Editors' Choice

July/August 2019

The sardine run – the annual migration of sardines along South Africa's east coast – is occurring later each year. In recent years, it has even failed to take place. Any delay has significant implications for fisheries and tourism as the associated dolphin, whale and shark sightings are an important tourist attraction. Fitchett and colleagues explored changes in the timing of the sardine run over the period 1946–2012 and found that the delay –  1.3 days per decade – is related to regional sea surface warming, ENSO conditions, and a reduced frequency of tropical cyclones, all factors of a changing climate. Shifts in the timing of phenological events (annually recurrent biological events) are considered highly sensitive biological indicatorsof climate change and they are  driven by seasonal changes in climate. The delayed timing of the sardine run is of  concern at the ecosystem scale because of the  predator–prey mismatches that may ensue.

Image: flickr CC-BY: Lakshmi Sawitri

On 20 June 2019, Clarivate Analytics released the latest Journal Citation Reports® including impact factors for journals on Web of Science. (The South African Journal of Science impact factor is 1.35.) Despite immense criticism of the misrepresentation of a journal impact factor as an indicator of quality, and initiatives such as DORA (the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment) and the Leiden Manifesto, the impact factor remains supreme in the minds and in the publishing practices of academics. In the current ‘publish or perish’ climate, reliance on citation-based metrics may lead to the manipulation of these metrics, as Crous cautions in a Commentary in this issue. Crous describes four possible scenarios in which authors may actively manage (or mismanage) their metrics. The conclusion is that ‘we should consider eliminating quantitative performance measures altogether’. However, some objective evaluation of impact – whether individually or collectively – is an important measure of the value of the work of an individual, journal, or institution. In a Research Article in this issue, Kerchhoff and colleagues evaluated 20 years (1995–2015) of research output of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) using bibliometrics and altmetrics, and concluded that these analyses ‘can yield a rich picture of output and significance, providing insight into the patterns of scholarly communication’. Also in this issue, Raju and colleagues report on a multiple metrics analysis of discoverability and accessibility of scholarship in the South African Journal of Library and Information Science (2012–2017) and emphasise ‘the need to use multiple metrics for objective evaluation of the discoverability and accessibility of the scholarly content of a journal’. Although the global trend has become a suite of metrics, rather than a single measure, there will never be a metric that is not open to misuse. As proposed in a recent comment in Nature (2019;569:622), it is the responsibility of all to ensure the justification and contextualisation of any indicator and education on the use thereof.

Image: flickr CC-BY: Dunk

Opportunity exists in South Africa to initiate citizen science projects and to encourage increased support for the establishment and sustainability of these projects. There is growing recognition of the power of citizen science as a research approach. ‘Citizen science’ is the term for research that engages non-scientists in the collection and generation of data, be it for research or educational purposes. Hulbert and colleagues, themselves practitioners of citizen science programmes, share their perspectives on challenges and solutions to establishing and sustaining citizen science projects in South Africa, using three citizen science projects as case studies. They provide recommendations for others interested in initiating citizen science projects in South Africa and invite additional dialogue through an online community group.

An estimated R166 billion is spent annually in South Africa to combat or prevent corrosion. About 15–35% of this cost might be saved through effective preventation. Janse van Rensburg and colleagues present a new corrosion map of South Africa’s inland and coastal areas. The map facilitates the identification of South Africa’s least to most corrosive environments, enabling the selection of more appropriate corrosion protection solutions for general, business, mining and industrial installations.

 

Although rooibos has been shown to confer cardioprotection in diabetic cardiomyopathy and myocardial ischaemic injury, as well as to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, it is not yet recognised as a treatment for cardiac disease. This is mainly because the underlying mechanisms for rooibos-induced cardioprotection have not been fully elucidated. Maarman reviews the literature and postulates a potential mechanism of action.

 

 
May/June 2019

Marine sponges are the source of a diverse array of organic chemical compounds. A small number of sponge natural products has shown potential as new pharmaceuticals such as novel anti-cancer drugs. South Africa is a global hotspot of latrunculid sponge biodiversity. Research into the taxonomy, chemistry and microbiology of latrunculid sponges is the most comprehensive and multidisciplinary investigation of any group of African marine sponges. Davies-Coleman and colleagues review the multidisciplinary latrunculid sponge research undertaken unabated for more than a quarter of a century by Rhodes University, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the University of the Western Cape, as part of a collaborative marine biodiscovery programme. Their review highlights the importance of conserving and protecting South Africa’s unique marine invertebrate resources.

