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GCI Staff

Browse through our Academic and support staff at GCI, as well as out research associates and more.

Academic Staff

GCI Director

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.

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.

Professor Laura Pereira

Associate Professor of Sustainability Transformations and Futures

Laura Pereira is an interdisciplinary sustainability science having been trained in ecology, law, zoology and human geography. Having completed her DPhil in Geography at Oxford University in 2012, she undertook post-docs in sustainability science at Harvard’s Kennedy School and under the Bioeconomy chair at the University of Cape Town before moving to Stellenbosch University to research development in the Anthropocene under the Sida-funded GRAID project. She is interested in the interface between traditional knowledge and innovation, the role of futures techniques in enabling transformative change and developing innovative methods for knowledge co-production in Global South contexts.

Her work uses the food system to unpack broader challenges and solutions to the complexity of governance for sustainability transformations. She continues to work on issues of climate change and biodiversity loss, but tries to bring a critical lens that connects to diverse bodies of knowledge and decolonial approaches to understanding potential solutions to these wicked sustainability challenges.

Laura was nominated to sit on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Task Force on scenarios and models and was previously a member of their expert group. She is also member of the FACCE-JPI Scientific Advisory Board and sits on the Advisory Committee of the MACSUR Science-Policy Knowledge Hub. She was one of the Chapter Lead Authors of the Africa Chapter for the IPBES Africa Regional Assessment and a Co-ordinating Lead Author for UN Environment’s GEO-6 report and is a contributing author to the IPCC 5th Assessment Report. She is also a member of the Earth Commission’s Working Group 4 on Transformations.

She also holds a research position at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University and maintains an extraordinary appointment at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University.


Support Staff
Operations Manager: Bonita De Klerk PhD

Bonita de Klerk holds a PhD in Palaeoanthropology from Wits University. She joins us from within the Faculty of Science where she worked as Operations Manager for the PVT Chair in Palaeoanthropology and later the CEDHJ. Bonita has thirteen years’ experience within the University driving the project management and strategic growth for a university-based Research Centre. Bonita’s role as Operations Manager at the GCI will utilise her experience in research, project management, collaboration building, stakeholder engagement, and staff administration. Bonita has a personal interest in bridging the gaps between the worlds of science and the public understanding.           


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.

Finance Administrator: Lesley Masemene

Lesley holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and he has completed his SAICA articles. Lesley is a highly motivated, productive, team player with strong interpersonal and organisational skills. He has 12-years' experience in different financial roles, asset management, risk management and internal auditing, external auditing business consultancy and procurement. During his training as an Accounting/Audit Clerk, he learnt compliance law, procedures, and policies and how to analyse financial statements and management accounts. He enjoys meeting new people, taking part in outdoor activities and taking the time to help those around him. 


Project Co-Ordinator, FEFA: Khombomoni Keith Chuma 

Khombomoni is a Project Coordinator of a Global Change Institute (GCI) led Future Ecosystems for Africa (FEFA) Program. He holds a Master of Science (MSc) degree focusing on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) and Environmental Legislation from Wits University. Khombomoni previously worked for the World Bank Group, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the National Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE). He has extensive experience in coordinating and managing more than five (5) projects in South Africa and Lesotho.  


Research Fellows

Dr Jessica Steinkopf

Jessica Steinkopf is a Carnegie Research Associate at the GCI. Her PhD research focussed on the historical climatology of the southwestern Cape region, working with one of the longest, continuous instrumental weather records for southern Africa. Prior to joining the GCI, she gained some work experience as a Business Analyst, but realised she wanted to get back into climate research. She has a specific interest in climate modelling and is developing her skills as a regional climate modeller. Particularly, she is interested in the downscaling of global models, and its verification and application in regional climate studies over Africa.

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.

Dr Gwinyai Taruvinga 

Gwinyai Regis Taruvinga holds a PhD in Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand. His dissertation explored the impacts of colonialism on Zimbabwe’s water governing policies. His main areas of interest lie in understanding the relationship between the decentralisation of power and how it can be used to mitigate the impacts of climate change on water resources in Africa. Gwinyai’s broader areas of interest also focus on governance in Africa analysing democracy within the context of military coups and elections. 

 Dr Andrea Marais-Potgieter 

Bio: Dr. Marais-Potgieter brings over two decades of experience in conducting qualitative psychological research across diverse African countries, including South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Angola. Currently her primary focus lies in exploring the human-nature nexus and its implications for climate change risk perception, conservation, ecopsychology, and trans-species accompaniment. Dr. Marais-Potgieter has actively contributed to the environmental non-profit sector for the past decade engaging in matters that will impact wetlands and endangered species (specifically the endangered Western Leopard Toad). She is committed to advancing our understanding of the complex relationships between humans and the natural world to see a future where both humans and nature flourish simultaneously. 


Dr Katharine Vincent (Visiting Research Fellow)

 Katharine Vincent is a geographer who works broadly in the fields of adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction, particularly applying a gender lens. She conducts applied research and undertakes technical consulting through Kulima Integrated Development Solutions. Much of her work is conducted through transdisciplinary partnerships, and she has a particular interest in co-production and brokering of knowledge to help society to manage the risk posted by climate change. She is also committed to critical and social learning to enable more effective and equitable adaptation. 

She works across the global South, with a particular focus on southern and east Africa. Her current projects include WISER Early Warnings for Southern Africa, which aims to co-produce nowcast-informed early warning alerts that are accessible and useable by marginalised urban populations; CLARE BASIN, which looks at behaviour change for inclusive water security in Africa; and Food Systems Transformation for One Health in southern Africa. 

