2023 NRF Awards Honour and Celebrate South Africa's Top Researchers and Scientists

2023 NRF Awards Honour and Celebrate South Africa’s Top Researchers and Scientists

The 2023 National Research Foundation (NRF) Awards honoured some of the country’s high-achieving researchers and scientists at a prestigious ceremony held in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal last night (31 August 2023). This year, the awards were held under the theme Celebrating 20 years of the SKA Project in South Africa

The annual NRF Awards recognise outstanding achievements made by individuals and teams whose excellence has significantly advanced science for the benefit of society. Their internationally competitive work is assessed for, among other things, the contribution to the field of study focusing on quality and impact. One of the objectives of the awards is to encourage the continued culture of advancing South Africa’s scientific knowledge and technological innovation by rewarding those that make use of research for the advancement and betterment of humanity.

In his welcome address, Professor Mosa Moshabela, Chairperson of the NRF Board, said, “These honours are not to be taken lightly. The NRF rating system upon which these awards are based provides us with a benchmark by which we, as a country, can measure our value as a global knowledge creator and of course benchmark with the rest of the world. Our cohort of scientists and our scientific institutions rank among the very best in the world and it is therefore our duty today and every year to continue to foster this commitment to excellence by celebrating with this flagship event.”

In his keynote address, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, paid homage to local scientists for the strides they have made in recent years, emphasising their remarkable work for both South Africa and the globe during the fight against COVID-19. He also paid homage to the NRF for its impact in the transformation of South Africa’s academic landscape. 

“The NRF Awards represent a high standard of research excellence,” said Minister Nzimande. “They demonstrate the power of public investment in science for public good, science as a service of society particularly the most marginalised and vulnerable sectors of our society. We want science for social justice, as we said when we hosted the World Science Forum in Cape Town in December 2022. As the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, I must indicate that I’m proud to be presiding over the Department of Science and Innovation which provides the policy framework within which the NRF is directed to play such a catalytic role in expanding and transforming South Africa’s STI landscape.”

NRF CEO, Dr Fulufhelo Nelwamondo, in his closing address, said, “To all the 2023 NRF Awards recipients, the reason we gather here is to recognise you for the work that you have been doing. But there’s more to that, we’re encouraging you to do more. We’re expecting much more from you because that’s the only that we can actually use science to change lives. It is very important for the NRF to continue recognising and acknowledging the contributions made by our country’s scientific cohort, our researchers and the institutions who have committed themselves to expanding the frontiers of our knowledge to create a better and a more sustainable future for all members of our society.”

The awards are presented across two categories – NRF ratings-based Awards and Special Awards.Two additional special awards were awarded this year, namely the NRF Significant Contribution Award and the NRF CEO’s Special Recognition Award.

The NRF Significant Contribution Award went to Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General of the Department of Science and Innovation. The NRF recognised Dr Mjwara for his role in South Africa’s Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, from early in its development to date. His support and faith in South Africa’s ability to host such a massive and scientifically important project helped the country in its successful bid to host a segment of the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope array. Over the years, he has assisted in the development not only of the various phases of the projects, but also the spinoff benefits that the SKA project has provided, including employment opportunities in construction and eco-tourism, skills development and training, and education from basic to tertiary level. Dr Mjwara holds a PhD in Physics from the University of the Witwatersrand. He served as Professor of Science and Technology Policy at UP and lectured Physics at Wits, UNISA and University of Fort Hare. 

The NRF CEO’s Special Recognition Award went to the University of Mpumalanga. The accolade is awarded to a previous winner of the NRF Award. It is recognised for its continued progress and commitment to excellence in research performance as measured against a selection of critical indicators. The University of Mpumalanga won the NRF Award in 2022.

The Special Awards

Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Distinguished Professor Jill Adler

Research Excellence Award for Next Generation Researchers

  • Ms Maricélle Botes – School of Law, North-West University
  • Ms Carla Dodd – Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela University
  • Ms Taryn Golding – Department of Chemistry, University of Cape Town
  • Mr Kabelo Mokgalaboni – Department of Life and Consumer Sciences, University of South Africa
  • Mr Athi Mavukwana – Department of Chemical Engineering, University of South Africa
  • Ms Nomthandazo Precious Sibiya – Department of Chemical Engineering, Durban University of Technology
  • Mr Bertus van Heerden – Department of Physics, University of Pretoria

Research Excellence Award for Early Career/Emerging Researchers 

  • Dr Omowunmi Isafiade – Department of Computer Science Programme, University of the Western Cape
  • Professor Lawrence Madikizela – College of Science, Engineering and Technology University of South Africa
  • Dr Velaphi Msomi – Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, Cape Peninsula University of Technology
  • Dr Ekene Emmanuel Nweke – Department of Surgery, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Associate Professor Nastassja Koen – Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health Neuroscience Institute, University of Cape Town
  • Dr Nastassia Thandiwe Sithole – Department of Chemical Engineering Technology, University of Johannesburg

Public Engagement with Research Award

  • Professor Ryan Blumenthal – Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Pretoria

Champion of Research Capacity Development and Transformation at South African Higher Education Institutions

  • Professor Fhumulani Mavis Mulaudzi – Department of Nursing Science, University of Pretoria

Hamilton Naki Award

  • Professor Abdul Tayob – Department for the Study of Religions, University of Cape Town

NRF Excelleration Award for SA Research Institutions

  • University of Zululand

Science Team Award

  • Radio Astronomy Techniques and Technologies (RATT), Rhodes University

Ratings-based Awards

A-Rated Researchers

The A-Ratings are awarded to researchers who are unequivocally acknowledged by their peers as leading international scholars in their respective fields for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs. The assessment of the quality and impact of researchers is done through the NRF rating system which is based on peer review. Acquiring an NRF rating generates considerable acknowledgement and respect for the individual researchers as well as their institutions. 

1st Rating

  • Professor Vasco Brattka – Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town
  • Professor Gavin Churchyard – The Aurum Institute
  • Professor Michelle – Fine Department of Psychology, University of South Africa
  • Professor Koop Lammertsma – Department of Chemical Sciences, University of Johannesburg
  • Professor Renée Christine Kraan-Korteweg – Department of Astronomy, University of Cape Town
  • Professor Barend (Ben) Mans – Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, Agricultural Research Council
  • Professor Kenneth Ozoemena – School of Chemistry, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Professor Claire Spottiswoode – FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town
  • Professor Juergen A Richt – Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases, University of Pretoria
  • Professor Gerhard Walzl – Department of Biomedical Sciences, Stellenbosch University
  • Professor Alphose Zingoni Department of Civil Engineering University of Cape Town

2nd Rating

  • Professor Achille Mbembe – Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), University of the Witwatersrand
  • Professor Guy Midgley – Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University
  • Professor Peter Ryan – FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town

3rd Rating

  • Professor Rachel Jewkes – Research Strategy and Intramural Unit, South African Medical Research Council
  • Professor Qingguo Wang – Institute for Intelligent Systemsm, University of Johannesburg
  • Professor Shabir Madhi – School of Pathology, University of the Witwatersrand
  • Professor Lynette Wadley – Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand

4th Rating

  • Professor George Janelidze – Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town
  • Professor Yevhen Zelenyuk – School of Mathematics, University of the Witwatersrand
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