Caption: Tsitsikamma pedunculata – a South African latrunculid marine sponge species (image: Patrick L. Colin and
Lori Jane Bell Colin, Coral Reef Research Foundation).

 

The Green Book – a free online climate risk profiling and adaptation tool – provides scientific evidence in an accessible format to local governments in South Africa to aid  long-term planning towards more climate-resilient human settlements. Knowing what climate impacts to expect in future, and how to adapt for them, is of critical importance to decision-makers in this field. More than 50 researchers collaborated in developing the Green Book, which is the first of its kind for Africa. Recently launched by the CSIR, the Green Book provides information to all South African municipalities about their current and future climate change risks, and offers solutions in adapting settlements to the impacts of climate change. Water receives special attention, because it is both a scarce resource and a hazard that threatens settlements. The Green Book is available at www.greenbook.co.za.

 

Who benefits from the Copyright Amendment Bill? Big tech? Students, universities, publishers or the national economy? In the wake of South Africa’s National Council of Provinces approval of the Copyright Amendment Bill (2018), Tomaselli examined the implications of the Bill for academics and universities, in the context of research, plagiarism and publication funding. He argues that the Bill’s extended version of fair use over-balances users’ rights in comparison with authors’ rights: scholarly works and textbooks may be freely copied, digitised, posted online and widely distributed without either the authors’ or publisher’s permission. Moreover, users may also change copied material to create new work of their own. When this happens, it is the author, not the reader, who pays the price. New legislation is often introduced with good intentions, but then becomes waylaid, as was the case with the Protection of State Information Bill. Intended to consolidate existing legislation into a single omnibus compilation, it became a ‘Secrecy Bill’ and was never implemented.

Caption: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

 

Microplastics are increasingly recognised as a major threat to life and ecological integrity in the world’s oceans, with a focus on understanding plastic input, breakdown effects and distribution pathways. A major spill of nurdles in Durban Harbour in October 2017 provided an unexpected opportunity to track billions of these flat 5-mm discs made of plastic. The event was recognised to be a major pollution incident, but despite extensive efforts made to collect the nurdles, 9 months later less than 20% of them had been recovered. Assisted by the strongly flowing Agulhas Current, within a mere 2 months, the nurdles dispersed along more than 2000 km of coastline where they washed up on beaches and were reported by the public. Schumann and colleagues reconstructed the conditions and factors in this dispersal over such a distance in a relatively short period. They found that the nurdles were entrained in certain coastal areas for long periods but were rapidly transported farther afield when sustained winds blew Theses findings have important implications for the dispersal behaviours and strategies that are adopted by larval stages of marine organisms, and provide important insights into population connectivity.

Caption: Nurdles on South Beach, Durban, South Africa (photo: Omar Parak)

 

Two South African fossil hominin species – Homo naledi and Australopithecus africanus – both show signs of having experienced semi-annual seasonal stress, possibly attributed to disease and malnutrition. Physiological stress experienced in childhood can be evidenced as visible furrows in teeth, which are preserved in fossil teeth, and dated with a precision of about 1 week because of the way that tooth enamel is deposited. Skinner reconstructed the timing of this stress in fossil teeth of H. naledi and A. africanus using high-resolution scanning electron microscopy of the outer enamel surface. Homo naledi, a mid-Pleistocene hominin, and Late Pliocene Australopithecus africanus were discovered in the same geographical area, thus allowing for comparison of the timing of their developmental stress. Surprisingly, as this area shows strong seasonality with a single annual moisture cycle, stress in these individuals recurred on average semi-annually. Skinner tentatively attributes this finding to two independent annual cycles, possibly disease and malnutrition.

Caption: Upper right lateral incisor of Australopithecus africanus showing normal enamel increments and three pronounced furrows (arrows) attributed to developmental stress.

 

March/April 2019

The theme of this issue of the South African Journal of Science is ‘Women in Science’ and emanates from the Second International Women in Science Without Borders (WiSWB) conference held in Johannesburg in March 2018. The aim of this annual conference is to highlight research done by women, and particularly to emphasise the contributions of women within the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine and innovation (STEMMI) ecosystem to effect positive outcomes. The 2018 WiSWB conference – the title of which was ‘Resilience in Diversity – was also an opportunity to focus on transdisciplinary issues with an Africa-wide urgency, among them, institutional capacity development, inclusive sustainable growth, and regional integration. The conference submissions were divided into interdisciplinary categories and were wide-ranging: Clean Energy, Climate Change, Digital Revolution, Disaster Management, Education and Outreach, Food Security, Gender Studies, Health, Industrialisation, Science Diplomacy, Smart Cities, and Water.