She was a lead author for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (chapter on rural areas, technical summary and cross-chapter gender box), and contributing author to the Sixth (cross-chapter gender box) and Fourth (adaptation) Assessment Reports, and the Special Report on Climate Change and Land.  She sits on the advisory boards for the School of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Southampton (UK) and the UNESCO Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science at the University of Dundee (Scotland).


Postdoctoral Researchers

Dr.  Memory Reid

Dr Memory Reid is an environmental scientist, with an interest in climate change adaptation, energy transitions and renewable energy, resource security and governance, food security and sustainable livelihoods. She is currently , looking into the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus’ influence on livelihoods, together with general well-being of populations in South Africa’s local urban context, particularly the participation of today’s youth in resource governance and decisions pertaining to the sustainable use of WEF. The project uses a transdisciplinary research approach to capture the WEF nexus and the complexity and dynamics that exist in the socio-ecological systems whilst identifying local activities that enhance or support food, water, and energy security initiatives. Dr Reid holds a PhD in Geography and Environmental Science from the University of Witwatersrand and currently in the Energy Leadership Programme with Wits Business School

 Dr Auther Maviza

Auther Maviza holds a PhD from the Wits’ School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies. His PhD study explored historical and modelled future impacts of climate and landcover – land use change on surface water resources in the northern Limpopo basin (Zimbabwe). His research interests are in exploring climate – landscape - water interlinkages using nexus approaches while leveraging geospatial technology. Currently, he is working on the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL)’s TIPPECC project which seeks to identify critical tipping points in the climate and land use system over southern Africa relative to water, food and biodiversity systems. His focus is to explore and identify the timing and location of potential crossings of tipping point thresholds in southern Africa under climate change using detailed, state-of-the-art regional climate projections, contributing to the development of a regional comprehensive set of climate services and inform adaptation options. 

Honorary Research Associates

Dr Albert Edgar Manyuchi

Dr Albert Edgar Manyuchi is a transdisciplinary researcher who holds a PhD from University of the Witwatersrand and a DPhil from the University of Pretoria. With the GCI, his research focus is on climate change and health, particularly the effects of extreme weather events on human health. His current research is on the effect of heat on health and climate services for health. From these key research themes, Dr Manyuchi has provided oversight to research focusing on disaster management and pandemic preparedness. As a South Africa expert, Dr Manyuchi contributed to the CARICO SADC Project where he conducted a ‘lessons learned’ exercise from the COVID-19 pandemic, to improve and enhance understanding of the cascading and systemic nature of risks in SADC and enhance disaster risk management and resilience for the region. 

Hannelie Coetzee

Hannelie Warrington-Coetzee is a Johannesburg-based visual artist and honorary research fellow at the Global Change Institute (WITS University). Her relational practice regularly centres on public spaces, where she produces interventions that ranges from ephemeral to permanent. Originating out of her respect and concern for the environment, Coetzee employs nature-based solutions, most often built out of reclaimed industrial waste, to form unlikely partnerships, including with the surrounding land. Research into these materials and the context of their deployment on-site remains a fundamental component of Coetzee’s process, allowing her to orient her work around its immediate community and locate meaning inherent to the materials used, and thus connecting the audience to the intervention. As a transdisciplinarian, Coetzee’s practice seeks to build new creatures marrying environmental science and social action to better encourage empathy for and engagement with nature.  In 2022 she completed her Master of Science dissertation (with distinction) with Prof Coleen Vogel and Prof Lenore Manderson as supervisors. She interrogated the role of art as a medium for social action at the Wits Animal, Plants and Environmental Science School titled: Eco-art for a transformative climate culture. As research fellow she presents ways on how scientists can reach wider climate audiences through interrogating the ways artists have reached audiences in the past. 

Dr Sarah Roffe

Dr Sarah Roffe is a researcher part of the ARC Agrometeorology division and holds a PhD in Climatology from the University of the Witwatersrand. Sarah has a keen research interest on climate changes and impacts across southern Africa, recently considering climate change impacts on agricultural activities across the region. To date her research has focused on a range of topics, including characterising rainfall seasonality and the historical and projected changes thereof, changes and variability patterns in extreme temperature events and severe rainfall events, as well as human thermal comfort in relation to climate change. Recently her interests extended to numerical weather and climate modelling considering simulations of high impact weather events as well as future climate changes. 


Visiting Scientists

Professor 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.

Dr Olasunkanmi Habeeb Okunola
Olasunkanmi Habeeb Okunola is a specialist in disaster risk reduction and community resilience with cross-cutting research and program experiences on climate change adaptation and inclusive education in the Sub-Saharan Africa. He holds a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning and also an active member of the United Nations Global Risk Assessment Framework (GRAF) Expert Group.

His seminal studies provide empirical evidence and cutting-edge thoughts on levels of disaster resilience with a view to explaining variations that exist in the identification of factors influencing disaster resilience in urban centres. A significant part of his research agenda aimed at offering both sociological and scientific explanations on the trends, patterns, mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change effects in the cities of sub-Saharan Africa. Dr Okunola is currently investigating community resilience to flood disaster in Nigeria and South Africa with a view to developing a community-based resilience framework that can be collaboratively implemented among households, community members, and government agencies in the study area.

He is currently Visiting Researcher at the Global Change Institute (GCI), University of Witwatersrand under DAAD Climate research Alumni and Postdocs in Africa – program (ClimapAfrica) fellowship. Prior to joining GCI, he was the Research Coordinator at Bridge International Academies, Nigeria and serves as a Senior Research Officer, Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Specialist at the Institute for Land and Community Resilience (ILCR), Federal University of Technology Minna, Nigeria.