Tinyiko Sam Maluleke
Tinyiko Sam Maluleke

Our real heroes

I will remember the week of August 28 to September 4 2011 for more than the hordes of Malema supporters who descended upon the Johannesburg city centre. The week will be remembered by me for more than the fiery words of the minister of sport, Fikile Mbalula, who while speaking from underneath a gigantic and especially grotesque statue of Nelson Mandela in Sandton (north of Johannesburg) urged the Springboks to go moer and bliksem other teams in the Rugby World Cup, which is about to start. The unusual and deliberate “out of context” employment of two famous words in which South African gender, ethnic and racial violence has always found expression was as embarrassingly amusing as it was chillingly jarring.

It was also the week in which Libyan rebels walked with guns blazing into Gaddafi’s living room — a feat they accomplished with “a little help from their friends” (flying) in higher places (dropping devastating bombs). With friends like that who can stand against the Libyan rebels? But can they govern? Can they unite and reconcile? Can they rebuild and put Libya on a path to democracy and development?

Nor were the theatrics and hysterics of the live TV broadcast of the interview of presidential nominee for the position of South African chief justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, by members of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) all there was to the week. The deeply divided and patently biased members of the JSC, under the chairpersonship of a scorned and probably conflicted deputy chief justice, toyed sadistically with their animated subject who was at times clearly out of his depths. Did I hear him say he is not interested in scholarship and publishing? To make sure that the unsuspecting TV viewer is thoroughly confused for some time to come, it was later announced (sort of) that the 23 members of the JSC resolved to reward and endorse their “victim” with a favourable 16-7 vote.

Behind the drama and the theatre, yours truly tiptoed to a different space, to notice and collect gems of really good news. On September 1 the ministry of science and technology and the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) announced the names of some exceptional scholars, scientists and researchers in this country. Seven exceptional scholars were awarded A ratings by the NRF this year, four from Wits (Profs Madhi, Glasser, Pettifor and Wadley), two from UCT (Profs Brombacher and Janelidze) and one from Unisa (Prof Weinberg). According to the NRF, researchers rated at the level of A are “unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars in their field” owing to the quality and impact of their research outputs.

Three young scholars were awarded P ratings as researchers — two from University of Stellenbosch (Drs Hui and Terblanche) and one from Wits (Dr Vickey). Researchers rated at the level of P are younger, entry-level researchers who demonstrate great potential by already performing above their rank. Professor Mayosi of UCT and Professor Yusef Waghid of Stellenbosch University were recognised for their efforts in the recruitment and development of future and more diverse generations of scientists and researchers.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Professor Malegapuru Makgoba of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in recognition of his research in the area of molecular immunology as well as his role in the development of an HIV/Aids strategy for the country. Makgoba joins a select group previous recipients, which includes the likes of Dr Mamphela Ramphele, Phillip Tobias and Njabulo Ndebele.

It saddens me that the role of scholarship and research in the production of the knowledge we need for social, scientific and economic development might not be properly appreciated. I have a sense that our great achievers in these areas are not adequately recognised. Our young should look up to the likes of Makgoba, Mayosi, Glasser and Janelidze, not only to the Kunenes, Malemas and Gaddafis of this world. Our media should be making as much fuss, if not more, about science and technology as they do about politics. Our A-rated scientists should be making headlines. These researchers, who are part of the 2300 NRF-rated researchers (out of a total of about 17 500 researchers) located at various universities and science councils, are our heroes.

They are not our only heroes, they are only an illustration. Nor are they a perfect type. There are thousands of South Africans, unsung and unnoticed, in various sectors, working for the betterment of the people of this country, this continent and the world. These then are the type of heroes worthy of our recognition and our emulation.