In this issue, the submission data analysed by John and Das demonstrate that more than half (53%) of authors who submitted conference abstracts were from Nigeria and, although the conference was gender-inclusive, most of the first authors were women. Their analysis also shows that most of the authors, as well as most of the female authors, had a postgraduate qualification and fell within the age cohort 30–45. Health had the largest number of conference submissions (26%), followed by Food Security (17%). These two issues were addressed by half of the 27 countries represented – an indication of the urgency of these topics for our continent. The trend in South African papers was similar, although Clean Energy was more prevalent with Food Security less so.

One South African submission relating to health – the full paper of which is published in this issue – is that by Grant and colleagues. They studied the combination of immunohistochemistry and microarray gene profiling for subtyping breast cancers in order to optimise individualised treatment. Another submission from South Africa, also published in this issue, deals with the critical topic of water. Nibamureke and colleagues assessed the potential effects on the growth of fish from nevirapine (an HIV antiretroviral) that ends up in surface water in South Africa.

Despite the gains of the conference, the low participation of women in many fields of science remains a subject of global concern. Gledhill and colleagues report on the Gender Gap project, which was initiated in 2016 and will conclude this year. The aim of the project is to provide a global data set on the experiences of both women and men in science, on which, it is hoped, positive interventions can be based. As Prozesky and Mouton’s paper shows, the experiences of women scientists are different from what might be expected. Contrary to expectations, in a web-based survey of 5000 scientists born and living in Africa, Prozesky and Mouton found that women do not report experiencing career challenges to any greater extent than do men. The work shows that the priority should be on addressing the conflict between the roles of work and family, because this is the sole challenge women are more likely to have experienced than men, and the one most frequently experienced by women. Moreover, because this challenge is rooted in systemic social inequities it cannot be addressed through providing material resources alone.

There are other social and cultural gender inequities. Van Staden and colleagues highlight the gender wage gap, the need for encouragement and, importantly, the need to have women in science.

In keeping with the theme, an Invited Commentary is on the history of mathematics, contributed by Tomoko Kitigawa, who, in 2015, was voted ‘one of the most amazing women in Japan’.

Of the authors of all the research papers published in this SAJS issue, 58% are women. They can all be seen on the cover of this issue.

 

January/February 2019

East of Still Bay on the Cape south coast of South Africa lies a rugged, remote stretch of sea cliffs that expose Late Pleistocene aeolianites (or cemented dunes). The first South African record of elephant tracks, the first rhinoceros tracks, and the first giant Cape horse tracks were recorded from two rocks in this area: Roberts Rock and Megafauna Rock. Among the fossil tracks on these rocks, Helm and colleagues have recorded track evidence of the long-horned buffalo and smaller species. Two of the species recorded are now extinct (the giant Cape horse and long-horned buffalo). These rocks provide a glimpse into Late Pleistocene dune life, and suggest an area that was teeming with large mammals. Roberts Rock has since slumped into the ocean and disintegrated – the fate of many exposed tracksites. For this reason, and because new sites frequently become exposed, regular surveying of this track-rich coastline is necessary.

 

Interventions aimed at improving science knowledge of learners in South Africa will continue to fail if their reading comprehension skills are under-developed. In an attempt to understand why previous science interventions for township learners had helped only some learners, Stott and Beelders assessed the relationships between learners’ reading comprehension and their Natural Science marks and improvement from intervention programmes. Using an eye tracker to observe the eye movements of learners engaging with science software, Stott and Beelder observed that the majority of learners guessed at least some answers without reading, with some avoiding any, or much, of the required reading. They found moderate to strong correlations between the learners’ inferred ability to read science texts with comprehension and both their Natural Science marks and the benefit they gained from previous interventions. The findings suggest that only top achieving township learners possess the reading comprehension skills to benefit from interventions which rely on text usage.

 

South Africa is intent on promoting its science, technology and innovation (STI) capabilities to achieve improved socio-economic development outcomes. Recent practical work has included the demonstration of innovations in relatively remote rural areas to encourage inclusive development in line with the National Development Plan. These innovations include water, sanitation and energy technologies, often combined with information and communication technologies (ICT). Drawing on the experiences of the multiple actors involved, Hart and colleagues identified key challenges in the demonstration process as limited beneficiary participation; haphazard needs assessments; top-down beneficiary, site and technology selection; and a lack of necessary ICT infrastructure. The process was further complicated by different priorities of national and local stakeholders, and vast distances that personnel and materials had to travel. A well-considered process of demonstration planning and implementation could reduce some of these challenges. Innovation demonstrations are an important means of first-time testing and fine-tuning innovations outside of the laboratory through which the focus is shifted from research to acceptability, usability and value. Usefulness will not simply follow because the technical aspects of the innovation have been met.

