The University of Pretoria’s (UP) top academics took centre stage at the 22nd Annual Academic Achievers’ Awards held recently, where the University celebrated scholars for their outstanding interdisciplinary research.
The annual award ceremony, which has taken place virtually for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was held at the Kievits Kroon, Kameeldrift-East, in Pretoria. The awards honoured 133 winners across eight categories, including 110 National Research Foundation-rated scientists.
“As academic achievers you have demonstrated your academic excellence, which is generally defined as the ability to perform, achieve, and excel in teaching and learning, research, innovation, and engagement,” said UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe during his virtual address.
“We need far more academics to make sure our voices and expert comments are heard; that we share your research and findings. All of you here today have the gift of extraordinarily bright minds and we need you to speak up and speak out in your areas of knowledge.”
Prof Kupe said in many ways, academic achievement addresses consciousness and community need, both locally and globally.
“It serves to take us further and higher in our lifetime, to contribute solutions to the issues raised in the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa Agenda 2063. You have honoured yourselves as individuals and you have honoured UP. Your reputations precede you in the best of ways, offering you access to the world, to people and places for whom a whole range of opportunities are available, including key leadership roles,” Prof Kupe said.
Prof Edward Snelling, Prof Gustav Muller, Prof Joel Modiri, Prof Nedine Moonsamy, and Prof Thulani Hlatshwayo, who were honoured with Exceptional Young Researchers Awards, with UP Vice-Principal: Academic Prof Loretta Feris (far right).
During his keynote address, Professor in the Department of Psychology at Stellenbosch University Kopano Ratele said he hopes that the work the awardees were recognised for gives them immense pleasure and satisfaction.
“I hope that the recognition is the cherry on top of work that is meaningful. I hope you have been feeling satisfied and even happy. I hope that you feel that you have something more important beyond what we came to celebrate tonight,” he said.
Prof Ratele said the achievements that brought him happiness were those he regarded as enduringly meaningful.
“The things I do for which I am recognised I would do even if no one gave me an award,” he said.
Professor Karen Harris, Head of Department: Historical and Heritage Studies and Director of the University Archives, received the Chancellor’s Award in the teaching and learning category. She said the acknowledgement endorses her endeavours to keep making a difference in the lives of her students.
“For more than three decades teaching has been my passion. My life has been immensely enriched by the undergraduate students I have taught and the postgraduate students I have supervised,” she said.
Exceptional Academic Achievers awardees (from left) Prof Steve Cornelius, Prof Ann Skelton, Prof Alta van der Merwe, Prof Andre Ganswindt, Prof Christian Pirk and Prof Vasu Reddy with UP Vice-Principal: Academic Prof Loretta Feris (far right).
Dr Jonathan Okeke Chimakonam, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy, received the Vice-Chancellor’s Book Award, which recognises outstanding scholarly books, monographs and collections.
“I am not just a scholar, I am a thinker. This means that I make original contributions in terms of new concepts, principles and theories,” he said.
“This award does a world of good to my psyche, and I think that is more important to me right now. Many of my students, past and present, and academics who admire my work will most certainly be happy for me. You can expect that the news of this award will inspire colloquia, research theses, rejoinders, and special issues dedicated to exploring the ideas in the book. Such is the greatest honour an academic could ever receive,” Dr Chimakonam said.
Professor in the Department of Medical Virology Marietjie Venter, who won one of the three The Conversation Africa Awards for Communication Excellence, said: “I am honoured for the recognition by The Conversation and to be part of the NGS-SA (Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa) team. I would like to dedicate this award to my UP team and all the scientists and doctors that worked hard throughout the pandemic to fight this virus.”
Accepting the Chancellor’s Award, which recognises exceptional achievement in the field of research, Director of the UP Faculty of Law’s Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa Professor Charles Fombad said the recognition will lead to new opportunities that will allow him to interact and work closely with leading researchers from around the world.
“I believe that through such academic exchanges, it will enhance my ability to assist my students. At the end of the day, my humble goal is to redouble my efforts and continue to contribute to ensure that my faculty remains the best in Africa and my University becomes the best on the continent.”