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Prof Salome Maswime

For her contribution through pioneering the field of Global Surgery in Africa as part of a drive for greater equity, and access to, much-needed surgical care

Prof Salome Maswime wants to see the African community as a whole receive safe and timely surgical care, especially pregnant women.

She is an obstetrician, gynaecologist and Head of Global Surgery in the Department of Medicine at the University of Cape Town. 

‘Global surgery’ combines several disciplines to provide better and equitable surgical care. This is critical in Africa, where maternal mortality remains high.

When Maswime was a junior doctor, she lost a patient to anaesthetic complications, because she and her team did not have the skills to help. “These are skills that can be taught to medical officers and junior doctors — you don’t need to be a specialist,” she says. 

She says global surgery is about how to capacitate healthcare workers looking after patients, to make better and timely decisions. “These are simple, system issues,” she says.

Maswime turned to research to improve outcomes for mothers who undergo caesarean sections. She went on to become one of the first experts to establish global surgery as its own discipline in Africa. 

A key turning point for her was during her first few international meetings at the World Health Organization (WHO). “Suddenly I found myself in rooms where healthcare in Africa was being discussed, with hardly any people from the African continent in the rooms,” she says. 

Maswime realised then that there’s much to be done on health leadership and science in Africa. She says there are two key areas that the surgical community needs to do better on: understanding the patient, and engaging with the communities they serve.

“It’s one thing to operate on a woman with cervical cancer, to remove the uterus and to do all the major things. But has anyone stopped to ask patients, ‘how much do you know about pap smears?’ or ‘do you do pap smears routinely?’,” she says. Pap smears can help detect cervical cancer early, and earlier treatment can improve patient outcomes.

“Even within the hospital space, there’s a lot of things that we can do to improve the flow of work and to make our services accessible to many more people,” says Maswime. “But we often don’t tap into that because we are used to just using what is there.”

Maswime hopes the success of her ongoing work will one day be measured by concrete impacts on our complicated health systems, and by how much the surgical outcomes and life expectancy of African patients improve.

Prof Salome Maswime won the NSTF-SAMRC Clinician-Scientist Award for her contribution through research and its outputs over a period of up to 6 years of research work from the commencement of the research career, predominantly in SA, and focussed on work to enhance life and to improve the health of the community. This award is sponsored by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). — ScienceLink

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

The Centre for Water Resources Research

For providing a centre of excellence for cutting edge applied and interdisciplinary research and postgraduate training in water resources-related research and capacity building

A contribution to new knowledge, skilled graduates and tools for better water management flows from the Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“I think all of us recognise that water is probably the most critical resource in South Africa,” says the Director of the CWRR, Prof Jeff Smithers.

“We have for a long time been living with demand for water exceeding the supply and availability, and this has been exacerbated by deteriorating water governance and maintenance of water infrastructure, such as distribution networks and waste water treatment works. At the CWRR we are trying to narrow that gap, by developing improved water management practices and governance,” says Smithers.

As agriculture is the biggest user of water in South Africa, the CWRR puts significant resources into modelling water systems related to agricultural production, such as irrigation. They assess how land-use, climate change and catchment management impact on water availability and quality. 

Smithers says that through research and innovation, we can make improvements in water use efficiency, for example in irrigation, which would make water available to meet other demands.

The CWRR has done detailed modelling of water systems to estimate the impact of different tree species on runoff, and on the amount of water that fills up dams. “This estimate of the impacts of afforestation on runoff is currently being used by the Department of Water and Sanitation to determine charges for stream flow reduction caused by the forest industry.”

They’ve also looked into the potential impacts of climate change on crop yields and on the amount of water available from catchments. “There’s a lot of uncertainty given the range of predictions that are coming from different climate change models,” he says, “and the consequences vary across the country.

“What we really aim to do is to make sure we are generating new knowledge and improved understanding, in order to develop tools and data information systems that can be used by industry.”

