Two commemorative publications to mark 20 years of excellence in science as the official science academy in South Africa will be released by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) this week.
In Pursuit of Excellence: ASSAf 1996 – 2016 documents the history of ASSAf and Legends of South African Science profiles 53 prominent South African scientists who have excelled in their fields.
In Pursuit of Excellence recounts the 20 years of ASSAf’s existence since the early 1990s when trailblazers in academia gave of their time and energy to realise a dream of establishing a fully representative, national academy of science to guide the democratic South Africa into a promising new era.
From drafting a constitution for the Academy; putting in place the mechanisms, statutes and machinery needed to run a working national academy of science, ASSAf’s remarkable journey testifies to perceptive vision to ensure a legacy of knowledge.
Since its inception, ASSAf has grown from a small, emergent organisation to a well-established academy. It has pursued its mandate of providing evidence-based science advice in support of policy development on issues of national significance to government and beyond.
The book describes the early beginnings to define and form a unique crucible, through to creating a unitary academy of sciences, encompassing all science disciplines.
The dual mandate of the Academy is to promote and inspire outstanding achievements in all fields of scientific enquiry and to grant recognition for excellence; and second to undertake studies on matters of public interest with a view to providing evidence-based scientific advice to government and other stakeholders.
Legends of South African Science introduces Academy Members who rank among the top achievers in the country.
Legends profiles ASSAf Members who have received some of South Africa’s top awards, viz. the ASSAf Science-for-Society Gold Medal, National Orders of Mapungubwe and Baobab bestowed by the President, or the Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship.
Among the Members featured in the book are a biologist and Nobel Laureate who helped decode DNA; an epidemiologist recognised for groundbreaking research on HIV prevention in women; a social scientist who nudged and cajoled into place the campaign to understand and contain HIV/AIDS in South Africa; a leading mathematics education proponent; a human geneticist whose work helped to clarify the origins of indigenous groups in Africa; one of the world’s leading theorists in cosmology; and a leading immunologist and physician who pioneered higher education transformation in South Africa, in sometimes controversial ways.