This award is the vice-chancellor’s annual prize in recognition of outstanding welfare-related research. It highlights UCT's strategic goal of promoting socially responsive research, and honours a UCT researcher whose outreach work has contributed to the advancement and welfare of South Africa’s disadvantaged people.

About Pifer

The prize was established to honour Alan Pifer, philanthropist and former president of the Carnegie Corporation, a long-term UCT benefactor. He died in 2005.

Throughout Pifer’s career, his focus was on social justice and strengthening the rights of historically disadvantaged groups, including women. Pifer also established the UCT Fund, which raises funds in the United States to support black students and to promote the advancement and welfare of disadvantaged groups.


In 2022, Professor Shanaaz Mathews received the Alan Pifer award.

Shanaaz MathewsProfessor Shanaaz Mathews

2022 Alan Pifer Award recipient Professor Mathews combines academic excellence with dogged determination and a deep-rooted commitment to social justice.
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In 2021, Professors Liesl Zühlke and Karen Sliwa-Hahnle were honoured by UCT with Alan Pifer awards.

Liesl ZuhlkeProfessor Liesl Zühlke

2021 Alan Pifer Award recipient Professor Liesl Zühlke not only has a resume that exemplifies academic excellence, but also a deep commitment to seeing child and women’s health take its rightful place at the centre of the global health agenda.
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Professor Karen SliwaProfessor Karen Sliwa-Hahnle

2021 Alan Pifer Award recipient Professor Karen Sliwa-Hahnle who is renowned for her career-long dedication to addressing heart-health challenges common in Africa, especially among pregnant women, has a legacy of research excellence, impact and innovation. 
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For 2020, UCT honoured two researchers with Alan Pifer awards.

Professor Cathy WardProfessor Catherine Ward, Department of Psychology

Professor Cathy Ward has been awarded the 2020 Alan Pifer Award in recognition of her exceptional dedication to violence prevention. As one of the founders of Parenting for Lifelong Health, a suite of programmes dealing with conflict in the home, Ward has profoundly impacted the prevention of violence against children across South African society.
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Professor Ambroise WonkamProfessor Ambroise Wonkam, director of Genetic Medicine of African Populations (GeneMAP)

Professor Ambroise Wonkam has been awarded the 2020 Alan Pifer Award in recognition of his work in describing novel variant genes relevant for congenital hearing impairment in populations of African ancestry, in South Africa and various countries across the continent. As well as his discovery of a set of gene variants which are key for long-term survival in Sickle Cell Disease in Africa. He has also introduced prenatal genetic diagnosis for SCD in both Cameroon and Cape Town, and so increasing reproductive options for at-risk parents.
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Professor Elmi MullerProfessor Elmi Muller, Division of General Surgery

Professor Elmi Muller has won the 2019 Alan Pifer Research Award. The award recognises her dedication to making organ transplantation available to vulnerable people. Muller is recognised as a global authority on kidney and liver transplantation and a trailblazer in the field of organ transplantation in HIV-positive patients.
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Professor Sebastian van AsProfessor Sebastian van As, head of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trauma Unit

Professor Sebastian van As has won the 2018 Alan Pifer Research Award. The award recognises the important research Professor van As has conducted over the past 20 years into child safety in South Africa. Van As has made it his life’s work to treat and prevent childhood injury. In 2000, he joined the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trauma Unit, and in 2007, he was elected chair of ChildSafe South Africa, a national child safety NGO working to make the country a safer place for all its children.
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Heather ZarProfessor Heather Zar, Division of Paediatric Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences

UCT’s Professor Heather Zar has been named recipient of the 2017 Alan Pifer Award – a prestigious prize presented annually by UCT’s vice-chancellor in recognition of outstanding socially responsive research. Zar, a paediatrician and scientist, has gained a reputation for rising above the challenges posed by a lack of resources to create new strategies to address key childhood illnesses. Over the past 20 years, she has helped improve and save the lives of thousands of children through research and innovation in child health.
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Chuma HimongaProfessor Chuma Himonga, Department of Private Law, Faculty of Law

Chuma Himonga, professor in the Department of Private Law in UCT’s Faculty of Law, won the 2016 Alan Pifer Award for her many contributions to reconciling traditional regulatory frameworks and common law. Himonga has been part of a group of legal academics who have been influential in seeking ways of defining and ascertaining customary law for purposes of its application, and reconciling this system of law with human rights, including constitutional rights in South Africa.
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Ingrid WoolardProfessor Ingrid Woolard, Dean of Faculty of Commerce

Ingrid Woolard, professor in the School of Economics and former Dean of Commerce, won the 2015 Alan Pifer Award for her notable contributions to the analysis of poverty and inequality, and unemployment in South Africa, and the way she used her data to undertake a number of highly influential research papers to carry her work through to official policy work.
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Professors Robin Wood and Linda-Gail Bekker, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), Faculty of Health Sciences

Robin Wood and Linda-Gail Bekker, director and deputy-director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, won the 2014 Alan Pifer Award for excellence in research, treatment, training and prevention of HIV-related diseases and infections in Southern Africa.
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Professor Crick Lund, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Health Sciences

Crick Lund, director of the Alan J Flisher Centre for Mental Health, was awarded for his work in addressing the treatment gap for people with mental illness in low- and middle-income countries.
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Emeritus Professor Eric Bateman, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences

Eric Bateman is a world-leading pulmonologist whose most important work has tackled the challenges of respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and tuberculosis. He founded the UCT Lung Institute in 2000, which has since become an international beacon of innovative research.
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Professor Kelly Chibale, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

