22 February 2023 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Rodney Moffett
Prof Rodney Moffett was presented with the Silver Medal Award. At the ceremony were, from the left: Prof Glynis Goodman-Cron, SAAB President, Prof Rodney Moffett, and Prof Sandy-Lynn Steenhuisen.

Prof Rodney Moffett, Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) and Top Research Fellow in the Afromontane Research Unit (2018-2019) on the UFS Qwaqwa Campus, was recently awarded a Silver Medal from the South African Association of Botanists (SAAB) at their 48th annual conference that took place in Polokwane.

Prof Sandy-Lynn Steenhuisen, Subject Head and Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences on the UFS Qwaqwa Campus, says, “It was an absolute joy and honour to be able to nominate and present a SAAB Silver Medal to Prof Moffett, who is an iconic figure and friend in our department. I was so happy that he could receive his award in person, with his daughter visiting from the United Kingdom. He inspires my research group so much with his knowledge of plants of the Eastern Free State and through the wealth of specimens he’s contributed to the QWA herbarium.”

The conference with the theme, ‘Plants, Health and Prosperity’, was hosted by the University of Limpopo’s Faculty of Science and Agriculture under the School of Molecular and Life Sciences in the Department of Biodiversity.

Outstanding research contributions 

According to Prof Steenhuisen, Prof Moffett received the Silver Medal Award for his outstanding research that contributed to the advancement of botany and plant sciences in South Africa.

Since his retirement, Prof Moffett has published a number of book chapters, books, reports, and articles on various aspects of fauna and flora. 

He sole-authored eight books and authored/co-authored more than 36 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals covering mainly the taxonomy of plant genera such as Sarcocaulon, Rhus, and Searsia, and checklists of vascular plants and their medicinal uses for the Qwaqwa and Lesotho regions. 

Around 2006, Prof Moffett pursued his passion to document and describe the ethnobotanical uses of plants used by the Basotho people of Lesotho and South Africa. His books focused, for instance, on the natural history and Sesotho names of the plants used by the Basotho of the Eastern Free State and their ethnobotanical uses, the taxonomic works on the grasses of the Eastern Free State (still the most detailed grass identification guide for the area to date), and the flora and fauna of the Clarens Village Conservancy (a field guide). 

Prof Moffett has also published a scientific bibliography of the Drakensberg, Malotis and adjacent lowlands, which Prof Steenhuisen describes as “a mammoth task and one which he is continually updating and expanding, with another volume in preparation”.

Prof Steenhuisen, who nominated Prof Moffett for the Silver Medal Award, says that as a highly respected naturalist in the Qwaqwa region, he is continually consulted by conservation authorities, researchers, and postgraduate students on the flora of the area. He also regularly presents his research at garden and botanical societies. 

Among the books he has published are Sesotho names of plants and animals and plants used by the Basotho (2010), A biographical dictionary of contributors to the natural history of the Free State and Lesotho (2014), and Meriana ya dimela tsa Basotho – Basotho medicinal plants (2016 and 2020). In 2020, he also published A Scientific Bibliography of the Drakensberg, Maloti and adjacent Lowlands.

Prof Steenhuisen states that Prof Moffett’s books are treasured resources for anyone working in the Maloti-Drakensberg area. 

Best poster presentation

Joining researchers, postgraduate students, and experts from other universities and organisations at the conference, was the Plant Ecology Research Group of Prof Steenhuisen, her postgraduate students, and a postdoctoral fellow involved in invasive species and climate change research. Postgraduates from three other research groups (Plant Biotechnology, Proteomics, and Ethnobotany supervised by Dr Arun Gokul, Dr Rudo Ngara, and Prof Anofi Ashafa) on the Qwaqwa Campus also attended the conference. 

Dr Makoena Moloi, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Plant Sciences on the Bloemfontein Campus, and her postgraduate students researching aspects of plant ecophysiology, were also present at the conference, together with master’s candidate Orateng Sedimo, who is supervised by Dr Lize Joubert, Senior Lecturer in the department. Sedimo presented his honours research and won a prize for presenting the best Honours poster in the category Molecular Systematics. 

Besides being well-represented at the 48th SAAB annual conference and being awarded for its outstanding contributions to botany and plant sciences, academics from the UFS had the opportunity to learn from and network with some of the best scientists in the field. This included A1-rated scientist, Prof Steven Johnson from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, (Prof Steenhuisen’s supervisor for her PhD), and B2-rated Prof Anton Pauw from Stellenbosch University. Prof Johnson and Prof Pauw were respectively awarded a Gold and second Silver Medal from SAAB. 

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