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30 November 2020 | Story Nonsidiso Qwabe | Photo Supplied

Acclaimed South African writer, author, and UFS research fellow Zubeida Jaffer was honoured with a lifetime achievement award for her career in journalism during the Standard Bank Sivukile Awards ceremony. 

Passion for journalism spans decades
During the award ceremony on 15 October 2020, Jaffer received the prestigious Allan Kirkland Soga Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognises a sustained and extraordinary contribution to journalism. Jaffer said she never chose journalism, but journalism chose her. She said when she first stepped into a newsroom looking for a holiday job in the 1970s, she did not know she had stepped into her future in news reporting. Since then, Jaffer has earned many accolades in the journalism industry as well as in academia. She also became an acclaimed author, and wrote her third book, Beauty of the Heart: The Life and Times of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke, during her time as a writer-in-residence at the UFS. While at the UFS, she founded the online media platform, The Journalist, a platform that provides history and context for key issues facing South African journalists. This portal also links students with academics across the country and will soon be extended to the African continent and the diaspora.

Jaffer said she felt blessed to be recognised among the many journalism pioneers in South Africa. 

“It’s extremely wonderful because it came so out of the blue. This year, with COVID-19, I was digging deep, and trying my best to keep focus. I’m very thankful. It’s made me pause, reflect, and realise that a lot of things I’ve done have been of value. When living your life, it’s not that you’re aware of that all the time. There are many people doing great things who don’t always get this kind of recognition,” Jaffer said.

Still a great need for journalists in South Africa 

Talking about journalism today, Jaffer said: “I am often overwhelmed to witness the enthusiasm and determination of young journalists across the country who come from humble backgrounds and inspire those around them. Our country is gripped in a bipolar condition. It is not clear how the healing will come, but it will. The challenge is to keep our minds in balance so that we can be strong enough to root out corruption and gender-based violence, while at the same time fully understanding our blessings as a people.”

UFS alumna Rising Star in Journalism 

In another accolade for the UFS, the Upcoming/Rising Star of the Year award went to former UFS Journalism student Brümilda Swartbooi for her article titled ‘Sy het hard vir ons gewerk’. The article highlighted the senseless killing of a woman outside her workplace, minutes after her husband dropped her off.

Brümilda Swartbooi. Photo: Supplied

News Archive

Young researchers are equipped to participate in projects relevant in global context
2017-09-05

 Description: Wheat genomics Tags: bioinformatics, Dr Renée Prins, Department of Plant Sciences, DNA and RNA, data sets 

This group of early career researchers received bioinformatics
training in Worcester in the UK from Dr Diane Saunders of the
John Innes Centre in the UK.
Photo: Supplied

The interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools to understand biological data is known as bioinformatics. According to Dr Renée Prins, a research fellow in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State, there are few tertiary institutions in South Africa that offer a postgraduate degree in Bioinformatics.

“Most institutions focus either on humans, human diseases, forest trees and their pathogens.  They usually do not have spare capacity to assist researchers, for instance, those working on crops in the agricultural sector,” Dr Prins said.

Big data sets need significant skills

With the advancements made in genomics such as high throughput DNA marker platforms and next-generation sequencing technologies, the data sets biologists have to deal with have grown massively big and cannot be dealt with unless you have significant computer skills.

Dr Prins believes that all young researchers need some level of training in this field to be effective in future. The British Council Researcher Links, being run by the Newton Fund, gives early career researchers across selected partner countries the opportunity to form international connections through fully funded workshops and travel grants. Dr Prins made use of this opportunity and with the assistance of the Department of Research Development at the UFS, she arranged for Dr Diane Saunders of the John Innes Centre in the UK, a bioinformatician of note, to present training to a group of 20 early career researchers in Worcester in the UK.

Providing training with Dr Saunders were two other bioinformaticians from the UK, Dr Burkhard Steuernagel (John Innes Centre) and Dr Robert Davey (Earlham Institute). From the UFS side, Eleanor van der Westhuizen and Dr Henriëtte van den Berg (former UFS academic) acted as mentors, providing guidance on funding opportunities and career development skills.

Participating in projects in a global context
The researchers attending the training came from research institutions or academia, and they work involving plants (predominantly wheat) or plant pathogens. A limited number of participants from the commercial sector, including private South African companies focusing on plant breeding and molecular genetics lab work on agriculturally important crops also benefited from the training. 

“Tertiary institutions in South Africa have the obligation to ensure that young scientists are equipped with bioinformatics skills. If they are not equipped with the necessary skills, they will not be able to participate in research projects that are relevant in a global context,” said Dr Prins. 

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