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Academic Staff

Professor Bob Scholes

Distinguished Professor Robert (Bob) Scholes
Systems Ecologist
Professor Bob Scholes is an internationally renowned ecologist with decades of experience in Africa and abroad. He is among the top 1% of environmental scientists worldwide based on citation frequency, publishing widely in the fields of savanna ecology, global change and earth observation. Bob has led several high profile studies (for example the Assessments of Elephant Management and of Shale Gas Development) and research campaigns (such as SAFARI 2000 and the Southern African Millennium Ecosystem Assessment).

He has served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change during the 3rd, 4th and 5th assessments and was co-Chair of the Conditions Working Group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and co-Chair of the Global Assessment of Land Degradation and Restoration. He has been a member of the following steering committees: Global Climate Observing System; Global Terrestrial Observing System (Chair), Group on Earth Observation (GEO) Implementation Planning Task Team, and GEO Biodiversity Observation Network (Chair).

Additionally, he served on the boards of the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, the South African National Parks and South African National Space Agency. He is a Fellow of the CSIR, Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, Member of the South African Academy and a foreign associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences.

Distinguished Professor Coleen Vogel
Professor Coleen Vogel is a climatologist by training and has undertaken research in climate change, climate vulnerability and adaptation, with a particular focus on disaster risk reduction and climate variability. She was one of the key contributors to the writing of the Green and White Papers on South African Disaster Management and was a major contributing author for the Disaster Management Act.

She was one of the Chapter Lead Authors of the Africa Chapter for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC 4th Assessment Report and was also an author of the Synthesis Report for Policy Makers of the 4th IPCC Assessment Report. A Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the author team together with Al Gore for the 4th Assessment Report. Coleen was a Chapter Author on Human Security for the 5th IPCC assessment report. Coleen has also been involved in various international global environmental change activities. She has been Chair and Vice Chair of international committees (for example, the International Human Dimensions Programme, now known together with other international programmes as Future Earth).

She has received an international award, the Burtoni Award, for her work on climate change advocacy and science of climate change adaptation. Her current research interests include transformative education for global environment change and sustainability, climate change in its broader context and adaptation and disaster risk reduction focusing particularly on the interactions between physical and social dimensions shaping change

Prof Engelbrecht

Distinguished Professor Francois Engelbrecht
Francois Engelbrecht is Professor of Climatology at the Global Change Institute (GCI) of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. Engelbrecht specializes in numerical climate model development and the simulation of African climate variability and change, in particular, he currently leads the development of an African-based Earth System Model towards participation in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase Six (CMIP6) of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

Engelbrecht’s research has led to new insights into the changing temperature, rainfall and circulation patterns over the continent under enhanced anthropogenic forcing. He served as an invited Lead Author of the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, which was published in 2018, and he is currently an invited Lead Author of Working Group I of Assessment Report Six of the IPCC. He is also an invited member of the Working Group on Numerical Experimentation of the World Climate Change Research Program (WCRP), and a steering group member of the Climate and Ocean: Variability, Predictability and Change (CLIVAR) project of the WCRP.

Prof. Mulala Danny Simatele
Environmental Scientist
Prof. Mulala Simatele is an Environmental Scientist by training and specialized in Geographies of the Environment and Sustainability. He holds a DPhil in Environmental Management and Sustainability from the University of Sussex in the UK. Prior to joining Wits, Mulala worked for the University of St. Andrews in Scotland where he was part of the team which established the St Andrews Sustainability Institute.

His main areas of research interest revolves around community based natural resource management with a special focus on water management, education for sustainability, climate change adaptation, environmental justice, environmental impact assessments, marine resource management and disaster risk management. In additional to academic engagement, Mulala is one of three technical advisors to the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) on the Cultivate Africa Programme.

He is also a board member for Hanell International and has diverse experiences working with policy related institutions notably on environmental management, climate change adaptation and environmental sustainability. Notable among these institutions include: The World Bank; The Scottish Environmental Think Tank, and the Ford Foundation. He has also served as an environmental consultant for different governments; the government of Bolivia; Botswana, Ghana, Jamaica, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, Sweden, Zambia and Zimbabwe. He has also worked with various NGOs on environmental and climate change issues including community development. Mulala is very passionate about research and working with students from diverse backgrounds. Since arriving at Wits in 2013, he has successfully supervised 20 PhD students and over 80 Masters and honours students.

