a few of which have survived the test of time.” Professor Schneider’s impressive higher education journey began in 1983 with an MBChB from UCT, followed by two diplomas, a Public Health Specialist degree from Wits University and a PhD in Public Health from UCT in 2017. Professionally, she joined UWC in March 2011 and has become an essential part of the fabric of the university. “I have come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of this complex system of Public Health – both its intractable faultlines and its incredible latent potential. I believe that the field of health policy and systems has a vital role in advancing health systems centred on equity, justice and accountability to citizens.” On the international stage, Professor Schneider has been recognised far and wide. Over the years she has served on the Advisory Committee on Health Systems Governance Collaborative at the WHO in Geneva, and as a consultant at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Conference Center. She currently serves on the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee of the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research in Geneva, and much more. Her advice for the next generation of young academics is to “gravitate towards the spaces and places that respect and nurture your capabilities, that open up the critical conversations where they are needed, and aim to create institutional contexts that are supportive and enabling of other women”.

Faculty of community health sciences

Dr simone titus

Dr Simone Titus is standing on the shoulders of giants while lifting those around her Dr Simone Titus is a teaching and learning specialist in the Faculty of Community and Health Science. As a single mother, her journey is the result of hard work and strategic positioning, especially when it comes to climbing the ladder to smash those glass ceilings, craft a niche and to owning the space. She graduated with a PhD in Education from the University of Cape Town where she developed an interest in the use of emerging technologies as a tool to mediate learning in Health Professions Education. Dr Titus started working at UWC as a permanent staff member in 2009 in the Department of Sport, Recreation and Exercise Science, spending nearly a decade there before moving to serve the university at faculty and institutional levels as the Learning and Teaching Specialist in the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences. Her focus is on health professions’ education, with a niche area in the use of emerging technologies in higher education. “I stand on the shoulders of giants,” she says proudly, “as there are strong, authentic and exemplary female academics in leadership positions at UWC who have ‘stood in the gap’ for me to help me achieve some of the academic merits I am proud of today.” She has published extensively, authoring 19 peer-reviewed publications, including papers in leading international journals such as the Journal for Interprofessional Care and the African Journal of Health Professions Education. She has successfully mentored several students who were at risk of repeating or being academically excluded. “I have successfully supervised six Master’s and 29 BA Honours students to completion, and I currently supervise two PhD and 13 Master’s students.” Her philosophy is to simply “Lift a sister up!”. Dr Titus knows that “there is a place for all of us under the sun, so there is no need to be throwing shade. Be impeccable with your word and your integrity. This will stand you in good stead as you grow and glow through this journey.”

There is a place for all of us under the sun, so there is no need to be throwing shade.

Faculty of dentistry

Dr Magandhree Naidoo

Using life’s lessons to gain insight into the academic journey has been key

Having confidence in yourself and your endeavours wins you half the battle before it actually begins.

Dr Magandhree (Maggie) Naidoo understands that teaching has a profound effect both on the teacher and the student. This insight came from personal experience. Her son was born with autism, and her passion for education “was borne from wanting to share the successful implementation of teaching using alternate means”. That experience of raising an autistic child was the subject of her PhD thesis entitled An Oral Care Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Her education took place first in Pretoria, and then at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she earned a PhD in Dentistry upon joining the department of Oral Hygiene, Faculty of Dentistry as a Senior Lecturer. The challenge of moving to a new institute was lightened by the gracious welcome from the faculty. “I still had to navigate how to ‘unlearn the old’ and ‘learn the new’.” She remembers how “being in the final stages of my PhD submission, amid navigating a new job, academic responsibilities, new location, moving and settling the family was overwhelming”. But Dr Naidoo has been blessed with a glass-halffull mindset, and this has helped her to focus on the positives of any situation, and to use them as the source of strength to overcome these challenges and persevere. That determination was rewarded with a PhD and a Golden Key nomination. She firmly believes that “having confidence in yourself and your endeavours wins you half the battle before it actually begins”. When it comes to the future, Dr Naidoo would like to further develop her alternative education approaches and create lesson-specific animated videos to support the student learning process. Community upliftment was realised in the collaborative community engagement project between UWC and UKZN around Brush Programmes for Special Needs Schools. She explains that “we have created an oral health booklet for special needs children as a part of the community project, and we would like to now develop this into a short animated clip”.

