UKZN student, Ms Weliswa Kunene and staff member, Mr S’khumbuzo Radebe have received the Dumisani Ndaba Award (DNA) from the Alliance for Collaboration in Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS) in recognition of their exceptional contributions to its Habitable Planet Programme (HPW).
Kunene recently completed her Bachelor of Medical Science Honours in Medical Microbiology, while Radebe is a laboratory technician in UKZN’s Microscopy and Microanalysis Unit (MMU).
ACCESS, a research institute supported by the Department of Science and Innovation, National Research Foundation and others, promotes Earth Systems Science education in southern Africa, prioritising education of up-and-coming scientists through the HPW, and hosting annual events to upskill selected participants, including holiday programmes, workshops, a schools programme, an online programme and several leadership training initiatives.
The DNA commemorates Pietermaritzburg local and UKZN alumnus, Mr Dumisani Ndaba, who participated in ACCESS’ programmes as a student and later a lecturer, and tragically passed away in December 2016. It is presented to a “Planeteer” – a participant in ACCESS’ programmes who has made sustained, exceptional contributions to the HPW.
Radebe joined the programme in 2015, and Kunene in 2017.
Radebe initiated a mini-HPW for schoolchildren on KwaZulu-Natal’s north coast in 2016 with his friends to encourage a love of science among young people from an early age. He was the campus representative for the HPW at the University of Zululand while studying there, recruiting many students, and going on to train as a core lecturer for the HPW, lecturing at numerous workshops. Radebe was chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Habitable Planet Student Organisation from 2017-2019, continuing with the schools programme, and when he joined UKZN on the Westville campus, he served as a member of the local organising committee that hosts HPW at UKZN, also hosting a successful mini-HPW in 2019 on the Pietermaritzburg campus. With colleagues, he will host a mini-HPW schools programme at UKZN in 2020, serving as a panellist.
After completing her BSc in Microbiology and Biochemistry, Kunene trained as a HPW lecturer and served as a student leader at three workshops, one of which took place at Lupane State University in Zimbabwe. She was part of the team that hosted the 29th ACCESS HPW workshop at the University of Johannesburg in 2019, and has been recognised at ACCESS workshops several times, receiving accolades such as “best core lecturer”. In 2020, she will participate in the mini-HPW schools outreach programme.
In recognition of these contributions, Radebe and Kunene were included on a shortlist of 12 for the DNA, going on to receive the award.
‘I feel honoured to be a recipient of the 2020 DNA,’ said Radebe. ‘I do my best to contribute and volunteer my time to assist in making our country the best through science.’
‘I feel very blessed, grateful and humbled to be a recipient of the prestigious DNA award,’ said Kunene. ‘I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of ACCESS and to be able to represent my province and university.’
Radebe hopes to study further, publish in the field of marine science and contribute to earth systems science projects. He said the award has encouraged him to continue contributing to the careers of the younger generation and to the research he is interested in.
Kunene plans to pursue master’s studies in 2020, and is interested in the field of public health. She said her participation in ACCESS, and being honoured with this award, have further ignited her passion for philanthropy and a deeper love for science. She added that the programme inspired her to pursue postgraduate studies, and encourages others to do the same. She plans to use her experience to advocate for young, female scientists.
Words: Christine Cuénod