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29 January 2019 | Story Xolisa Mnukwa | Photo Anja Aucamp
Prof Francis Petersen speech
“We can create an institution that operates and lives in the times of embracing and celebrating diversity, inclusivity, and academic excellence by ensuring that students own their time at university,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

25 January 2019 marked the official welcoming of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) first-year students, as they moved into their respective residences and were warmly welcomed on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. This day also marked the start of the registration process for first-year students.

According to first-year Psychology student Keisha Claasen, who moved into her residence earlier on 25 January, her first experience of the UFS was daunting but exciting, as she had never been in a similar environment. According to Given Gwerera, who dropped his son off at the Karee residence earlier the day, “the UFS is an institution with great culture and an overall good academic record.” He further explained that he trusts his son to make full use of the opportunities presented to him, as he has a cool head on his shoulders.

On the evening of 25 January, an eager group of millennials, joined by their parents, took the first sip from their cup of varsity life as they assembled on the Red Square of the Bloemfontein Campus to meet the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, members of Rectorate, the deans of all faculties, and the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the UFS.

“2019 will be a year of continued change; the UFS is thrilled about the prospect of bringing about opportunities for adaptation and realignment to the future,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

He further explained that the university prides itself in moulding its students into well-rounded individuals who will develop into globally competitive graduates as required in a diversity of landscapes. Prof Petersen urged first-years to remain open to the technological developments that go with globalisation, because of its permanent effects on society today.

First-years were further advised to take advantage of the rich pool of academic research and knowledge that is characteristic of the university and is piloted by UFS scholars, by engaging with and learning from them.

The inspiring night concluded on a colourful note, as the audience enjoyed an artistic laser show in front of the Main Building. Caption:

“UFS academics conduct research that forces the world to take note,” said Prof Francis Petersen at the official first-year welcoming ceremony on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus.

News Archive

Research into veld fires in grassland can now help with scientifically-grounded evidence
2015-04-10

While cattle and game farmers are rejoicing in the recent rains which large areas of the country received in the past growing season, an expert from the University of the Free State’s Department of Animal, Wildlife, and Grassland Sciences, says that much of the highly inflammable material now available could lead to large-scale veld fires this coming winter.

Prof Hennie Snyman, professor and  researcher in the Department of Animal, Wildlife, and Grassland Sciences, warns that cattle and game farmers should be aware, in good time, of this problem which is about to rear its head. He proposes that farmers must burn firebreaks as a precaution.

At present, Prof Snyman focuses his research on the impact of fire and burning on the functioning of the grassland ecosystem, especially in the drier grassland regions.

He says the impact of fire on the functioning of ecosystems in the ‘sour’ grassland areas of Southern Africa (which includes Kwazulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape, and the Harrismith environs) is already well established, but less information  is available for ‘sweet’ semi-arid grassland areas. According to Prof Snyman, there is no reason to burn grassland in this semi-arid area. Grazing by animals can be effectively used because of the high quality material without having to burn it off. In the sourer pasturage, fire may well form part of the functioning of the grassland ecosystem in view of the fact that a quality problem might develop after which the grass must rejuvenate by letting it burn.

Prof Snyman, who has already been busy with the research for ten years, says quantified data on the impact of fire on the soil and plants were not available previously for the semi-arid grassland areas. Fires start frequently because of lightning, carelessness, freak accidents, or damaged power lines, and farmers must be recompensed for this damage.

The shortage of proper research on the impact of fires on soil and plants has led to burnt areas not being withdrawn from grazing for long enough. The lack of information has also led to farmers, who have lost grazing to fires, not being compensated fairly or even being over-compensated.

“When above-and below-ground plant production, together with efficient water usage, is taken into account, burnt grassland requires at least two full growing seasons to recover completely.”       

Prof Snyman says farmers frequently make the mistake of allowing animals to graze on burnt grassland as soon as it begins to sprout, causing considerable damage to the plants.

“Plant roots are more sensitive to fire than the above-ground plant material. This is the reason why seasonal above-ground production losses from fire in the first growing season after the fire can amount to half of the unburnt veld. The ecosystem must first recover completely in order to be productive and sustainable again for the long term. The faster burnt veld is grazed again, the longer the ecosystem takes to recover completely, lengthening the problem with fodder shortages further.  

Prof Snyman feels that fire as a management tool in semi-arid grassland is questionable if there is no specific purpose for it, as it can increase ecological and financial risk management in the short term.

Prof Snyman says more research is needed to quantify the impact of runaway fires on both grassland plant productivity and soil properties in terms of different seasonal climatic variations.

“The current information may already serve as valuable guidelines regarding claims arising from unforeseen fires, which often amount to thousands of rand, and are sometimes based on unscientific evidence.”

Prof Snyman’s research findings have been used successfully as guidelines for compensation aspects in several court cases.

 

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