31 March 2021

Prof Moses Mbewe originates from the Nkomazi region of the Province of Mpumalanga. He holds a 4 Year BSc in Biology from Texas Southern University, USA and PhD in Microbial Genetics from the University of Cambridge, UK. After an extensive academic career at various institutions and organisations, he assumed his duties at the University Mpumalanga as Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Sciences in 2016. He is currently serving as Chairperson of the National Task Force for the Containment of Polio in Labs (NTF), a ministerial advisory committee for the National Department of Health, and Council on Higher Education (HEQC) as Programme Evaluator. He also serves as a Councillor and EXCO member of the University of Mpumalanga Council.     

What does your role as Chair of the National Science Deans Forum entail?
The role of being chair of the National Science Deans Forum concerns organising meetings and discussions for all the higher education institutions in South Africa on how to better perform our duties. We discuss common factors that are affecting the teaching and learning of Science in universities in South Africa and the students we teach. We also cover a number of aspects, including the effective management of faculties in SA and SADC.

You had your first meeting as Chair earlier this month. Can you share with us what it was like?
UMP hosted the meeting, which in itself was a great honour. We covered a great number of aspects. Some of these included discussions around the Department of Science and Technology (10-year plan), which is now combined with Higher Education, and their long-term plans, as well as what they have achieved thus far. The CEO of the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) presented proposed policy for accreditation of new programmes which he wanted the Deans of Science to consider.

These discussions were so fruitful that we decided to have a separate further meeting around those ideas alone. There was also a presentation about the online teaching of Science during the Covid-19 era. Two experts from the University of Bristol (United Kingdom) presented ways in which practicals could be taught online and how better to equip our students, to prepare them and get them to engage before they go to class. These were incredibly valuable. Other than that it was just one of our annual meetings and there will be two more this year that I have to chair or be chaired by one of the other executives

What are your responsibilities as the Dean of Agriculture and Natural Sciences at UMP?
I make sure the faculty runs and operates smoothly, while placing a particular focus on making sure that we offer quality teaching. Much of our teaching and learning has had to happen online; it was and is vital that being on an online platform, these conditions do not lower our standards or the standards we expect from our students.

It is also my responsibility to make sure we have the highest qualified academic staff teaching the best programmes in the country, and also doing research in the most relevant areas. I look at all these areas together to ensure that our faculty, which is the largest at UMP, delivers on all fronts.

How does your Faculty rate, compared to older and more well-established in Faculties in other institutions
in South Africa?

We have a very high number of National Research Foundation (NRF) rated researchers on our teaching staff. The rating system developed by the NRF is a valuable tool for measuring the quality of South African researchers against the best in the world. The high number of rated researches and teaching staff bears witness to our excellent standard in research and our ability to offer our students as good, if not a better tertiary education as any in the world. I am comfortable with our development trajectory which compares very well. 

Where does UMP excel in particular?
We are good at a number of areas including nature conservation – very few universities offer it as a course or programme of study. We’re also very good in agronomy, and ecology. We also excel in ICT (Information and Communications Technology). When it comes to community, engagement is very important that we play our role. Our students can only engage if they are equipped to do so. Which is why our CoLab focuses on training and computer literacy or computing for the greater community as part of the Faculty engagement activities.

Our Faculty strives to be relevant by embracing research and engagement programmes that address current problems using latest technologies through the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences (SCMS). The School’s research focus is on Information and Communication Technology for Sustainable Development (ICT4SD) through diverse specialities, such as Internet of Things (IoT), data science, networking, cybersecurity and  information technology for education.

You’re on several committees and advisory boards. Tell us about your role in some of these.
I chair PETAFF (Provincial Education and Training in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) in Mpumalanga and was appointed by the MEC of Mpumalanga Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs(DARDLEA). We deal with the popularising and teaching of agriculture in the entire province.

Then there is the National Task Force for the Containment of Polio in Labs, of which I am also chairperson. It's an advisory committee to the Minister of Health. We do various things to ensure that polio remains eradicated in South Africa especially prevention of re-introduction from research laboratories. I’m also in the National Health Research Committee, which is another advisory committee to the Minister of Health; it determines the agenda of what we do research on in health nationally in South Africa.

What advice would you offer students aspiring to be like you?
Thomas Edison famously said: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Nothing is achieved without hard work. You don't perspire doing nothing. Unless you are prepared to work hard and perspire, people will never know that you are a genius. Why? Because genius appears when you are busy working hard! Work hard from 

@ Story and Pictures by Cleopatra Makhaga.