Dr Vuyisile Thibane graduated with a PhD in Ethnobotany after conducting an ethnopharmacological study on plants used for skincare and beauty by some Xhosa communities.
Thibane, from the small town of Botshabelo in the Free State, explained that his project was aimed at promoting the use of natural products formulated from indigenous South African plants in support of bio-entrepreneurship and job creation in the rural areas of South Africa.
Before enrolling at UKZN, Thibane completed his undergraduate degree in Microbial Biotechnology and his Honours and Master’s degrees in Biotechnology at the University of the Free State. He registered to undertake his PhD research through the Research Centre for Plant Growth and Development (RCPGD) at UKZN’s School of Life Sciences while hosted at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) – Vegetable, Ornamental and Plants (VOP) in the agro-processing of medicinal plants unit.
Focusing on the indigenous use of medicinal plants, Thibane set out to research unexplored South African medicinal plants with potential for commercialisation in the health and beauty sector.
‘A number of products in the South African market have been flagged to have undesirable side effects with prolonged usage, however, if safer alternatives are not introduced into the market, consumers are more likely to continue with what is being offered in the market,’ he said.
A possible solution to this challenge, says Thibane, is the development of skincare and beauty products formulated from natural products. He recommended strict adherence to safety and quality control by individuals involved in skincare and beauty formulations, adding that scientific councils such as the ARC as well as research institutions involved in product development were key role players in ensuring consumer safety.
He has presented the findings of his research project at both local and international conferences, and has had two articles published in international, peer-reviewed journals.
Thibane said that he tackled the challenges of taking on a PhD by constantly engaging his mentors and brainstorming possible solutions early. ‘Never allow challenges to aggregate as they can become too complex and difficult to solve,’ he said.
Thibane is now a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of South Africa (UNISA), working on natural product research. He hopes to develop as a young researcher, and plans to serve one day as a commercialisation and natural product research specialist.
He honoured God for giving him the wisdom to complete his PhD journey, and acknowledged the support of his wife, his family and friends. He expressed heartfelt gratitude to his supervisors, Professor Johannes van Staden, Professor Jeff Finnie and Dr Ashwell Ndhlala for their unwavering support, while also acknowledging colleagues at the RCPGD and ARC-VOP for their endless support.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Gugu Mqadi