Faculty of dentistry

Dr carol cloete

Overcoming insecurity and using personal experience to empower students Dr Carol Cloete holds a B.Ch.D. from the UWC Dental Faculty and is currently in her final year of an M.Phil in Health Professions’ Education at the University of Stellenbosch. She graduated from the Faculty of Dentistry, UWC (September 1995) at a time when the dental programme was five and a half years long and there were fewer than 20 students in a class. In her first year after graduating, she completed an MRC scholarship under the supervision and mentorship of the late Professor Trevor Arendorf, that had a profound effect on her career. Three years later, when Dr Cloete was looking for new challenges, she stumbled on the opportunity to work abroad and grabbed it with both hands. In January 1999, she left behind everything that was “safe and comfortable” and moved to Norwich, Norfolk, United Kingdom. After living and working in the UK for five and a half years, she returned in 2004 to Cape Town to be at the bedside of her terminally ill mother. That was followed by seven years of hard work in a CT dental practice before a position opened up at UWC which she again grabbed with both hands. Her early years lecturing at UWC were filled with insecurity and worry that she “wasn’t good enough”. One day she shared her insecurities with the dean and he said something really profound to her. She recalls: “He said that the teaching and learning I will eventually become familiar with like everyone else, but it is the clinical experience that I bring to the faculty that is valuable, which many will never have an opportunity to achieve.” Dr Cloete’s goals for the future are simple and yet profound. “To continue to focus on creating an environment where our students thrive and become the best version of themselves.” Her vision is to foster a positive attitude that will allow students to be happier individuals inside and outside the classroom. In 2018, she won the Academic Achievers Award and in 2020 was recognised as a Rising Star in academia.

Continue to focus on creating an environment where our students thrive and become the best version of themselves.

Professor Michelle Esau

Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences

A career steered by faith in God, great time management and hard work

Be conscious of your purpose and use your attributes to give your best all of the time.

When Professor Michelle Esau completed her Honours degree in Public Administration in 1992, she never imagined her career would lead her to the highest echelons of academia in South Africa. She was simply looking for a job. But after just six months of employment outside her area of training, she applied for a role at UWC in the Department of Public Administration. She landed the position, and so began her steady rise through the ranks to her current position as Dean of the Economic and Management Sciences Faculty. In the “whirlwind” four years that followed Prof Esau taking up her first UWC position, she fell in love, got married, had a baby and managed to complete her Master’s. Then, when a vacancy arose in the department, she was appointed as a lecturer in 1998. Since then, she has taught in the areas of Human Resources Management, Public Sector Ethics, and Bureaucracy and Democracy. Prof Esau believes that one of the most fundamental talents for anyone to master is that of time management. It’s what gave her the skills and confidence to enrol for a PhD while she was pregnant with her second child. “From my experience of studying towards a Master’s qualification under similar conditions, I learnt that one of the most precious things in life is time, and that it should be used optimally.” In her role as Dean of the faculty, Prof Esau is responsible for many strategic areas, and in recent years, her work has extended beyond the borders of the campus to make a real difference in society at large. She credits hard work and the “immense” support of her husband and parents for much of her success, and continues to rely on her faith in God to guide her in whatever she does in the future. Prof Esau advises younger women to “focus on your talents, experiences and knowledge. Be conscious of your purpose and use your attributes to give your best all of the time.”

Professor Vivienne Lawack

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic

A leadership style that combines real-world experience with solid academic credentials The journey from Clarkson, a Moravian mission station in the Tsitsikamma, to the heights of South African academia via the South African Reserve Bank sounds like the stuff of legend. Yet that is precisely the pathway forged by Professor Vivienne Lawack, the Deputy ViceChancellor: Academic at the University of the Western Cape. Her innate ability to lead diverse people in different contexts, her strategic thinking abilities, a sound understanding of technology and relaxed demeanour with stakeholders made her a natural choice for the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor – a role in which she has thrived for the past five and a half years. Prof Lawack earned her Master of Laws degree in 1997; her thesis was entitled Electronic Payment Systems in South African Law. She then completed her Doctor of Laws degree in 2001, with her thesis simply called Aspects of Internet Payment Instruments. Her ease with this complex material drew the attention of the South African Reserve Bank, and she was appointed to a senior position in July 2002. In 2006, she took on a stint as senior legal counsel for Strate Ltd, before returning to higher education in 2008. Her years of work at the South African Reserve Bank and in the private sector gave her the real-world experience that sets her apart today. “What I’ve learned is that wherever you are, you need to make a difference. It doesn’t matter that your path is not linear. So many things I’ve done before have assisted me in what I am doing now,” says the single mother of three. Prof Lawack also learnt that she didn’t have to be like a man in her leadership style. “I could embrace being a woman and lead differently. A lot of the women I’ve observed become aggressive, but you don’t have to do it that way. I believe in persuasion and influence.” As a woman and as a leader, her advice to younger women is threefold. “Firstly don’t forget where you come from. Secondly, you are going to work hard – probably harder than many men if you are going to make it. “Thirdly, watch out for PHD (push her down) syndrome, which is what happens when you reach a certain level and you then push other women down because you don’t want them to reach your level. Or sometimes, you reach a level, and a woman above you tries to push you down. We can’t buy into that.”

What I’ve learned is that wherever you are, you need to make a difference. It doesn’t matter that your path is not linear.

Professor vuyokazi nomlomo

Dean of the Faculty of Education

A lifelong dedication to the pursuit of educational excellence

I would like to reach out more to support literacy teaching and learning in disadvantaged schools.

Professor Vuyokazi Nomlomo has dedicated her life to improving the quality of education in South Africa. First as a school teacher, then deputy principal, lecturer, head of department, and finally as Dean and full Professor in Language Education at UWC. Like many other women working in the academic space, Prof Nomlomo has found it challenging. “Being a woman in the academic space is not easy, as you have to juggle your family and work demands while also being an active and productive scholar,” she explains. “The Dean’s position, which is maledominated, is even more demanding and stressful to women in terms of recognition and acceptance of your leadership style. Women leaders often find themselves working harder than their male counterparts to gain the confidence, recognition and support of staff members.” Yet despite the challenges, Prof Nomlomo has never wavered in her quest to build a better university. In countless committees and forums, as a Member of the Senate and Chair of the Education Faculty Board, she has always shown up and given her best. In 2017, she founded the UWC Early Childhood Literacy Development Conference, which has evolved into an annual event. As Dean of the Faculty of Education at UWC, Prof Nomlomo has developed and managed the implementation of a critical learning and teaching strategy, while also developing research for the faculty in line with the institutional operating plan. Her future plans include establishing the Centre for African Language Teaching and supporting the teaching of literacy in isiXhosa in initial teacher education. “Given the literacy crisis confronting the majority of our schools, I would like to reach out more to support literacy teaching and learning in disadvantaged schools.” Her advice to young women is to embrace who they are, believe in themselves and the power they have to make a difference in society, capitalise on their strength and resilience, take every opportunity to learn and develop themselves, support other women to grow, and surround themselves with positive and visionary people.

Faculty of education

Professor Joy Papier

Career-long commitment to education grew from humble beginnings

Stick with what inspires you, challenges you and excites you, even if it often frustrates you.

In 1980, fresh out of matric and with limited finances for full-time study, Professor Joy Papier opted for teacher education at a college in Athlone. After only three months, there was an extended student protest in which she was an active participant and that ended her initial foray into the education field. But it was not to be the end of her education career. Today, with a PhD in Policy Studies, Professor Papier is the Director of the Institute for Post-School Studies in the UWC Faculty of Education. This trajectory was almost unimaginable during the seven years she spent in administrative jobs while completing her studies in Education and an Honours degree through Unisa. After a few years of teaching, she accepted a post in the Faculty of Education at UWC in 1998. “Prof Owen van den Berg was Dean, and he and Dr Dirk Meerkotter were starting an Action Research Master’s programme with a strong critical theory foundation and I enrolled for it part time,” says Prof Papier. After completing her Master’s, she applied for the Harvard-South Africa Fellowship Program and was awarded it in 1993. “We uprooted our lives and went to Boston with our two-year-old son. I decided to do a second Master’s with a broader education focus, while my husband was invited into the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School as a research fellow. “A highlight (of my time there) was meeting Paulo Freire in person. He was such an icon in our struggle against oppression with his liberation pedagogy – and I was completely overawed at his humility.” The family returned in 1995 and the following year, Prof Papier joined the National Access Consortium Western Cape (NACWC). This large NGO did ground-breaking work among disadvantaged youths who had the potential for university study, but needed support to gain access. In 2003, the NACWC handed the balance of its funding endowment to UWC so that it could continue its research and development work. Under the leadership of Prof Papier, it then became part of the Education Faculty as a self-funded institute. In 2013, it was mainstreamed in the Institute for PostSchool Studies, with Prof Papier appointed as its director. Her story, she hopes, will encourage young academics to “stick with what inspires you, challenges you and excites you, even if it often frustrates you – the outcomes could surprise you. Be open to learning, and be willing to be proven wrong!”

