#04 2023

SAEON’s 21st anniversary celebration: A resounding success and vision for the future

By Dr Mary-Jane Bopape, Managing Director, NRF-SAEON

The 21st anniversary celebration of SAEON marked a resounding success, and we extend our heartfelt appreciation to the collaborators, partners, hosts of SAEON nodes and honorary research associates who joined us in celebrating this momentous occasion. Some of them travelled great distances at their own expense to be part of this memorable event. The turnout was exceptional, with over 180 attendees gathering at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. 

Featuring representation from all the National Research Foundation (NRF) national facilities and business units, this  celebration epitomised the unity of the oneNRF brand. The CEO of the NRF, Prof. Fulufhelo Nelwamondo, delivered an inspiring keynote address, while Dr Gillian Arendse of iThemba LABS skilfully served as the programme director. Dr Angus Paterson, Acting Deputy CEO of the NRF, warmly welcomed our esteemed guests, sharing his personal journey with SAEON, which began with limited resources and ambitious dreams.

The turnout was exceptional, with over 180 attendees gathering at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town to join SAEON in celebrating this momentous occasion

A dedicated team of volunteers from the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (NRF-SAASTA), under the guidance of MD Dr Mamoeletsi Mosia, facilitated photography and videography, and ensured media coverage by Cape Town TV. The corporate communications team played a pivotal role in disseminating information about the event, ensuring its success. Dr Gugu Moche, Acting Deputy CEO of the NRF’s Research Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA), expressed heartfelt gratitude in a vote of thanks to all who graced the event with their presence.

The event witnessed the presence of esteemed representatives from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE). Additionally, consulates from China and the United States, Inkosi Nxumalo of the Mabasa Traditional Council, school learners engaged with SAEON’s science engagement programme and representatives of the Graduate Student Network were in attendance. This diverse turnout underscored the significant support that SAEON enjoys from various organisations, both nationally and internationally.

One noteworthy achievement from the organising committee was the creation of a comprehensive SAEON timeline. With leadership from science engagement and communications officer Caitlin Ransom, the team meticulously combed through historical data, consulting old e-newsletters and various stakeholders to document the evolution of SAEON’s nodes, research infrastructures and landscapes. This valuable resource is accessible on the landing page of the SAEON website, with specific timelines available for each node and research infrastructure. As SAEON continues its journey, the timeline will serve as a foundation for further growth and development. The organisation team, led by Kogie Govender, SAEON’s science engagement coordinator, and supported by Eva Nedzamba, the longest standing employee of NRF-SAEON, demonstrated exemplary leadership in this endeavour.

In an unusual departure from their daily duties, Dr Mary-Jane Bopape and NRF CEO Professor Fulufhelo Nelwamondo do the honours

Science meeting 

Preceding the main anniversary event on September 7, a science meeting took place from September 4 to 6, along with an administrators’ forum on September 6. These ancillary events, hosted by the uLwazi and Fynbos nodes under the leadership of their respective node managers, Leo Chiloane and Dr Ryan Blanchard, provided a unique opportunity for SAEON staff, based in eight different offices across six of South Africa’s nine provinces, to meet in person and exchange ideas. Various sessions were held to foster cross-nodal collaboration, including discussions on the utilisation of RStudio, led by Dr Paul Gordijn, with the aim of facilitating knowledge sharing among nodes.

A notable session during these events focused on engaged research, coordinated by Michael Ellis, the Communications Manager at SAASTA. Participants emphasised the importance of engaging local communities in environmental management, co-designing research with citizens, leveraging citizen science tools for natural resource monitoring and collaborating on research projects with communities. These discussions are poised to expand further under the leadership of Sue Van Rensburg, coordinator of SAEON’s Grasslands Node, as we contemplate the implementation of the NRF Impact Framework.

SAEON’s involvement as one of the My Climate Risk regional hubs, with Nicole du Plessis and Dr Jennifer Veitch from the Egagasini Node as focal points, demonstrates our commitment to sharing knowledge and resources in support of activities aligned with My Climate Risk, including addressing the needs of decision-makers. The engagement and collaboration showcased by different SAEON nodes during the science meeting exemplify an organisation dedicated to working together and supporting each other, ultimately reinforcing the oneNRF brand.

The remarkable turnout at the anniversary celebrations affirms that SAEON enjoys strong support beyond the NRF, and we eagerly anticipate continuing to work with our partners while strengthening our engagements. As we embark on the next 21 years, SAEON remains dedicated to making a lasting impact and driving innovation in the fields of earth and environmental sciences.