 

Traditional medicines should undergo testing before they are administered to patients. Traditional healing is now legally recognised in South Africa and the safety of traditional medicines is thus a priority. Madike and colleagues tested aqueous extracts of wild garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)a common plant used by traditional health practitioners to treat various ailments – and found negative effects on cell division and growth. Information about the healing properties of T. violacea is usually passed on from one generation to the next without any scientific evidence available on this plant and its potential dangers. Madike and colleagues obtained extracts from the leaves, stems and roots of T. violacea and tested the effects of different concentrations on the growth of onion cells. The effect of these extracts on onion cells is similar to what would occur in human cells. They found that high concentrations of plant extracts caused damage to the chromosomes of cells.

November/December 2018

South Africa’s science, technology and innovation policy is being updated at a time when the need to provide economic leadership is a critical imperative. The 2018 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation sets out the principles for the institutional, regulatory and financial architecture of the future science, technology and innovation system within South Africa. The draft document is clear on its intent: it seeks a system which is bigger, more inclusive and has greater economic impact. None of these objectives is new or controversial; the problem has been the achievement thereof. Walwyn and Cloete argue that South Africa is likely to continue to fail in these objectives unless more emphasis is placed on human capability, institutional reform, sustainability and policy experimentation. Moreover, a more convincing theory of change is needed that will persuade politicians and the public of the urgency for increased spending on research and development as a means of lifting the country out of its economic depression.

 

How can innovative development pathways reduce inequality and greenhouse gas emissions? Reducing inequality is our top priority in national development, while climate change is the foremost global challenge of this century. Winkler proposes that a comprehensive theoretical framework is needed to lead the way to a low-carbon high-equity future. Charting innovative development pathways requires changes in policy, technology and investment. But perhaps more fundamentally, it requires an understanding of the complex determinants and agents of change, followed by adaptive management of complex systems. Such complexity requires radically inter- and trans-disciplinary research, to inform adaptive management. Co-production of knowledge and learning by doing will be important. Young people need key skills in thinking about intervening in systems: complex problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity. What is needed is a new social contract, in which the rich live better with less, the poor are lifted out of poverty, and middle-class aspirations shift from having more to living well.

 

Marula vinegar produced from waste by-products was found to be a potential source of health promoting compounds including total phenolics and flavonoids with good antioxidant properties. Marula is a well-known indigenous plant in South Africa, and the fruit is used to make the legendary Amarula cream liquor. Molelekoa and colleagues investigated the feasibility of using marula fruit waste sourced from a processing plant as feedstock for vinegar (acetic acid) production. They used two fermentation techniques (surface and submerged culture methods) using both naturally occurring and inoculated bacteria. The surface culture method combined with inoculation produced a higher-quality vinegar with potential for commercial-scale production. A consumer survey recommended the application of the vinegar in products such as salad dressing and mayonnaise.

 

Unemployment exit rate, job sustainability and unemployment duration collectively affect the persistence of unemployment. Modelling the relationships among these factors is recommended for finding solutions to unemployment issues. Nonyana and Njuho explored the benefits of using econometric models in unpacking features of unemployment in South Africa. Using these models they found that unemployed people in South Africa tend to have lower unemployment exit rates; which relates to job scarcity in the labour market, whilst available jobs are less sustainable and the bulk of those who are employed are likely to lose their jobs within a year. Unemployment duration featured as a structural factor that has a considerable impact on unemployment: the longer the unemployed remain unemployed, their prospect of finding employment deteriorates.

 

Tropical cyclone Dineo made news headlines across southern Africa in early 2016, although it was only a category 1 storm. Tropical cyclones are devastating storm systems, characterised by strong winds, heavy rainfall and storm surge flooding in coastal areas, and are classified according to intensity from category 1 (mild) to category 5 (devastating). Since 1994 – when the first tropical cyclone in the South Indian Ocean intensified to category 5 status – the number of category 5 storms in the South Indian Ocean has increased steadily each decade. Fitchett has found that the incidence of a category 5 tropical cyclone, and subsequent increase in frequency of these highest intensity storms, appears to be linked to ocean warming, as sea surface temperatures of 27–29°C are being experienced progressively further south. Category 5 storms have been recorded for the North Atlantic Ocean since 1924, but were not a feature of the South Indian Ocean for many decades.