Since 2012, a total of 63 Honours, 59 Master’s and 33 PhD students working on CWRR projects have graduated, with expertise in hydrology and related earth and engineering sciences.

“In terms of human capacity development, I think we’ve made a significant contribution,” says Smithers. “There has been a lot of new knowledge generated and capacity developed with postgraduate studies, giving us a new understanding of hydrological processes and water resources management.”

The Centre for Water Resource Research won the NSTF-WRC award for a contribution by an individual or an organisation towards sustainable water management, knowledge generation and solutions over the last 5 to 10 years. The award has been sponsored by the WRC since 2017.
— ScienceLink

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

Aaron would like to work and play a leadership role in a company that provides robotics solutions to many people across the globe, not only to those who are wealthy and well off.

Aaron is studying mechatronics engineering at Stellenbosch University. He matriculated at Northern Cape High School on Kimberley, Northern Cape Province.


“The world we live in today requires us to be problem solvers and critical thinkers. These are skills that can be developed and can be used for the betterment of our society.”


Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? What inspires you?

I was born on the 5th of July 2004. I used to live with both my parents, my brother, and grandparents. Currently I am a first-year student studying mechatronics engineering at Stellenbosch University. In my free time, I love watching videos about the latest technological innovations and spending time with my friends. I am inspired by my parents. They have selflessly worked for many years to provide for me and my family. They have been the absolute best role models for me and my brother. My mother and father have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams and become the best version of myself.

Where did you complete your schooling?  Tell us about this school and your teachers

I completed my secondary education at Northern Cape High School (NCH for short) in Kimberley. High school was one of the most memorable phases of my life. The school has both male and female students. My favourite year at school was most definitely my matric year. This is quite possibly due to the responsibilities I had as the Chairperson of the Executive Committee of our school, which enabled me to interact with everyone at my school to a greater extent. It was more challenging as I had a lot on my plate, especially the fact that I had to balance my academics and my leadership responsibilities. The highlight of the school for me was the people I was surrounded by, especially my teachers. All my teachers were always so friendly and helpful towards me and I owe a great part of my success in academics to my teachers. Teachers with whom I’ve never been in class with were even wishing me all the best and were offering me help for my exams. My time at Northern Cape High is definitely one that I hold dearly to my heart.

Although it was not a school, I also attended MSLA (the Maths and Science, Leadership Academy). MSLA played a vital role in developing me as a person.

Why did you choose the course you are studying?

From a young age, I have always been fascinated by the world of engineering. I made the decision to study engineering one day when I was in Grade 4. On one random day, I came across a documentary on Robotics and AI and how it was going to revolutionise this world. The documentary helped me to realise the large potential AI and robotics had to solve many of the world’s problems. I instantly took an interest in robotics and wanted to enter the field. After some research I came across mechatronics engineering, which is a field in engineering that has elements of both mechanical and electronics engineering. I instantly took a liking to the field as it was the best degree I could do to enter the field of robotics.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I see myself working in a leadership position within a company that provides robotics solutions to many people across the globe, not only to those who are wealthy and well off. As I believe that every successful person is obliged to serve the community around them, I also see myself contributing to building the community around me and helping the underprivileged.

Why do you enjoy science and maths?

I grew up in a science household. Both my parents were in the teaching field, specialising in physics and chemistry. Listening to their conversations about the subject from a very young age caused me to develop a great interest in the subject.

I find mathematics to be a very interesting subject. Most of our lives revolve around mathematics and we use maths in our daily lives, even though we do not realise it. I enjoy maths because of stimulating it is. I love to spend time solving tough problems, and the satisfaction after solving such problems cannot be explained.

Why do you think some people have problems doing well in maths and science?

There is a perception among people that mathematics and science are very difficult subjects. This mindset causes people to struggle with the subjects. If you sit down to complete a task with the perception that it is very difficult, you are most likely to give up and not complete it. Learners who believe maths and science are very difficult, will not try their absolute best to excel in the subjects, and will not put in extra effort. That extra effort is what differentiates people between those who do well in maths and science, and those who do not do well.

