This Women’s Month the Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) celebrates the recent announcement of Post-Doctoral Fellow Fezile Khumalo’s accolade. She received one of the Junior Chamber International (JCI) South Africa and Brand South Africa Top Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) Awards at a ceremony held in Durban in late July.
According to JCI South Africa president, Nozipho Dali, the awards are: “An opportunity to recognize young active citizens doing extraordinary things in all spheres of life… As we recognize these individuals we are not perpetuating a misconception that they have arrived, rather placing a higher burden upon them to do more, create more, and to care more… to move South Africa forward.”
The JCI functions in over 120 countries across the globe. Khumalo explains that there was a nationwide call with a vigorous sifting process which included both a panel of judges as well as the public. Referring to the accolade she says, “Sometimes you do things not because there’s something you’re going to receive in return. You don’t think someone is watching. So when someone recognises the effort you’ve put in and they want to celebrate you – well, I was chuffed.”
Khumalo’s is a joint appointment between the University of Cape Town, Faculty of Health Science, Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences (IBMS) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) NextGen Health Cluster. Her work, which she conducts at the IDM, contributes to the development of new diagnostic platforms for TB detection. TB is one of the leading causes of death in Africa. These platforms include novel, label-free detection technologies such as SERS which can change the way diseases are diagnosed. This is done through simplified and accurate tests that have a shorter turnaround time.
“We are always talking about translational research but we rarely translate anything. We don’t ask how we can commercialise research – how we can take it further. As a scientist in South Africa do I understand what regular communities need? How do I make my research talk to what is needed for public use?” Khumalo says these were just some of the questions unearthed by the TOYP process.
She is an active citizen who remains passionate about serving her community. And it was her JCI Cape Town community that nominated her for the prize. Role modelling is important to Khumalo – especially as someone who had little access to black, female role models from a similar background, who had also navigated the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) career landscape before her.
For Khumalo being selected as one of the TOYP was very unexpected: “It’s very humbling to recognise the calibre of people you’ve been nominated with. And to also recognise that all these people are making a difference. And that we all contribute differently. That’s what active citizenship is about. Find what you’re good at and do your bit – play your part.”