The annual National Research Foundation (NRF) Awards recognise and celebrate South African research excellence. The awards presented to researchers are in two categories: the ratings linked awards and special recognition awards. The special recognition awards, listed here, provide a platform to honour researchers for career achievements and contributions to knowledge creation and dissemination, as well as capacity development and transformation.

Ratings linked awards.

Lifetime Achievement


Michael Feast
Emeritus Professor Michael Feast (2015)

Department of Astronomy, Faculty of Science

Michael Feast is listed in the international Who's Who, has had a minor planet named after him (Asteroid no. 10985 Feast, discovered from Mt Palomar in 1977), and has represented South African astronomy at the highest international level. As director of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) from 1976 to 1992 he was responsible for the development of SAAO as a major international and national facility.



Lionel Opie
Emeritus Professor Lionel Opie (2014)

Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences

Lionel Opie of the Hatter Institute of Cardiology Research was described as "Africa's best known heart doctor" in the citation for the Order of Mapungubwe (Silver) in 2006 for his "excellent contribution to the knowledge of and achievement in the field of cardiology". He has received many awards that recognise his lifelong commitment to the lives of South Africans who suffer from heart disease.



Tim Noakes
Emeritus Professor Timothy Noakes (2012)

Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences

Timothy Noakes co-founded the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA) and has produced more than 500 scientific publications, been cited more than 15 000 times in scientific literature, has an H-index of 66 and is rated an A1 scientist by the National Research Foundation of South Africa.



Njabulo Ndebele
Emeritus Professor Njabulo Ndebele (2009)

Njabulo Ndebele, author, scholar and former vice-chancellor of UCT, is one of South Africa's literary icons. He received worldwide acclaim for his work, which includes The Cry of Winnie Mandela, the children's book Bonolo & and the Peach Tree, Rediscovery of the Ordinary, and Fools & Other Stories. Ndebele has been active in international and African academic organisations, serving as president of the Association of African Universities and on the Association of Commonwealth Universities.


Research Excellence Award for Early Career / Emerging Researchers


Professor Amir Patel
Professor Amir Patel (2022)

Department of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering & Built Environment

Amir Patel’s research uses robotics to understand the locomotion of animals, as well as techniques such as sensor fusion, optimal control and physical experiments to understand the neuromechanics of manoeuvrability



Dr Wade Petersen 2
Dr Wade Petersen (2022)

Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

Amir Patel’s research uses robotics to understand the locomotion of animals, as well as techniques such as sensor fusion, optimal control and physical experiments to understand the neuromechanics of manoeuvrability



Associate Professor Christopher Ouma
Associate Professor Christopher Ouma (2020)

Department of English Language and Literature

Christopher Ouma’s career path, so far, has been framed by two research projects. The first draws connections between childhood studies and African diasporic studies, gender studies, and memory studies in the context of contemporary African identity formation. The other lies at the intersection of literary history and cultural studies by examining small (literary) magazines in mid-century Africa (1955–1975) and the ways they created conditions for Pan-African imagination.



Mohlopheni Marakalala
Dr Mohlopheni Marakalala (2018)

Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences

Mohlopheni Marakalala’s research focuses on understanding immune factors associated with the pathological progression of tuberculosis (TB) with a view to developing new therapies to augment current treatment protocols. He is currently an associate member of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine at UCT and a visiting scientist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.



Mark Engel
Associate Professor Mark Engel (2016)

Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences

The expertise of Mark Engel lies in epidemiology and evidence-based medicine research methods. His research includes all aspects of rheumatic heart disease, with particular interest in Group A Streptococcus (GAS), the organism involved in disease development. Engel shares this award with Professor Nosipho Moloto of the University of the Witwatersrand.



Ntobeko Ntusi
Professor Ntobeko Ntusi (2015)

Department of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences

Ntobeko Ntusi, of the Division of Cardiology within the Department of Medicine, received this award for his work in better understanding cardiovascular disease, particularly in an African setting. On receiving this award, Ntusi was in the process of completing his clinical training in cardiology and working to establish an independent research programme on the study of cardiomyopathies and myocarditis.


Research Excellence Award for Next Generation Researchers


Jessica Fell
Jessica Fell (2022)

Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering & Built Environment

Jessica Fell is using a novel planning and decision-support tool to strategically identify opportunities to repurpose stormwater ponds into multi-functional blue-green Infrastructure. Her research is interdisciplinary and aids in planning for equitable water-sensitive cities in South Africa.


Nkosiyomzi Haile Matutu
Nkosiyomzi Haile Matutu (2022)

Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities

Nkosiyomzi Haile Matutu’s research explores the topic of intimate partner violence in men’s same-sex relationships. His work asks important questions about ethics, politics, epistemology and theory and what this means for the purpose of research and for those he works with.



Athi Welsh
Athi Welsh (2022)

Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

Athi Welsh’s research is grounded in solving problems important to the pharmaceutical industry and improving the health and well-being of all. His approach offers a lesser-explored route to eradicating cancer and potentially new modes of action for targeting diseases in sub-Saharan Africa and globally.