What advice do you have for school learners who struggle with these subjects?

Put in every ounce of effort you have to do better in the subject. If you are struggling with a problem, spend time on it and do not give up easily. You should not have the mindset that maths and science is very difficult. Set aside time for you to work on these subjects and make sure that you make academic progress in this time.

Any tips for learners in grades 11 and 12?

Learn how to manage your time efficiently, balancing your academics with other things you enjoy doing. Time management is a very crucial skill that you need to have and one that you will need further on in life.

Another tip I can give you is to do everything you have in your power not to fall behind in work. Grades 11 and 12 are the most crucial years of your school career, and these two years may very well shape the rest of your life. It is very hard to completely catch up with work if you fall behind. Avoid procrastination and get into the habit of completing your current tasks immediately.

What advice do you have for matriculants who must apply for places in higher education institutions?

Make sure you know exactly what you want to study and where you will be studying. Avoid having any doubt in your mind as the absence of doubt will put you at ease about your future.

Also make sure that your documents are in order and are organised. Write down exactly when applications open and when they close, so you do not miss the application window. And finally, apply to as many higher education institutions as possible. You are not guaranteed to be accepted into your first choice, so it would be wise to have a backup plan.

Understanding excellence – what makes an achiever?

For me, an achiever is anyone who achieves a goal they have set for themselves. These goals can be as small as working out at the gym one day, or even landing your dream job. We’re all achievers as we all have accomplished at least one goal in our life. An achiever is someone who is persistent and will not let anyone stop them from achieving their goals. Once they have achieved their goals, they will share their knowledge onto others to enable them to become achievers too.

A message to South African youth in general?

We are incredibly blessed to live in such a beautiful country. Yes, there are large problems in South Africa, but the problems are not any that can’t be solved. We as the youth have the responsibility of taking our country into the next era. It’s easy to blame our predecessors for the problems we face in our country, but coming up with solutions is the hard part. The world we live in today requires us to be problem solvers and critical thinkers. These are skills that can be developed and can be used for the betterment of our society.

If you had ONE opportunity to speak directly to a very influential person, who would you choose and what would you say to them?

I would choose to speak with Bill Gates. He is one of the most prominent figures in the technological world and has accomplished his goal to put a computer in almost every home. Each year, he donates billions to fighting diseases throughout the world and is determined to solve many of the world’s problems.

I would love to ask him about the amount of work he had to put in to reach the level of success he is at now. I also want to discuss with him on his ventures on solving many of the world’s problems, especially on his journey to finding a solution to malaria.


Zemfundo sees herself combating diabetes and creating awareness of the illness at an international level.

Zemfundo is studying medicine at the University of Cape Town. She matriculated at Adams College of Education in Amanzimtoti, KwaZulu-Natal.

The only barrier between you and your dreams is you. Push yourself to the edge with studying and you will see how far you will go in the end.”

Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? What inspires you?


I come from the dusty and vast Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal. I am very passionate about science and technology and innovative ways to use the science and technology field to heal others. One thing that inspires me is to strive to be better than yesterday.

Why did you choose the course you are studying?

I chose to study medicine for a reason close to my heart and which I have never shared with anyone:  because of my maternal grandmother.  Ever since I can remember, I have seen my grandmother endure pain and near-death experiences due to diabetes. My grandmother had survived a low blood sugar level and landed into a coma for three days when I was five years old and survived a stroke and suffered from dementia when I was eight. One experience that will be forever engrained in me will be when she had a diabetic ulcer on her left foot, which led to her death earlier this year. My mother and I were the ones who cared for her when she had the ulcer. I would often take care of her and nurse her after school, make her food, give her pills and clean her wound. She was a difficult person since she had dementia. She would often act out and refuse the food and medication we gave her, but that experience only made my sympathy and willingness to help grow. That experience shaped me to be gentle, patient and sensitive. Seeing the effect of diabetes on one’s life over the years, made me want to lend a hand to help.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

In ten years, I would like to see myself working for the World Health Organization, combating diabetes and creating awareness at an international level and helping people to delay the age where they will acquire diabetes.

