Mr Stuart Demmer receives his award from Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, CAPRISA Associate Scientific Director.

Mr Stuart Demmer, an MSc candidate in Grassland Science, received a Mandela Rhodes Scholarshiptowards his postgraduate studies in recognition of his impressive academic achievements, strong leadership qualities, commitment to community engagement a reconciliation as well as a spirit of entrepreneurship.

‘Being a part of the Mandela Rhodes community is both an honour and a challenge,’ said Demmer. ‘It is an honour to be amongst a dynamic group of young people aspiring to further Africa’s leadership, academic, economic and social capacity, and it is a challenge to always be learning more, reading more widely and feeling more deeply about the issues that Africa and its people are facing,’ he said.

Demmer, who graduated summa cum laude for his Bachelor of Science Honours in Ecological Sciences in April this year, chose to pursue studies in Rangeland Science because of the importance of this field for the sustainable management of the outdoor environment that he so loves. The high achiever also received a Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship, a College Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship and the 50th Anniversary Award during his undergraduate studies.

Demmer’s Master’s research involves drawing on unique data gleaned from the University’s long-term mowing, grazing and burning trials to understand how different types of disturbances affect the ecosystem’s stability over time as well as ascertain how long the ecosystem takes to reach a stable point again.

The trials upon which Demmer’s studies are based are some of the oldest long-term ecological studies in the world, situated at UKZN’s Ukulinga Research Farm, established in 1950 to investigate how agricultural practices such as burning, mowing and fertilising grasslands affect their diversity and productivity. The results of these studies then informed farmers on best practice for grassland management.

‘Our University has been exceptionally fortunate to be able to maintain these trials long after their initial purposes were achieved whilst still regularly harvesting data from them,’ he said.

A camping and hiking enthusiast, Demmer’s love for nature was inspired by visits to his grandparents’ cattle farm in Zimbabwe throughout his childhood and by teachers at Hillcrest High School who encouraged his interest in biology and physical sciences.

He is also a keen photographer; applying his skills to the environment he enjoys spending time in. He also gardens in his limited free time.

Demmer, who plans to continue to PhD level and possibly even pursue a career in academia, acknowledged the contributions of his family, teachers, lecturers, mentors and God to his success in his academic career.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal