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Inaugural and Senate lectures

The rite of passage to become a professor in a university has for hundreds of years included the test of having to profess your knowledge to a lay audience and fellow academics. Indeed, the origin of the title 'professor' comes from the need to profess, or declare publicly, one’s knowledge.

In a world of rapidly increasing quantities of knowledge, more and more specialisation takes place. One danger of this trend is that knowledge becomes isolated or ‘siloed’ and therefore fails to benefit from collective thinking and cross-pollination of ideas. It is in this context that we must see the challenge of professing knowledge with the general public and the larger academic community. It is no simple matter. It requires an ability to conceptualise highly technical and abstract matters and to express them in commonly used language, often through analogy, allowing people who have not had the privilege to grapple with the subject for extended periods to quickly grasp the elements at play.

The Inaugural Lecture is thus a platform for newly appointed professors to share their brilliant discoveries, innovative ideas and deep insights with the public and the larger academic community. Additionally, these events allow for random connections to be made that are so beneficial for the creative process we call science. Professionals and academics gain a unique opportunity to engage across knowledge boundaries for the benefit of humankind. Wits University is a proud host of such an inaugural lecture series. Our esteemed professors carry extensive knowledge capable of driving Africa towards improved social justice and a knowledge economy.


The bioeconomy in Science and Society - African Solutions to African Problems?

The Inaugural lecture of Professor Karl Rumbold took place on 30 March 2021

Climate change is affecting our planet on an unprecedented scale. It is widely accepted that the prevailing petroleum economy is responsible for global warming. Renewable energy technology has therefore been booming in recent years. But there is still a need to radically transform the way we are currently fueling, feeding, and healing the world: The bioeconomy combines all technological capabilities for the sustainable production of organic fuels, chemicals, and materials. The World is bracing for change. Are we ready for the bioeconomy? Does Africa play a role in shaping the bioeconomy?


Health and Health Care in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond

The Inaugural lecture of Professor Frederik Booysen took place on 3 November 2020

Professor Booysen holds a BCom, BCom Hons (Economics), MCom (Economics) and PhD (Economics) from Stellenbosch University. Having previously researched the economics of HIV and AIDS, his current research focuses mainly on inequalities in health and healthcare and on issues of health and development. He has published in journals such as AIDS, AIDS Care, AIDS & Behavior, BMC Public Health, the International Journals for Equity in Health and for Quality of Health Care, Social Science & Medicine, PLoS ONE, Social Indicators Research, and World Development. He is an NRF-rated researcher, a Fulbright and EUROSA scholar, and a recipient of the Founder’s Medal of the Economic Society of South Africa (ESSA). He has received research grants from The World Bank, the EU-funded Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD), and the NRF’s Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) research programme.

Pandemics are rare events, events that fundamentally disrupt the social and economic fibre of societies. COVID-19, the first global public health crisis to hit the world in a century, holds far-reaching consequences, not only for our present health and well-being, but for health care and its delivery, organization and financing, now and into the future.

In this lecture, I first outline the pre-existing inequalities in the South African health care landscape. I then proceed to use various analyses and evidence to illustrate the pandemic’s likely implications for South Africans’ health and well-being, highlighting the likely role of emotional support in curbing the impending increase in the country’s mental health deficit. I round out the lecture by reflecting on the various policy implications of the pandemic and its longer-term impacts on society.

The 4I=R2 Framework: Advancing an agenda for psychological assessment in South Africa

The Inaugural lecture of Professor Sumaya Laher took place on 29 October 2020

Sumaya Laher holds a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently the Head of the Department of Psychology at Wits. Prof. Laher serves as the founding editor of the African Journal of Psychological Assessment, Associate Editor of the South African Journal of Psychology, board member for Assessment Standards South Africa and former President of the Psychological Society of South Africa. Her research is guided by the need for the production and integration of indigenous knowledge within mainstream approaches to create a more critical practice of psychology and psychological assessment within the South African context. 

The unprecedented rise in the use of technologies across all sectors during COVID-19 hastened South Africa's participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). However access and distributional challenges in South Africa remain core concerns amidst a volatile and complex global context. Psychology and psychological assessment in particular requires a rethinking within this time and space. This lecture will present a brief history of assessment internationally and locally to contextualize the need for a 4I=R2 framework for assessment in South Africa. The 4I=R2 framework affords an opportunity for the discipline to advance beyond traditional assessment practices where the 4 I’s of Inclusion, Indigenisation, Innovation and Impact was discussed as necessary components for a relevant and responsive discipline. In so doing the lecture presented evidence where traditional forms of assessment are evolving in line with social contexts and technological developments. The extent to which this aids in addressing challenges in the South African assessment landscape with regards to theory, research, policy and practice was discussed together with what still needs to be done to meet the 4I=R2 vision.