Why do you enjoy science and maths?

I learnt over the years that to every problem there is a solution, and there is a never only one way to get to the solution. One thing that I really like about science and maths is that it taught me perseverance, patience and flexibility, which built character in me. No matter how hard a challenge may seem, in the end there’s always a solution. Sometimes we may not immediately find the solution right away, but science and maths bring hope that we may find it someday, no matter how long it takes.

Where did you complete your schooling? Tell us a bit about this school and your teachers.

I completed my high schooling and matric in Adams College of Education situated in Adams Mission, Amanzimtoti. My former high school has a history of producing great leaders such as Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. It has been around for 169 years. It is also famous for producing highflyers active in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. The school focuses on science, maths and commerce. It is situated in the rural area of Adams Mission and is deeply affected by water shortages and loadshedding. Nonetheless, my former teachers have a fighting spirit to deliver content to learners. They made sure to instil discipline in us and helped us with our problem areas after school hours and even beyond into the night and even at dawn. They are very committed and dedicated teachers and passionate about education. They always emphasised the importance of education, and maths and science in particular.

Why do you think some people have problems doing well in maths and science?

I believe that no person is incapable of performing well in maths and science, but I have noticed that many teachers are not really dedicated to help their pupils who are struggling with maths and science; they want to help pupils who are already good in these subjects. We cannot blame teachers solely on these learner’s struggles in these subjects, we should know that learning is a two-way road which requires effort from both teacher and learner. Many learners have the mentality and fear that science and maths are difficult and when attempting problems, they already have “difficulty” ringing at the back of their heads, which hinders their ability to solve the problems.

What advice do you have for school learners who struggle with these subjects?

They should ask for help from their teachers and ask for extra classes. They should work through a lot of past papers with the intention of learning something new. School learners should also practice science and maths every single day to sharpen their skills and make their minds “flexible”.

Any tips for learners in grades 11 and 12?

Start preparing for your future now. Work on getting exceptional marks for your end of the year results because these are the results that higher education institutes use to select the best candidates to study at the institution of your choice. Be disciplined, since you can rely on discipline when you have run out of motivation. If you have started on the wrong note, there is still time to fix your wrongs. Remember, it’s not about how you start but how you finish. Lastly, change your mentality and attitude towards your studies; don’t view studying as a chore but as something fun and which will open a lot of doors for you in the future.

What advice do you have for matriculants who have to apply for places in higher education institutions?

Apply to many higher education institutions, not only universities and universities of technology, but also technical colleges. Ask people whom you trust to apply on your behalf, since it is a lengthy process and consumes a lot of time.

Understanding excellence – what makes an achiever?

An achiever is a person who works hard to pave a path towards their dream. A person who relies on discipline more than motivation. It is a person who does not compete with others but with his/her past self, to be better than yesterday and realises that his/her only enemy is his/herself.

A message to South African youth in general?

The only barrier between you and your dreams is you. Push yourself to the edge with studying and you will see how far you will go in the end. And lastly, hard work pays off.

If you had ONE opportunity to speak directly to a very influential person, who would you choose and what would you say to them?

I would speak to Mr JC Mnguni, a principal at Reunion Secondary School and the centre manager of Umlazi Kutlwanong Promaths. Given the chance, I would thank him for the motivation he gave to me and the other learners, that was the fuel we used to carry on. The life stories he shared with us helped us to realise our full potential. Learners need people like him to keep on going and realise their full potential, because learners become fatigued.

Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 

The United Nations proclaimed a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) to support efforts to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and gather ocean stakeholders worldwide behind a common framework that will ensure ocean science can fully support countries in creating improved conditions for sustainable development of the ocean.

“The Decade is the chance to put in place a more complete and sustainable observing system and feed the resulting data into a science-based informed decision-making system allowing increased reliance of our civilization on the ocean, its ecosystem services and, at the same time, preserving ocean health.


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