Unisa honours its research stars at prestigious ceremony

On 7 June 2024, Unisa recognised the outstanding achievements of its academic staff at the Annual Research and Innovation Awards ceremony, held at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research International Convention Centre in Pretoria. More than 100 academics were celebrated for their contributions to African research excellence.

This exciting event features a range of award categories, including the Youngest Female Doctoral Graduate, Principal’s Award for Excellence in Research, and an all-new category, the Principal’s Award for Distinguished Alumni in Research.


Pictured here with Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa, Vice-Principal of Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation (front row, left), and Prof Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor (front row, second from left), are the recipients of the Principal’s Award: Front row, from right: Prof Ntanganedzeni Mapholi, Prof Monnye Mabelebele and Dr Wendy Phoswa
Back row, from left: Kabelo Mokgalaboni, Prof Nkosinathi Zongozzi, Dr Siphamandla Mncube, Prof James Chibueze, Dr Hlamulo Mbhiza, Prof Shandré Jansen van Rensburg, Prof Mookgo Kgatle and Dr Matome Maake

Quelling misinformation

In her welcome address, Unisa Principal and Vic-Chancellor (VC), Prof Puleng LenkaBula, stated that she is appreciative of the university’s latest remarkable feat - the QS World University Rankings 2025 - which listed Unisa as one of the top seven universities in the country. She stated that in 2021, the number of academics with PhDs at the university stood at 39%. "At this present moment," she continued, "we are over 62%, and by the end of next year I look forward to this figure reaching between 70% and 80%. We will reach this figure with the commitment that we have in ensuring that we propel the university as the pivot of the science system in the country and a partner of the departments under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, and our society."


Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Puleng LenkaBula

The VC said that misinformation, propelled by social media and the advent of deep-fakes generated by artificial intelligence, is blurring the lines between truth and lies. "As researchers," she continued, "we should ask ourselves whose facts the public can trust, and to whom a person on the street can turn for reliable, verifiable and accurate facts. If researchers are not at the centre of the imagination of society, and act as partners in research, many institutions such as the government will be misled by deep-fakes and anti-intellectual material."

The VC stated that Unisa is committed to rethinking and shaping the future. She concluded: "The university is home to leaders, and this awards ceremony celebrates the hard-working academics who ensure that misinformation  is quelled and replaced by quality, impactful research that addresses the needs of Africa and the world."

Challenging the status quo

Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa, Vice-Principal of Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation, stated that advancement in technology and changes in priorities and challenges posed by social and environmental issues "have driven us to explore new territories. The university’s commitment to promoting research and innovation has been instrumental in addressing these challenges and unlocking new opportunities through the roadmap of the university’s catalytic niche areas."


Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa, Vice-Principal of Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation

Meyiwa said that innovation happens when people break down barriers and challenge the status quo, adding: "It is this spirit of challenging conventions that has allowed us to reach new heights and make a difference in the world."

Concluding, Meyiwa affirmed that the university is contributing immensely to challenging the status quo, while engendering positive disruptions through research, innovation and forging a new path towards a brighter African future.


Dr Moleboheng Ramulumo, Dr Nozipho Gumbi and Prof Usisipho Feleni

Throughout the event, various top academics and researchers and innovators across various Unisa colleges were recognised for their excellence, in some instances through recognition outside the university. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Prof Puleng Segalo, College of Human Sciences’ Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair, received the University of New York Graduate Centre Graduate of the Last Decade Award, including the Most Read Author Award for Sex, Money and Love: What SA University Students Say About Romance and Dating in a Material Age, with more than 38 000 reads.
  • Prof Usisipho Feleni from the College of Science, Engineering and Technology received the National Qualifications Framework (NRF) grant of R1 322 000 for Competitive Support for Unrated Researchers.
  • Prof Edward Nxumalo, Dr Nozipho Gumbi and Prof Bhekie Mamba from the College of Science, Engineering and Technology jointly received the Innovation Excellence Award in the Intellectual Property Applications category for their water filtration assembly.
  • Prof Shandré Jansen van Rensburg from the College of Law received the Principal’s Award.
  • Prof Lukas Snyman received the Innovation Excellence Award, in the category First Patent Granted in Examining Jurisdictions for Therma Energy to Electricity Extraction System (Europe).
  • Dr Kaitano Dube from the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) received in the Principal’s Award for Distinguished Alumni in Research.


Prof Shandré Jansen van Rensburg, Prof Lukas Snyman and Dr Kaitano Dube

This ceremony served not only to celebrate individual achievements but also to highlight Unisa's commitment to research excellence. The VC strongly emphasised the university's role in shaping futures for the university’s students. She acknowledged the awardees as leaders who play a crucial part in ensuring that misinformation is dispelled and replaced with high-quality research that addresses Africa's specific needs. This, she said, underscores Unisa's dedication to fostering a culture of research, innovation and knowledge production that has a direct impact on the continent's development.

To see the full list of all the awardees, click here.  

* By Godfrey Madibane, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2024/06/12

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