Faculty of education

Dr Melanie Luckay

Combining analytical skills with school context for a unique perspective into education Dr Melanie Luckay started her academic journey in the field of science, having completed a BSc degree at the University of Witwatersrand. She then transferred to the education field by completing a PGCE specialising in teaching high school maths and biology. She followed up her training with a teaching stint of seven rewarding years at an all-girls school in Cape Town. At the same time, she pursued a Master’s in Science Education (MEd), which she passed with distinction. This gave her the confidence to leave teaching to pursue a PhD full time. Her career at UWC began as a teaching practice co-ordinator, with a focus on teaching the Education Practice modules. “This role is my passion, as I combine my strong science analytical skills with interest in contextual issues at schools,” declares Dr Luckay. “In this role, I work with a wide range of stakeholders, namely students, academics, schools and the school education department, balancing time for each.” Her research focus is a perfect vehicle for combining her science and education knowledge through the area of technological literacy. This is a concept derived from the area of science and technology, but “applied to pre-service teachers’ conception of and interaction with technological tools, which are so much a part of today’s educational landscape”. Despite her challenging workload of large classes, committee meetings and student consultations, Dr Luckay is determined that her “research must always feature somewhere in the day, and that the research deliverables must be fulfilled before the next progress report.” Her commitment to education is unwavering, and her passion is to grow teaching practice and elevate the post to new levels. “As schooling evolves, I would like teaching practice and the placement of students at schools to evolve alongside it,” she explains. As a hardworking and focused educator, Dr Luckay’s message is simple. Young people need to stay focused, to work hard and “keep their eyes on the prize”.

As schooling evolves, I would like teaching practice and the placement of students at schools to evolve alongside it.

Faculty of economic magagement sciences

Professor Moenieba Isaacs

Fusing life and work in a quest for ‘blue justice’

Ocean View is my home, and it’s where I find the authentic stories at the intersection between my life and my work.

The University of the Western Cape has always been the intellectual and political home of Professor Moenieba Isaacs. As the academic co-ordinator of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), she is adept at handling multiple roles within UWC. Yet her focus never wavers too far from ideas around the ocean, fishing, women’s rights and social justice – or what she has termed “blue justice”, a concept she introduced at the World Small-scale Fisheries Congress in Thailand in 2018. “I was forcibly removed from Simonstown to Ocean View. I look around, and I see poverty, unemployment and GBV. At the same time, I see amazing women working incredibly hard and wanting to provide. I articulate stories of women in fishing, making them a priority. I think it’s very important to tell the stories of our communities in a way that is authentically ours.” Academically, Prof Isaacs’ research focuses on understanding the social and political processes of fisheries reform in South Africa, mainly through the lens of small-scale fisheries policy processes and implementation. “The work doesn’t always have to be academically rigorous or unrelated to other stories on the continent,” she says. “My work is most concerned with putting social justice at the centre of the blue economy.” For her, engaged and reflective research must include finding creative and appropriate ways to engage with social processes, decision making and policymaking. Prof Isaacs has also made an outsized impact on the international stage. She was the regional co-ordinator and founding member of a global partnership for the future of small-scale fisheries called TooBigToIgnore, and engages in participatory action research. She leads the international research cluster on Fish as Food, frequently consults for the United Nations on issues such as food security and fisheries crime, and is a much sought-after guest presenter at conferences and research institutes around the world. Her research aims to enhance the understanding and real contribution of small-scale fisheries to food security, nutrition, sustaining livelihoods, poverty alleviation, wealth generation and trade, as well as the impacts and implications of global change processes such as urbanisation, globalisation, migration and climate change on small-scale fisheries. “It all started for me in Ocean View. I go back on a weekly basis and do regular updates with my community. Ocean View is my home, and it’s where I find the authentic stories at the intersection between my life and my work.”