Metallated Complexes & Apoptosis: New bullets in our chemotherapeutic arsenal?

The Inaugural lecture of Professor Marianne Cronje took place on 19 August 2020 

Prof. Cronjé completed her BSc in Biological Sciences at RAU, her BSc Hons in both Biochemistry and Zoology and MSc at UOFS and her PhD in Biochemistry at RAU (now UJ). She served the department of Biochemistry at RAU/UJ for 23 years before being appointed as the Head of School of Molecular and Cell Biology at WITS in January 2019. She continues to be active in cancer research with the focus on the induction of apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death, by novel anti-cancer compounds.

Cancer is a growing burden in Africa. By 2040, it is estimated that cancer incidence will more than double in Sub-Saharan Africa, and that more than twice as many cancer deaths will occur in low- and middle-income countries compared to upper-income countries. Worldwide, cancer causes more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and the global burden is estimated to be 27 million new cancer cases in 2050. Cancer represents a significant and under-appreciated public health problem in Africa.

Most chemotherapeutic agents result in severe side-effects and eventual resistance to treatment. Thus, finding alternative compounds that are target-specific, highly effective yet easy to manufacture and available at low cost remains urgent and important. An overview of our endeavours this past decade will provide further insight into the selective targeting of cell death with metallated compounds in cancer cells and support our belief that these are promising additions to the arsenal of chemotherapeutics.


Africa, economics and development
Professor Manoel Bittencourt from the School of Economics and Business Sciences
23 August 2019
Event Time : 17:30

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

In this lecture, Bittencourt talked about African contemporaneous development. He also spoke about the role of pre-colonial institutions, and the slave trade, and the scramble for Africa, and also about the colonial institutions themselves. To understand African contemporaneous development - and ultimately to influence policy - we must have African historical development in mind.

For that, new datasets, new methods and modern economics can really help. He showed how the literature on African economic development has evolved since the 1990s and how his teaching and research take the latest scientific developments into account.

Is a knot a knot? That is the question!
Professor Eunice Mphako-Banda
30 July 2019

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

We go deeper into knots – those fascinating geometrical objects which are very simple to visualise, yet remarkably hard to analyse. Simply considering a piece of string, tying a knot and gluing the two loose ends of the string together forms a knotted loop. Such a knotted loop is called a knot in mathematics. Knot theory delves into answering the question of deciding whether two knotted loops made of flexible, but impenetrable material can be transformed by means of continuous modifications into knotted loops having the same shape. Further, one may ask whether an arbitrary knot is a knot. To answer such questions, knot invariants are employed. Two knot invariants; the number of components and the pathwidth of a knot were discussed. Further, the mathematics behind these invariants, the Tutte polynomial were presented.

The rise of dinosaurs in southern Africa
Professor Jonah Choiniere from the Evolutionary Studies Institute
25 July 2019

Event Time : 17:30

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

Two hundred million years ago, a mass extinction event upheaved Earth's ecosystems, causing the demise of nearly 75% of its species. Dinosaurs flourished in the wake of this event, becoming the dominant land-dwelling vertebrates for the next 135 million years. Southern Africa's rich fossil deposits make it the best place in the world for studying this extinction and its aftermath. Choiniere shared the results of seven years of fieldwork and fossil study in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho, giving an emerging picture on the dawn of the dinosaur era.

Paediatric surgery at Wits: embracing the new millennium
Professor Jerome Loveland from the School of Clinical Science
18 July 2019

Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Parktown Health Sciences Campus

The Department of Paediatric Surgery has made a significant contribution to the development of paediatric surgery in South Africa, this through the development and training of numerous paediatric surgeons who have made their mark both nationally and throughout the world. The Department at Wits has become a major focus of teaching and training for South African paediatric surgeons, as well as for international trainees from both Africa and abroad. More recently, the Department has focused on enhancing its clinical research outputs, as well as developing specific clinical sub-specialties within paediatric surgery. This lecture traced the Wits Paediatric Surgery's origins from the infancy of surgery in Johannesburg in the 1880s, to a unit with a now well-established clinical and research reputation both within South Africa and abroad.

Writing decolonisation: Seven keywords
Professor Pamila Gupta 
27 June 2019
Event Time : 18:00

Venue : Braamfontein Campus East

It starts in Goa (India), moves to Southern and East Africa (Mozambique, Angola, South Africa, and Zanzibar), and returns to Goa. The framing device was that of “keywords” as a vocabulary of culture and society (following Raymond Williams, 1976) in order to reflect shifting research interests and writings on decolonisation.