The Department of Science and Technology recently hosted its annual Women in Science Awards (WISA) in Sandton, Johannesburg. Hosted by Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, the awards honored emerging scientists, established scientists and students.
The event was held under the theme, “women’s empowerment in the changing world of work”. Minister Pandor said WISA has become an important feature of our celebration of Women’s month. “It builds on the fanfare and the excitement generated by another significant event in the scientific calendar of our country, namely, the National Science Week (NSW), held in the first week of August. It builds a momentum that grows stronger each year,” said the Minister.
The awards were also attended by Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, and the Minister of Energy, Mmamoloko Kubayi, also attended the event. Dr Nolulamo Gwagwa, currently CEO of Lereko Investments, a black-owned investment company delivered the keynote address. Dr Gwagwa praised Minister Pandor for making sure the voices of women scientists were heard and their work celebrated.
She said the failure to recognize the important contribution that women can make to the economy would be detrimental. She urged women scientists to continue working hard because they can ‘have it all’ – both professional and personal success.
The winners and runners-up won thousands of rands in prizes.
Dorcas Lekganyane won the DST Fellowship Master’s Degree Award
Ms Lekganyane obtained a BSc Honours in Botany from the University of Johannesburg in 2015, and is currently enrolled at the University for an MSc specialising in molecular systematics and DNA barcoding.
Her research interest is using DNA barcoding to aid in rapidly identifying and describing new or existing species to better understand South Africa’s rich biodiversity. This research addresses one of the major threats to biodiversity, the illegal trade of protected and threatened species, together with overharvesting of wild plants for local medicinal markets, which results in noticeable levels of species depletion.
Lekganyane’s study focuses on evaluating the authenticity and conservation status of traded medicinal plant products at “muthi” markets in South Africa. Preliminary results of her study have been described as exciting by her peers, and are in alignment with the World Health Organization Regional Committee for Africa’s call to develop herbal pharmacopoeias as well as applying scientific criteria to prove the safety and efficacy of medicinal plant products.
Lekganyane has been awarded numerous accolades over the past few years. In 2015, she won the Office of Research Grand Prize for the best oral presentation by a student at the 6th International Barcode of Life conference hosted by the University of Guelph, Canada. Her work was published in the project’s Barcode Bulletin. In 2016, she won the prize for the best MSc presentation at the Southern African Society for Systematic Biology conference at the University of the Free State. In 2017, at the South African Association of Botanist (SAAB) conference, she received an award for the best MSc oral presentation along with Best Young Scientist Award (best oral paper delivered by a young botanist under the age of 30), which gives her the opportunity to make a presentation at SAAB 2018.