Faculty of economic magagement sciences

Professor Mmaki Jantjies

Advancing remote learning in the age of Corona Professor Mmaki Jantjies is an Associate Professor in Information Systems at the University of the Western Cape – and a rising star on the UWC campus. Her work in education technology is particularly potent in today’s environment, as South African learners come to grips with remote learning in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. Professor Jantjies is fluent in Setswana, English, isiZulu, Sepedi and SeSotho. This has given her a deep understanding of system design and how mobile learning applications need to be made available in multiple South African languages in order to support learning in science and mathematics classrooms. She began her higher educational journey at North West University with a BCom in Information Systems and Accounting, before completing her Honours at the University of Pretoria. She then travelled to the United Kingdom to do a Master’s in Computing at Oxford Brookes University. Finally, between 2011 and 2014, in what she describes as “the crowning glory” of her academic studies, Prof Jantjies undertook and obtained a PhD in Computer Science at Warwick University. Returning from the UK in 2014 to a teaching position at North West University, she spent a year there before heading to Cape Town and into a lecturing role at UCT. In July 2016, Prof Jantjies was signed up as Head of Department at UWC. Alongside her university work, she is committed to the UN Women and Mozilla Foundation partnership, a role which has seen Prof Jantjies start several technology clubs for children. These include co-education clubs – after-school clubs where children from disadvantaged communities learn the basics of digital literacy, software development and internet security. She also ensures that her UWC students are involved in these projects, as this gives them vital insights into the communities they should be serving. Prof Jantjies has been repeatedly lauded for her many achievements. Her long list of accolades includes being recognised as one of “200 Young South African Leaders”, as one of “50 Inspiring Women in Technology”, and as a “Woman of Stature in Africa”. Her expertise in e-learning, technology and education in a post-Covid world makes Prof Jantjies a real treasure for the UWC community as it looks to the years ahead, which undoubtedly will be filled with change.

Her expertise in e-learning, technology and education in a post-Covid world makes Prof Jantjies a real treasure for the UWC community as it looks to the years ahead...

Faculty of law

Professor julia Sloth-Nielsen

Tough, passionate protector of children’s rights

Don’t make excuses. Make your own hay. No-one is going to do it for you.

PROFESSOR Julia Sloth-Nielsen is a senior professor in the Public Law and Jurisprudence Department in the Faculty of Law. She has a no-nonsense approach to making it in the academic world. “Work hard. Don’t make excuses. Make your own hay. No-one is going to do it for you.” These are the words that she lives by, and the attitude that she has employed to great effect in her career. Professor Sloth-Nielsen arrived at UWC in 1994, and her first role upon arrival was to manage the Children’s Rights Project at the Community Law Centre, which she did until the year 2000 when she formally joined the Faculty of Law. “It was not easy in the beginning,” she admits. “I have had to push hard to get recognition.” Some of the most important work that Professor SlothNielsen has undertaken was as a member of the SALRC Project Committee that drafted the Child Justice Act as well as the Children’s Act. She has also worked on law reform in various African countries, and written training manuals and continental reports. In 2013, the Department of Child Law at Leiden University offered her the position of part-time chair. She filled it so successfully that she still holds the position to this day. She has also mentored extensively over the years, supervising over 70 post-graduate students to obtain their degrees and continues to lecture all around the world in countries like Belgium, Switzerland, China and the United Kingdom. Since 2017 Professor Sloth-Neilsen has published extensively on issues of child justice, surrogacy, corporal punishment and more. There is little doubt that her teaching is informed by the difficulty she experienced when completing her LLD in six months, with sole responsibility for three children in a foreign country! There have been many obstacles and challenges along the way, and the future is still unclear for the professor as she mulls over where her career will take her next. “I would have liked to serve another term on the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, but that is seemingly not to be.”

Faculty of law

Professor Lea Mwambene

Learning how to juggle responsibilities while overcoming a fear of failure AN ACADEMIC career, especially for women, is highly demanding. It requires balancing your academic responsibilities of research, teaching, administration, and community engagement with your family responsibilities as a daughter, mother, sister, and wife. Professor Lea Mwambene is very familiar with that particular struggle. She is a professor in the Department of Private Law with an LLD in African Customary Family Law and Human Rights, as well as an LLM in International Human Rights. “My journey from lecturer, senior lecturer, associate professor, and to full professor stretched over 11 years,” she explains. “I was also fortunate to have been supported by colleagues in the department/faculty, as well as my family. What helped me enormously over the years is the mentorship by Professor Julia Sloth-Nielsen, and her invaluable support with my NRF rating.” This academic growth was facilitated greatly by the fact that she never stopped doing research and publishing extensively alongside her teaching, administrative, and community engagement responsibilities. Her work is driven by a genuine concern about the interaction between law, ideology and social practice, and her hard-earned experience in African Law has been a fabulous resource for the many graduate students she has supervised from countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, the DRC and more. But fear of failure has stalked her throughout her life, especially when presented with a new responsibility. When asked how she dealt with these, Professor Mwambene revealed that “after questioning my abilities, examining the risks involved, and looking at the bigger picture, I then choose to free myself from the fear of failure.” Apart from presenting at many conferences and workshops over the years, Professor Mwambene has contributed to influential journals and books; most recently a chapter entitled Access to justice, gender and customary law in Malawi for a book called Gender, Poverty, and Access to Justice: Policy Implementation in Sub-Saharan Africa. “What is next for me is to be a mentor to upcoming young academics, and postgraduate students. I believe I should be able to sow back into the community of learning by being able to provide guidance and support for aspiring academics.”

