SA’s women scientists honoured


11 August 2004

South Africa’s top women scientists women were honoured for their role in technological and scientific research at the 2004 South African Awards for Women in Science.

The awards, an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology, were presented by Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena in Johannesburg on 6 August.

“The old prejudices and stereotypes that female scientists must be dull, dowdy and unattractive must be eradicated”, Mangena said at the award ceremony. “Young girls should be made aware that aspiring to a scientific career should not entail a compromise in appearance or family life.

“It is perfectly possible for a good scientist to be a stylish career woman as well as a good mother”, Mangena said. “It is not appearance that counts, but competence.”

Professor Patricia Berjak, a plant cellular biologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, won the R50 000 Distinguished Woman Scientist award for outstanding contribution to the advancement of science.

The R50 000 Distinguished Scientist Award for Contribution to the Improvement of the Quality of Life of Women went to Professor Helen Rees for her work on Aids and sexual violence with the Reproductive Health Research Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The R100 000 Fellowship for Gender Responsive Research went to Nomvuselelo Songelwa, a doctoral studen in land and agrarian studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Songelwa is working on a gender analysis of South Africa’s land distribution and development programme, focusing on a case study in Mpumalanga province.

According to the SA Press Association, Songelwa became interested in land reform while working as a social ecologist at the Golden Gate National Park in the Free State and as an environmental educator at the Table Mountain National Park.

The L’Oreal Fellowship for Women in Science went to Dr Janet Kelso, who specialises in bioinformatics at the University of the Western Cape.

The African Woman Scientist Fellowship went to Bethule Nyamambi, a specialist in animal nutrition, while Winifred Morris was awarded the fellowship for research in areas where participation by women is traditionally low (such as astronomy, mathematics and physics).

Tanya du Toit, a technology manager at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, was awarded a grant for postgraduate studies in technology management at the Da Vinci Institute of Technology Management in the US.

Two other Wits University scientists were named runners-up in the Distinguished Woman Scientist category. Professor Valerie Mizrahi is a biochemical researcher and co-director of the Department of Science and Technology’s Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research.

Professor Maureen Coetzee is a medical entomologist who has helped bring the recent upsurge in malaria in southern Africa under control.

According to the Department of Science and Technology, the contribution of South African women to scientific research has not been fully recognised.

This lack of recognition has resulted in inequity of access by women to the research professions, the department says, while the lack of prominent women scientists as role models “has hampered both the public understanding of science, engineering and technology, and the participation of women at all levels of science”.

To find out more about the awards, visit the South African Awards for Women in Science web page. reporter

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