 

September/October 2018

Antibiotic resistance is a threat to South Africa’s healthcare system, for which there is an urgent need to enforce legislation on drug distribution and usage, to prioritise the use of alternatives to antibiotics and, finally, to implement a nationwide effective antimicrobial resistance surveillance system. Tatsing Foka and colleagues reviewed the incidence of vancomycin-resistant enterococci in South Africa. The recent and continuous detection of a high level of vancomycin-resistant enterococci in a variety of South African ecological niches is a serious public health concern, especially given the high incidence of immunocompromising complications such as HIV/Aids in the country. Agricultural practices coupled with the misuse of antibiotics in intensive animal rearing and hospital facilities have been identified as the main cause for the development of resistant strains in South Africa, and the world at large. The health implications of vancomycin-resistant enterococci and their resulting economic burden on our healthcare system cannot be underestimated. Although tremendous efforts have already been made in South Africa to tackle antimicrobial resistance issues, and vancomycin resistance problems in particular, results from recent studies need to be incorporated into fully modified operational policies.

 

Nnadih and colleagues report the first ground-based recorded observations of sprites over South Africa. Sprites – named after the characters in Shakespeare’s The Tempest – are electrical discharges in the mesosphere above an active thunderstorm that are powered by large lightning strikes, but are rarely visible from the ground. Sprites have been studied extensively in other continents, but despite Africa being a lightning-rich continent, there is little or no active sprite-related research in Africa. Their study enables us to understand the interconnected processes of atmospheric electricity and terrestrial weather. The phenomenon was reported anecdotally in Johannesburg in 1937, but Nnadih et al.’s report is the first record of sprites in southern Africa. On 2 of 22 nights of observations, they recorded about 100 sprite elements from Sutherland in the Northern Cape, comprising different morphologies (55% were carrot-shaped sprites). The sprites were triggered by positive cloud-to-ground lightning strikes and were observed from distances of between 400 and 800 km. These first ground-based observations, which suggest that the optical intensity of sprites is proportional to the lightning stroke current, will pave the way for a more comprehensive study of sprites in South Africa.

 

The goal to end AIDS as a global pandemic by 2030 is threatened if, as this study suggests, one-third of adults presenting for HIV counselling and testing at healthcare clinics in South Africa come from households with insufficient food. In a study of over 2700 adult women and men presenting for HIV testing at three public sector healthcare clinics in eThekwini (Durban metropolitan region), Nyirenda and colleagues found that individuals from food-insecure households were more likely to test HIV positive than those from food-secure households. Although the reason for this association was not evident, the results highlight that many newly diagnosed HIV-positive individuals do not have enough to eat. Their findings support the need for socio-economic and structural interventions to transform food-insecure into food-secure households. Failure to do so urgently in high HIV endemic areas like KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, is likely to seriously challenge the attainment of global targets such as the UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 goal.

 

Local journals face a difficult task: escaping the ‘impact factor trap’ by attracting good research away from international journals; a task which will be made impossible by graded national financial incentives. Although the Department of Higher Education and Training does not differentiate between national and international publications with respect to subsidy for journals on accredited lists, some local universities award a higher proportion of the subsidy to authors who publish in international journals. There is pressure throughout academia to publish in high impact factor journals. The Scimago Journal Rank is an index that ranks journals based on impact and prestige, partly by measuring from where citations come. Lee and Simon examined 23 000 journals listed in the Scimago database, which included only 82 South African journals. They argue that this index is not suitable for Africa, as journals with Africa in their title are ranked lower than other journals by this index. They assert that African journals have not yet had the time required to gain the same prestige, as historically they have had low visibility. Applying incentives based on Scimago Journal Rank will therefore disadvantage local journals.

 

July/August 2018

Awareness campaigns alone may not be sufficient to reduce the number of accidents on South African roads. Introducing compulsory third-party insurance and the imminent emergence of self-driving cars may have an impact. According to Fourie and Verster, human factors contributed to almost 80% of the fatal road accidents in South Africa in 2015, with road and environmental conditions contributing to 13% and vehicle factors to 8%. Fourie and Verster analysed the fatal road accidents – those in which at least one person is killed as a direct result of the accident – in South Africa in 2015. Although fatal accidents constituted only 1.3% of all road accidents, they equated to 42% of the total costs involved. The economic cost – R143 billion in 2015 – is not the only cost: 13 000 lives were lost in 2015 as a result of road accidents. Pedestrians accounted for 38% of the fatalities and male individuals 78%, with 41% of those killed being younger than 30 years old.