Research Associates

Dr. Anita Etale
Dr. Anita Etale is a research associate at the Global Change Institute and a visiting researcher at the Karlsruhe institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany. She leads a multidisciplinary water research group focused on nanotechnology applications for water treatment, as well as the public acceptance of this technology and that of alternative water sources.

Dr. Kaera Coetzer
Kaera Coetzer is a Carnegie Research Associate at the GCI. She is a social-ecological systems scientist, with research that focuses on understanding natural system behaviour under global change scenarios:  historical landscape transformations and future trajectories of change, as mediated through the actors and the institutions that determine natural resource use management at different scales. She has a specific interest in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves; in how the relationships between decision-makers and land-use stakeholders shape sustainable environmental use; how these relationships affect the major social, ecological and economic challenges (and opportunities!) faced by management authorities in coordinating management across large multi-use conservation landscapes.

Dr. Khangelani Moyo
Khangelani Moyo is an Associate Researcher at the Global Change Institute (GCI), University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). He has academic training in migration studies, urban studies, sociology and social anthropology. He completed his PhD at Wits university in 2017, focusing on migrant mobilities in urban spaces and how their spatial identities are negotiated in the city of Johannesburg. His research interests include; migrant movement, transnational urbanisms, spatial identity in the city and social vulnerabilities in the urban periphery.

Dr. Ruwadzano Matsika
Dr. Ruwadzano Matsika is Carnegie Research Associate at the Global Change Institute. Her research areas of interest and expertise are energy transitions, climate risk and sustainable development. Her current research is investigating pathways to greening industry in South Africa and managing emerging climate risks across different sectors in society. She holds a Doctorate in Ecology and Environmental Sciences (WITS), a Post Graduate Diploma in Energy Leadership (WITS Business School) and has completed a course in Climate-related Financial Risk from the University of Oxford. Dr. Matsika has worked in sustainable development at ActionAid International, and as Africa Regional Coordinator for the UN Global Compact based at the National Business Initiative of South Africa.

Dr. Serge Kubanza
Prior to join the GCI, Dr. Serge Kubanza undertook a three-month internship at the UN-Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. His current research focuses on Sustainable Solid Waste Management in Sub-Saharan African Cities with an emphasis on South African and Congolese cities. Serge’s doctoral research focused on the concepts of social and environmental justice in the context of solid waste management in Kinshasa, DRC, and the impact of these two aspects on sustainable development. The paradigms of cultural theory and conceptual principles of Systems Dynamics were used to determine how actors in the form of four social solidarities (fatalist, hierarchist, individualist and egalitarian) influence the management of solid waste in the city and how they interact dynamically.

Dr. Yolandi Ernst
Yolandi Ernst, an associate researcher at the GCI, is mainly focusing her research on vegetation seasonality trends with respect to climate change and land use and what it means for human well-being and the environment in the Lowveld region of South Africa. She is also involved with flood risk assessment of the Hennops River Catchment in Gauteng in collaboration with UNISA where she is putting her geospatial skills to work.

Postdoctoral Researchers

Dr. Bright Nkrumah
Dr. Bright Nkrumah is currently involved in the climate change adaptation project focusing on the role of youth change agents and climate change. The project surveys the options that can be explored by youth activists, creating platforms for climate change dialogues and building partnerships with relevant (non-) state actors for sustainability. He received his DPhil in Multidisciplinary Human Rights from the University of Pretoria, where he assessed the conditions under which citizens could trigger food protest. His research interests include political contestation, climate change, food (in)security, youth dissent and democratisation.

Dr. David Olivier
Dr. David Olivier’s research focuses on issues and opportunities at the intersection of nature and society. David specialises in qualitative research, particularly case study methodology. His current focus is on the impact of narratives on public perceptions of water governance in Cape Town.

Over the past five years of postdoctoral research, David has published 20 papers, in collaboration with such diverse disciplines as meteorology, marine biology, hydrology, economics and community development, representing several South African and international universities, including the University of Colorado Boulder and Brown University. He has also worked as an independent consultant for a firm investigating the social and biological impact of diamond mining on South Africa’s West Coast.

David holds a certification in science communication. His research generated much publicity during Cape Town’s water crisis. He appeared on several national television interviews as well as being interviewed by the BBC, the New York Times and National Geographic. David is the only Wits author with two papers in the top 10 most popular articles of all time on the Conversation Africa, out of 764 papers. He is also one of the top 10 most popular Wits authors of all time on the same platform, of 333 authors. On this platform he has over 450 000 readers.