Dr Neelakshi Mungra
Dr Neelakshi Mungra (2021)

Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences

Neelakshi Mungra’s research looks at engineering affordable cutting-edge antibody technologies that can be used to leverage the development of diagnostic and therapeutic tools for cancer and infectious diseases, especially in developing countries like South Africa.


Public Engagement in Research Award


Professor Rachel Wynberg
Professor Rachel Wynberg (2021)

Department of Environmental and Geographical Science

Rachel Wynberg’s work aims to address the knowledge gaps that exist around the environmental, political and social dynamics of the bio-economy. Through her research and public engagements, Wynberg seeks to deepen critical thinking about these questions and to inspire scholarship that explores possibilities for socially just and environmentally sustainable approaches – with a particular focus on the Global South.



Professor Liesl Zühlke
Professor Liesl Zühlke (2020)

Department of Paediatrics and Child Health

Liesl Zühlke has prioritised raising awareness about neglected cardiovascular diseases of childhood, and disseminating her team’s research findings to the affected public. She has made extra efforts to engage with audiences outside of her research domain through multiple mediums. In addition, Zühlke has extensive experience engaging with policymakers, as well as convening and attending high-level meetings.


Champion of Research Capacity Development and Transformation at South African Higher Education Institutions


Kelly Chibale
Professor Kelly Chibale (2012)

Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

Under the leadership of Kelly Chibale, the Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D) 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.



Alison Lewis
Professor Alison Lewis (2010)

Dean of Faculty of Engineering & Built Environment

Alison Emslie Lewis was honoured for her outstanding work in actively training, fostering and mentoring a number of black and female students in industrial crystallisation research.


Hamilton Naki Award

Formerly known as the Transformation of the Science Cohort Award, this award’s name was changed during 2015 to the Hamilton Naki Award in honour of one of South Africa’s unsung heroes of science.
Professor Rajend Mesthrie
Professor Rajend Mesthrie (2022)

Department of African Studies & Linguistics, Faculty of Humanities

Rajend Mesthrie’s research emphasises the significance of sociolinguistics in understanding heritage, culture and social change in a multilingual society, one in which migration is an important – if not a defining – feature. In 2008, he was appointed the joint Department of Science and Innovation and National Research Foundation South African Research Chair in migration, language and social change.

Professor Sharon Prince
Professor Sharon Prince (2020/21)

Department of Human Biology

Sharon Prince leads a large research group that studies novel therapeutic interventions and drug targets for the treatment of cancer. She has supervised 78 students from honours to postdoctoral level, most of whom were from marginalised groups. Since 2001, she has published more than 72 articles in peer-reviewed publications, including PLoS Genetics and Nature Communications. Her other fellowship awards include the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and the Harry Crossley Senior Clinical fellowships.



Edmund February
Professor Edmund February (2018)

Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science

Edmund February has played a pivotal role in directing the funding of ecological research and in the development of nature reserves. He has supervised and graduated 16 MSc and four PhD students and has garnered numerous awards and fellowships.



Lungisile Ntsebeza
Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza (2017)

Centre for African Studies

Lungisile Ntsebeza’s research focuses on three themes: democratisation in the countryside; land and equity; and social movements in the land sector. In 2008, he was appointed the DST-NRF Research Chair in Land Reform and Democracy in South Africa: State and Civil Society Dynamics, building its Centre for African Studies into a major international focal point for research on Africa.



Maano Ramutsindela
Professor Maano Ramutsindela (2013)

Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, Faculty of Science

Maano Ramutsindela was recognised for his work of attracting more black scientists to academia and helping them become leaders in their respective fields.



Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan
Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan (2012)

Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science

Head of the Department of Biological Science and author of Famous Dinosaurs of Africa, Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan was awarded the Transformation of the Science Cohort Award for her work in palaeobiology.



Bongani Mayosi
Professor Bongani Mayosi (2011)

Dean of Faculty of Health Sciences

Bongani Mayosi won the award for his contribution to science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) through management and related activities. His work focuses on building, managing and leading capacity development in research in the context of the Groote Schuur Hospital.


Science Team


Cardiovascular Genetics Laboratory Team
Cardiovascular Genetics Laboratory (2017)

Groote Schuur Hospital

Ground-breaking scientific discoveries are rarely made by a single individual. Instead, it is often the efforts of a team working collaboratively. This was certainly the case for Professor Bongani Mayosi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and his team when they discovered the gene responsible for Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricle Cardiomyopathy which can cause sudden death in people younger than 35, particularly during athletic activity. The discovery came after 20 years of research and collaboration between scientists in South Africa, led by Prof Mayosi and including cardiologists Prof Ntobeko Ntusi and Dr Ashley Chin, and a team from Italy’s Auxologico Institute in Milan, led by Prof Peter Schwartz and Dr Lia Crotti.