 

Bt modification in maize does not affect non-target beneficial microorganisms such as endophytes. Although Bt maize is one of the most popular GM crops in the world, little is known about potential impacts on ecosystem functionalities. Genetically modified Bt maize contains a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which provides resistance to major insect pests. Mashiane and colleagues investigated whether genetic modification affected non-target microorganisms such as endophytic bacteria which are important in agriculture. Maize is one of the most important crops in the world – it is consumed as a staple food and as animal feed in both developing and developed countries. Bacterial endophytes from two developmental stages of both Bt maize and its isogenic parental line were screened for their capabilities to participate in plant protection, nutrient mobilisation as well as production of a plant growth hormone. Interestingly, Mashiane and colleagues found that growth stage rather than genetic modification had a significant impact on the endophytes and their functions.

 

Efforts to improve performance in science should also focus on developing non-cognitive aspects such as self-efficacy. A person’s motivation and confidence can make seemingly impossible tasks possible. This self confidence in one’s ability (self-efficacy) extends to performing science-related tasks in the classroom. The strength of this belief has an impact on behaviour – those who have higher self-efficacy are more likely to persevere in an activity, no matter how difficult, until they succeed. Using information from 12 500 Grade 9 students in South Africa, Juan and colleagues found a positive relationship between self-efficacy and science achievement. In addition, positive student–parent and student–teacher interactions were related to increases in students’ science self-efficacy. Of concern was the finding that girls reported lower self-efficacy than boys, even when they scored the same on the science assessment.

 

South Africa nearly doubled its R&D expenditure in social sciences and humanities research fields between 2005 and 2014, outpacing countries such as Russia, Turkey and Uruguay. A closer look at the data, however, suggests that R&D expenditure was mainly concentrated in a few research fields – finance, economics, education, accounting and political science. Intense global environmental and technological changes, coupled by critical levels of poverty and inequality in South Africa, are key urgencies that science policymakers face in the development of the new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation. Within this context, the case for advancing the social sciences and humanities in South Africa could not be more urgent and compelling; although questions remain as to where to target strategic R&D investments for meaningful socio-economic and epistemic impacts. Molotja and Ralphs argue that institutional R&D planners and national policymakers need to better balance current priorities and future needs if R&D in the social sciences and humanities is to be leveraged for larger socio-economic impacts, as envisaged by the new draft White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation.

 

The global knowledge economy continues to be dominated by the Global North. Reasons may include a lack of proper national government support and funding and academic prowess on the part of scholars in the Global South. However, focusing on only these largely technical and economic reasons, whilst ignoring the greater cultural and political reasons within which the practice of academia is in itself deeply entrenched, limits our understanding. Dalu and colleagues consider the barriers that stem from the practice of the ‘old boys’ network’ as a possible contributor to Global South academic performance in the global knowledge economy. They contemplate the idea of monopolies of power centred in the Global North with regard to who moderates academic outputs, and how the Global South continues to uphold the standards of academic outputs as they are stipulated in the Global North. Knowledge exchange platforms between the Global North and South have developmental implications within the decolonisation agenda currently on the South African table.

 

May/June 2018

Did Cape Town’s water crisis happen because the city’s leadership thought that they lived in Europe? More generally, does the practice of applied sciences like engineering adequately reflect the South African context? These questions offer practical perspectives on the contentious debate about the decolonisation of our universities and society. There is plenty of evidence that civil engineering initially served the colonial purpose of extracting wealth; and that the exclusion of black people from the profession in South Africa and the British colonies left a legacy of damaging distrust. How can the society and its engineering professions move beyond this inheritance? As we seek an inclusive way forward, engineers must become more assertive about their role as pathfinders. They must help to engineer more effective institutions as well as physical structures and services. On the way, they will have to help politicians to learn to take advice.

 

Inadequate governance of groundwater harms economic growth, food security, social stability, land reform, transformation and other sectors. Mahikeng, the capital of North West Province, depends on groundwater from nearby aquifers for more than half of its water supply, but falling groundwater levels have made this water supply less predictable and less reliable. According to Cobbing and De Wit, the groundwater aquifers near Mahikeng – if they were better managed – could help to make Mahikeng’s water supply more reliable, and less vulnerable to drought. The natural environment would also benefit, as would social stability and business confidence. The root of the problem is poor cooperation between those extracting and those controlling the groundwater, including farmers and the municipality. An undesirable “Nash” equilibrium has emerged, meaning that all the parties are currently losers. However, this sub-optimal equilibrium can be broken – there is enough water to go around, and “win-win” outcomes are possible. But the hidden cost of today’s poor management is high.