Under the leadership of Kelly Chibale, the Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D) strives to train a new generation of African scientists with the skills required to combat Africa’s high burden of disease. The goal is to bridge the gap between basic research and clinical studies and ensure the pipeline of drug discovery and development remains on the continent.
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Professor Sue Parnell, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, Faculty of Science

According to Sue Parnell, Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences and executive committee member of the African Centre for Cities, a city can be governed to promote inclusion and provide for the urban poor, but this requires careful planning  and understanding of how resources are managed and used.
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Professor Dan Stein, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Health Sciences

Psychiatric disorders account for the 3rd largest portion of South Africa’s disease burden. Yet mental disorders remain the most stigmatised and grossly neglected of medical conditions. Dan Stein, head of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, has dedicated more than 20 years of his life to the study of mental illness, with work ranging from clinical neuroscience to public mental health.
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Professor Raj Ramesar, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences

Raj Ramesar, head of the Division of Human Genetics and director of  the Human Genetics Research Unit, discovered a common genetic mutation linked to colorectal cancer in some of the most neglected communities in the Northern Cape of South Africa. In response he developed an intervention programme which successfully lowered mortality and morbidity in those communities.
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Professors Pippa Skotnes and Mark Fleishman, Michaelis School of Fine Art and Department of Drama, Faculty of Humanities

Every year in the small Western Cape town of Clanwilliam, local schoolchildren take part in workshops hosted by UCT’s arts and drama departments, which culminate in the annual Spring Festival. The children use their new arts and drama skills to tell the stories of San hunter-gatherers, the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa. Pippa Skotnes, director of the Centre for Curating the Archive and Mark Fleishman, programme convener for theatre and performance in the Department of Drama won the award for their role in developing this annual event.
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Professor Timm Hoffman, Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science

Timm Hoffman, Leslie Hill Chair of Plant Conservation, Department of Biological Sciences, won the Alan Pifer Award for his work on the use of natural resources in the communal areas of South Africa; the impact of land degradation on people’s lives and his continued efforts to ensure his research contains an active and relevant rural development component.
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Professor Alan Flisher, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Faculty of Health Sciences

It was for his work on the epidemiology of high-risk behaviour among adolescents, particularly related to sexual behaviour and substance abuse, and on public mental health in the South African context, that the late Alan Flisher, former Sue Struengmann Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, received this award.  
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Professor David Chidester, Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities

David Chidester, Chair of Religious Studies, is an international figure in the field of comparative religion. He made an important contribution to the development of policy in the crucial area of religion and education, designed to increase tolerance and protect learners from discrimination on the basis of their religion.
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Professors Murray Leibbrandt and Haroon Bhorat, School of Economics, Faculty of Commerce

Murray Leibbrandt and Haroon Bhorat were awarded the Alan Pifer for their work conducting international quality analysis of survey data to better understand the relationship between the labour market and the reproduction of poverty and inequality in South Africa.
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Emeritus Professor Sandra Burman

The late Sandra Burman, former director of the Centre for Socio-Legal Research, dedicated much of her life’s work to bridging the divide between the rights children enjoy according to legislation and the systems charged with ensuring their implementation.



Professors Nicoli Nattrass and Jeremy Seekings, School of Economics and Department of Sociology, Faculty of Commerce and Faculty of Humanities

South Africa has always been a country of insiders and outsiders, and today one of the biggest fault lines in society is between the employed and the unemployed. For Nicoli Nattrass, professor of economics in the Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR) and her husband, Jeremy Seekings, professor of political studies and sociology and director of the CSSR, the burning question remains: how does government policy shape this divide, and who "wins" and who "loses" in South Africa.



Emeritus Professor John Parkington, Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Science

In the mid-1990s John Parkington, emeritus professor in the Department of Archaeology, launched the Living Landscapes project which entrenched the remarkable archaeological work going on in the small Western Cape town of Clanwilliam into the local community. The Living Landscapes project aims to raise awareness of the history of the region and boost the economy and employment levels.



Professor Lynnette Denny, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Faculty of Health Sciences

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women in developing countries, yet it is a largely preventable disease. Lynnette Denny, head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, won the Alan Pifer Award for her work in developing a low-cost medical procedure to screen for cervical cancer.



Dr Farieda Kahn, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, Faculty of Science

In developing countries such as South Africa, access to environmental advice and scientific expertise tends to be a luxury of the rich. The irony of this is that those groups most dependent on, and at risk from, their environments are often the most disadvantaged in a society. Under the leadership of Farieda Kahn, the Environmental Advisory Unit in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science provided environmental advice to poor communities.



Professor Leslie London, Department of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences

South African farmworkers remain one of the country’s most vulnerable groups. One serious risk faced by farmworkers is exposure to pesticides. Leslie London, head of the Division of Public Health Medicine, was awarded the Alan Pifer Award for his research into farmworkers’ exposure to hazardous pesticides – work that resulted in improved health and safety measures for the group.



Professor George Ekama, Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment

South Africa is running out of water. A recent Department of Water and Sanitation report revealed that demand for water has overtaken supply in 60% of the country’s water management systems. George Ekama, professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, has focused his career on finding solutions to South Africa’s wastewater problem.



Emeritus Professor Jonathan Myers, Department of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences

Workplace exposure to substances that are hazardous to human health has ruined the lives of thousands of vulnerable workers. It is in part thanks to the important work done by Jonny Myers, former director of the Occupational and Environmental Health Unit, that organised workers were able to push for better health and safety at work.