After questioning my abilities, examining the risks involved, and looking at the bigger picture, I then choose to free myself from the fear of failure.

Faculty of natural sciences

PROFESSOR Marla Trindade

Professor Trindade’s impressive career almost didn’t happen at all

Be well prepared so that an opportunity can be recognised and acted on.

PROFESSOR Marla Trindade’s work at UWC puts her on the cutting-edge of scientific research in South Africa. Not only is she a Professor in the Department of Biotechnology, but she is also the Head of the Single Cell Genomics Platform, Director of IMBM, and DST/ NRF SARChI Research Chair in Microbial Genomics. Despite the impressive nature of her qualifications, she almost gave up on academics entirely. “On at least two occasions, I made an active decision to not pursue an academic career, and yet, here I am, a Professor, group leader and Director of a research institute.” When asked how she came to realise that this was the career she was meant to achieve, she replied that “every day we are presented with opportunities, and as cliched as it may sound, my advice to aspiring women is to be well prepared so that an opportunity can be recognised and acted on”. Professor Trindade’s academic career began with a BSc at UCT in 1997. Six years later, she earned her PhD from the same institution. This was followed by three years working at the University of Stellenbosch before she joined UWC in 2006. At UWC, she found herself in a very supportive environment and easily made the switch from operating as a postdoctoral fellow to establishing research independence. She slowly moved up the rankings from postdoctoral to Deputy Director of the IMBM. But when the Director of the IMBM unit resigned in 2012, many feared that it would close its doors forever. Having only started as an academic three years earlier, there were doubts as to whether Professor Trindade would be able to sustain the level of financial stability and research productivity. But despite a lot of self-doubt, she rose to the occasion and has taken that institute from strength to strength. “I was quickly able to secure some research grants to distinguish my research direction, but one of the most instrumental influences on my academic track was the opportunity to collaborate with highly productive researchers.” She is quick to give credit where it is due. “None of this was achieved on my own – there are many people who have supported and contributed to this journey, and without them I would not have been able to achieve anything.”

Faculty of natural sciences

PROFESSOR Fanelwa Ajayi

Professor Ajayi’s incredible journey from poverty to academic leadership PROFESSOR Fanelwa Ajayi arrived at the University of the Western Cape in 2002 as an undergraduate student enrolled for Medical Biosciences, which she changed the following year to Chemical Sciences. That alone was already an incredible journey. Being from an impoverished background, all she ever wanted was to be educated and earn an income to support her parents and siblings. Her undergraduate years were funded by working as a domestic helper and hairdresser. Today, she is an Associate Professor at the Chemistry Department and a research leader at the Enzyme Sensor Laboratory, Sensor Lab, at UWC. She also teaches Physical Chemistry at third year and Honours level and is involved in postgraduate student research supervision. Additionally, she is a mother of three young children, who she is raising while building a career. Balancing family and work-life continues to be a challenge, but the Professor maintains she “is able to remain happy and positive in my career because of the support provided to me by UWC and my family”. Her goal is to become a full Professor of Physical Chemistry in the next few years. That comes with continuously enriching her teaching, and through the incorporation of modern and innovative teaching and research skills. “It is very challenging to balance research work and the teaching of students. Both these roles are very important to UWC and any other institution for that matter. As a young academic with a young family, finding the right balance also continues to be a challenge because it often means if one area thrives, then it happens at the expense of another.” Her research involves the development of drugs (particularly for HIV and TB treatment metabolism sensors) as well as the synthesis of various green-method synthesized metallic nanomaterials and finding biological applications for them. Early in 2017, Professor Ajayi established AmaQawe ngeMfundo, a non-profit organisation aimed at providing on-site science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experiments for learners in marginalised communities. “Challenges become easy when one has identified their purpose,” she says. “Some may not be sure what their purpose is, so I always tell people to find out what they like doing because it then becomes easier to do, as opposed to something they feel they are obliged to do.”

Challenges become easy when one has identified their purpose.

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