 

South African researchers contribute more than 3% of the global literature on mammalian behavioural ecology, with a strong focus on the broader themes of mating, social and foraging behaviour. The large number of protected areas and mammalian guilds in South Africa provide unique opportunities for the study of behavioural ecology – a sub-discipline of zoology that has evolved and grown significantly since the start of the 20th century. Researchers link behaviour to genetics, evolutionary trends, and fast adaptation to a rapidly changing world. Le Roux reviewed over 1000 papers published from 2000 to 2015 and determined the South African contributions to this multidisciplinary field. Although South African researchers contribute more than 3% of the global literature, some important themes within behavioural ecology – such as animal cognition and personalities – that are gaining rapid international traction are not studied locally.

 

Food waste in South Africa is lower than that in Europe but greater than in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Households in South Africa dispose of less food into the municipal bin than European households do, but more than households in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding food fed to pets or disposed of onto compost heaps at home. Food waste is an important issue in light of population growth and global food security concerns. It is estimated that between a third and half of all food produced globally is wasted every year while 12 million people in South Africa go to bed hungry each day. Oelofse and colleagues measured the actual amount of food waste disposed of into municipal bins by households in the City of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni. The food disposed of amounts to 12 kg per person per year in Johannesburg and 8 kg in Ekurhuleni – a contribution of about 51 000 tonnes in Johannesburg and 25 000 tonnes in Ekurhuleni to the municipal solid waste disposed of on already stressed landfills.

March/April 2018

Cole et al. propose additional indicators for SDG 6 – Sustainable Development Goal 6, namely “Water and sanitation for all” – on water efficiency that focus on how individuals and households benefit from allocations and the use of water resources. Appropriate indicators can support decision-making and highlight key issues on inequality, unemployment and sustainability. Water is fundamental – not just for human well-being but also for economic growth. In a water scarce country like South Africa, it is important to understand how the allocation of water resources is directly and indirectly benefitting individuals, households and the economy. Cole and colleagues analysed water use and water-dependent jobs across 42 towns in the Berg Water Management Area, in the southwest corner of South Africa and found significant variation across industries and municipalities, highlighting the impact of water allocation on the local population and economy. In the face of growing demand and uncertain supply, future water allocation decisions require better water-use and employment data, spatial analysis, scenario development and stakeholder engagement.

 

The Square Kilometre Array South Africa (SKA SA)’s success is underpinned by open and inclusive institutions, fostering and leveraging interrelationships, promoting innovation that may be commercialised, and attracting, retaining and training suitable individuals. These four themes or key pillars (institutions, interrelationships, innovation and individuals) – comprising the 4I model – were revealed to be crucial for engendering a knowledge economy. Bhogal developed the 4I model whilst exploring factors that inhibit and enable the impact of SKA on South Africa’s knowledge economy. Increasingly, nations pursue knowledge-based endeavours to promote economic growth. SKA SA – South Africa’s flagship science project and the world’s largest radio telescope – is expected to develop local competitive advantage, which will contribute to economic growth. Sub-themes in the 4I model include the role of a nation’s inherent competitive advantage in informing its competitive and innovation strategy, multidimensional interrelationships and politically astute leadership. A deeper understanding of the 4I model forms a basis for strengthening each pillar and thereby its impact on the knowledge economy.

 

Recently discovered Australopithecus sediba is known from only one time and place: Malapa, South Africa, dated to ~800 thousand years later than the earliest fossils attributed to the genus Homo – fuelling debate about whether A. sediba could be ancestral to Homo and modern humans. Because the fossil record is incomplete, researchers cannot be certain how far back in time any species extended. However, by reviewing evidence from other, better documented hominin species, Robinson and colleagues have demonstrated that dates alone are insufficient to reject the hypothesis of direct ancestry of Homo as, on average, fossil hominin species lived for almost one million years. Using the one date for A. sediba as a first, middle or last date of appearance, Robinson and colleagues compared possible temporal ranges of A. sediba and Homo for known modes of speciation, and showed that the possibility of A. sediba being ancestral to Homo could not be precluded. Until additional data are available for the temporal range of A. sediba, any inferences about the evolutionary relationship between A. sediba and Homo should be based primarily on morphology.

