According to ASSAf, the Academy has a core function to honour the country’s most outstanding scholars by electing them to membership of the Academy. ASSAf members are drawn from the full spectrum of disciplines, with new members elected each year by the full existing membership. Membership of the Academy is a great honour and is in recognition of scholarly achievement. Members are the core asset of the Academy and give of their time and expertise voluntarily in the service of society.
ASSAf was inaugurated in May 1996 by the former President of South Africa and patron of the Academy, Nelson Mandela. It is in the unique position of being the only national science academy that is officially recognised by the South African government through the ASSAf Act (Act 67 of 2001), as amended, and aims to provide evidence-based scientific advice on issues of public interest to government and other stakeholders.
Newest members of ASSAf from UP include Professor Marietjie Venter, Professor Christian Chimimba, Professor James Maina and Professor De Wet Swanepoel. The 43 new ASSAf members bring the total membership of ASSAf to 632.
Professor Marietjie Venter
Prof Venter is Head of the Zoonotic Arbo- and Respiratory Virus research programme at UP’s Centre for Viral Zoonosis in the Department of Medical Virology. “Being acknowledged as a member of ASSAf is a great honour for any scientist in South Africa. Members are elected by their peers and are considered experts in their field that can contribute positively to science in society in South Africa. I am humbled to be part of this esteemed group of scientists and hope that I can use my expertise to enhance science diplomacy in South Africa as an ASSAf member,” she said. Prof Venter’s focus area is emerging and zoonotic respiratory and vector-borne viruses. Since many of these viruses are epidemic prone with the potential to cause pandemics, Prof Venter said, “My group uses a One Health approach to detect these viruses through syndromic and genomic surveillance in animals and the environment as an early warning system, and then investigate their impact in human disease by investigating hospitalised patients with unexplained fevers, respiratory and neurological disease to define the importance and epidemiology of these pathogens in Africa.”
Professor Christian Chimimba
Prof Chimimba is former Head of the Department of Zoology and Entomology, UP, an Associate of the Mammal Research Institute, and a core team member of the Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology. “It is a great honour personally for me to be inaugurated as a Member of ASSAf. It certainly increases one's visibility in the scientific landscape internationally, provides opportunities for collaborations and strengthening strategic partnerships, and increases and diversifies one's activities. This kind of profile may assist in attracting graduate students and therefore contribute towards scholarship support for human capacity development in South Africa, particularly with reference to supporting the current transformation agenda of the country,” he said. Prof Chimimba’s research focuses primarily on the biosystematics of African fauna with emphasis on small mammals, where he applies morphometric, molecular, cytogenetic, ecological, epidemiological, and GIS techniques, and on taxa of medical, veterinary, agricultural, economic and conservation importance.
Professor James Maina
Prof Maina is Professor of Civil Engineering, UP and adjunct Professor at Chang’an University in Xi’an, China as well as Shandong Jianzhu University in Shandong, China. “This is a great honour, as the membership of ASSAf, which is drawn from the full spectrum of disciplines, is a recognition of the country’s most outstanding scholars. So, I am humbled to be in the company of great minds in this country,” he said. Prof Maina says one area of his research interest is in the application of numerical modelling to transport infrastructures such as highways and airport runways. “I am currently working on the mathematical formulation to simulate the effect of the speed of moving truck tyres on pavement structures composed of visco-elastoplastic materials such as asphalt mixtures,” he added.
Professor De Wet Swanepoel
Prof De Wet Swanepoel is Professor in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP and senior research fellow at the Ear Science Institute Australia. “It's a wonderful privilege to have been inaugurated into ASSAf. I wasn’t expecting to become part of this esteemed group of academics any time soon,” he said. Prof Swanepoel says his work is focused on making hearing healthcare more accessible to the more than 1 billion affected persons. More than 80% of those affected reside in low- and middle-income countries where services are usually absent or inaccessible. “Our research capitalises on information and communication technologies to explore, develop and evaluate innovative solutions and service-delivery models for access to ear and hearing care. In 2016 we launched the first National Hearing Test, which we developed and validated, as downloadable to end-users on Android and iOS platforms in South Africa,” he added.