In 2017, David’s research on social networking for sustainable livelihoods on the Cape Flats won the Best Paper Award at the World Symposium on Sustainability Science and Research in Manchester, United Kingdom. He currently lives with his wife and child in Oxford, UK.

Dr. Ferdinand Postma
Ferdinand received his PhD in Microbiology from Stellenbosch University where he investigated the microbial ecology and functioning of a rhizofiltration system treating urban effluent. During his postgraduate studies he also collaborated on research projects which studied the ecophysiology of various fungal species in marine and freshwater environments. Ferdinand aims to use his experience in bioinformatics, molecular biology and ecophysiology to investigate the function of microbial communities in acid mine drainage treatment processes.

Honorary Research Fellow

Dr. Bernard Coetzee
Dr. Bernard Coetzee is a conservation scientist, and an Honorary Research Associate at the Global Change Institute. He also lectures in Conservation and Ecology with the Organization for Tropical Studies, based in the Kruger National Park, Skukuza. His research unravels the impacts of humanity on biodiversity, particularly climate change and light pollution. He mainly studies birds and conservation evidence to see how effective our strategies are to alleviate those impacts.

Bernard has a penchant for synthesis, both from literature reviews but also through meta-analysis. His particular focus is on protected areas, and also their efficacy, which looks into whether they are achieving the conservation outcomes that we expect from their designation.

He is the Principal Investigator on a light pollution programme in South Africa, given that it has been demonstrated that it may have adverse effects on both environmental and human health, but is poorly studied in the region. In particular, he is interested in how protected areas buffer biodiversity against light pollution impacts.

Visiting Scientists

Prof. Michel M. Verstraete
Michel M. Verstraete received his 'License en Physique' (1974) from the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, his 'License Spéciale en Géophysique' (1976) from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, and both his M.Sc. in Meteorology (1978) and D.Sc. in Atmospheric Sciences (1985) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA.

He worked for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, and Nairobi, Kenya, from 1979-1981, and at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO, USA from 1982-1989. He taught at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor from 1989-1990, and worked at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy from August 1990 to August 2013. He then took on the position of Chief Scientist in the Earth Observation Directorate of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) in Pretoria, South Africa, from October 2013 to March 2016.
He has been serving as a Visiting Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, since September 2014. Michel is a member of NASA JPL MISR Science Team since 1995 and has contributed to various other space missions (e.g., MODIS [NASA], MERIS [ESA], Vegetation [CNES], Meteosat [EUMETSAT], GLI [NASDA/JAXA]).
He contributed for many years to the Terrestrial and Atmospheric Panels for Climate, as well as the Steering Committee of the Global Climate Observing System. His initial work on topics such as the modeling of atmosphere-biosphere interactions and desertification led him to his current interest in the exploitation of satellite remote sensing data for the quantitative characterization of terrestrial surface properties. In his current position, he is promoting the exploitation of spacebased assets to support sustainable development in southern Africa, and is engaged in scientific lecturing and capacity building in that region.


Support Staff

Senior Administrator/Office Manager: Heidi Robertson

Heidi Robertson is a senior administrator/office manager responsible for the efficient functioning of GCI through a wide range of administrative and financial tasks.  She has over 10 years experience working in university administration. She is studying towards a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Human Resource Management through the Management College of South Africa (MANCOSA).


Project Co-ordinator, Bosch: Sanele Mdanda 

Sanele Mdanda is the Project Co-ordinator for Bosch. Her professional background is in Project Co-ordination and Project Management. She also has experience in the following research areas: HIV/AIDS, TB, implementation science, evaluation research, health systems, bio-behavioural, adolescents, antenatal and paediatric, as well as victim and gender empowerment and advocacy work within the southern African context. She has a Master’s in Research Psychology from the University of Witwatersrand.


Financial Administrator: Faith Kekana

Faith Kekana joined the GCI as a Financial Administrator in December 2019. She completed Matric in 2001 at Moropa High School in Limpopo, and furthered her studies at Nkangala FET College in Mpumalanga. She completed her National Diploma in Financial Management in 2008 and is currently studying a BA Degree at University of Witwatersrand.


Operations Manager: Jacqui Coelho

Jacqui Coelho joined the GCI as Operations Manager in October 2020.  She spent nine years at the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials before joining the GCI. Jacqui completed her GCSEs and A-Levels in the UK, and she obtained her BA Honours Degree along with certificates in Project Management and Business Finance at Wits University. Jacqui is also a member of SARIMA (Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association).