 

Age, experience and income affect users’ perceptions of online banking in South Africa. The adoption of online banking by South Africans has been very low compared with the global average. Mujinga et al. investigated if online banking usability was a barrier to adoption using a system usability measurement tool and found that assessment of usability was affected by age, experience and income – with older, more experienced and higher income users scoring usability more highly. Gender, employment, and use frequency had no impact on users’ assessment of online banking. Banks make large investments in providing self-service solutions. To realise returns on these investments and to reduce operating costs for in-branch services, clients must use the online services offered. An in-depth investigation is needed to identify usability factors that might be contributing to the lack of uptake of online banking services in South Africa.

 

January/February 2018

Did ancient giraffes once roam a savanna now submerged by the Gouritz and Breede Rivers? The recent discovery in 2016 of fossil giraffe tracks east of Still Bay on the Cape south coast – the first Pleistocene fossil giraffe tracks to be recorded in southern Africa – significantly increases the geographic range of this species. Until now there have been no reliable historical or fossil records for the giraffe south of the Orange River or northern Namaqualand. Based on correlations to dated sites nearby, the tracks were probably made around 125 000 years ago. Helm and colleagues report on the discovery which has implications for Late Pleistocene climate and vegetation in the southern Cape, because of the specialised feeding niche of giraffe populations. Evidence suggests that the currently submerged floodplains of the Gouritz and Breede Rivers supported a productive savanna during Pleistocene glacial conditions. This habitat would have been suitable for giraffe, and would likely have allowed giraffe to migrate along the southern coastal plain.

An assemblage of hominin fossils from Dinaledi Chamber, attributed to at least 15 individuals of the newly identified species Homo naledi, is strikingly different from australopith and Neanderthal sites with multiple individuals. The difference lies in the high proportion of infants and young juveniles in the Dinaledi assemblage as well as in the location of the Dinaledi fossils, which are scattered within a hidden cave chamber. About 1550 fossil specimens of a single hominin species were recovered from the Dinaledi Chamber (Cradle of Humankind, South Africa) during excavations in 2013–2014. Bolter and colleagues used 190 dental elements to identify life-history stages and attributed these elements based on their degree of development to 15 individuals: 9 immature and 6 adult individuals, including one old adult with very worn teeth. Adults were classified by sets of dentition with all the permanent teeth in place; infants (3) as those with only deciduous (or baby) teeth, juveniles (4) as those with a combination of deciduous and permanent teeth, and sub-adults (1) as those with permanent teeth that were not fully erupted. One immature individual could not be assigned to an age class. Current studies using forensic techniques are proceeding to match skeletal bones with the dental remains. The Dinaledi assemblage presents an uncommon opportunity to examine a fossil species at the population-level perspective. Additional excavations underway suggest more individuals lie in wait deep inside the cave system.

The fossilised skull of an Australopithecus africanus from Sterkfontein – well known as “Mrs Ples” – may indeed be a “Mr Ples”. Evidence obtained from an ongoing study of canine sockets and skull measurements supports the view that “Mrs Ples" is probably a small male individual. Both age and sex are factors that contribute to variation in growth and development of the cranium in australopithecines. On the basis of their comparisons of alveolar canine dimensions, Tawane and Thackeray conclude that “Mrs Ples” is the skull of a small male rather than a large female individual. The fossil is the most complete cranium of A. africanus and was discovered at the Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind in 1947 by Robert Broom and John Robinson. Broom claimed that it represented a female individual on the basis of canine sockets, but he did not have a large comparative sample of specimens to allow him to support this opinion. Within the last 70 years, more hominin fossils have been obtained from Sterkfontein. The view that "Mrs Ples" is a female specimen of A. africanus has been highly controversial and the skull continues to be the subject of research in the context of human evolution.

Termites are a food source with high economic and social importance and the preservation of the indigenous knowledge used during the harvesting and processing of termites should be prioritised. Netshifhefhe and colleagues surveyed over 100 harvesters, marketers and consumers from 48 villages in the Vhembe District Municipality of Limpopo Province, South Africa. Three termite species of the Macrotermes genus – mound-building termites which dominate the African savanna – are consumed, with M. falciger being the species of preference (90% of all termites). Individuals of all ages consume termites and the method of preparation preferred (by 78% of respondents) is frying. Termites are rich in proteins, fats, vitamins and many essential mineral nutrients. In addition to providing food security, income from the sale of termites can be as much as ZAR18  000 per year, and thus contributes significantly to the livelihoods of many rural families.