It is with great sadness that the Stellenbosch University community has learned of the sudden passing earlier this week of Dr Rehana Malgas-Enus, a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science. She was in Germany where she was an Eleanor Trefftz Fellow at the Dresden University of Technology.
In a tribute, Prof Peter Mallon, head of the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, said since Rehana joined the Department in 2013, she has made a significant impact in all areas of service to Stellenbosch University and the broader chemistry community. She was an outstanding and passionate teacher and was recently recognised as such by being nominated by the best first year student in the Faculty of Science in 2021 as the lecturer who contributed most to their academic achievement.
Rehana established and led the nanotechnology research group in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science and made a significant contribution to both postgraduate student training and research publication outputs.
Rehana will be remembered for her passion and efforts in promoting interest in chemistry especially with less privileged learners. She established and has driven the Stellenbosch University Chemistry Outreach Initiatives (SUNCOI) in which many thousands of learners and teachers have participated. Since its establishment in 2013, this programme has grown nationally and the most recent event took place at Nelson Mandela University earlier this month.
Prof Mallon said they are truly thankful for Rehana’s many contributions: “With Rehana’s passing, we have lost a colleague whose passion, commitment and drive has impacted many people. In the time she was with us she achieved so much, often against the odds, and we lament the fact that with her passing we have lost someone who no doubt would have continued to make a major impact and contribution”.
Prof Louise Warnich, Dean of the Faculty of Science, said Rehana’s passion and commitment inspired everyone who came into contact with her: “She had a passion for students, and a passion to create opportunities for less privileged learners. Nothing was too much for her, and all her projects and initiatives were planned to the finest detail. She leaves a lasting legacy in all the lives she touched.”
Prof Jacqueline du Toit, on behalf of the fellows of the Future Professors Programme, also expressed their deepest sympathy: “Rehana was a wonderful teacher, a committed scholar and an inspiring human being.”
In a tribute to his former student and colleague for over twenty years, Prof Selwyn Mapolie from the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, said he first encountered Rehana in his second-year chemistry class at the University of the Western Cape: “She was one of the strongest role models I have ever encountered for those students who came from single parent households or impoverished backgrounds. On the whole she was a true champion for the marginalised.”
He recounted how she recently took a struggling PhD-student from Atlantis into her home for eight weeks to enable him to do the final write-up for his PhD. He is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Johannesburg. A few years ago, one of her postgraduate students was diagnosed with cancer shortly before submitting his thesis. After his death, she made sure the thesis was examined and for the degree to be awarded posthumously. She also fought hard to enable a technical officer in the department to complete an MSc at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology – he is now submitting a proposal for his PhD studies at SU.
He is also proud of how his former PhD student has established her own research group and niche research area: “She has finally established herself to such an extent in the field of nanotechnology for her research career to finally take off. Her passing is going to leave a huge gap in our department,” he said.
Dr Malgas-Enus served on the editorial board of Springer Nature Applied Sciences, and was a member of the executive of the Catalysis Society of South Africa (CATSA) and Western Cape Chapter of the South African Chemical Institute (SACI). She was also the current treasurer of the Royal Society of South Africa. In 2021, she was selected to participate in the Department of Higher Education and Training’s Future Professors Programme. For her ongoing outreach work, she was awarded the NRF Excellence in Science Engagement Award in 2018.
Mr Jabu Lukhele, principal technical officer in the department and co-manager of the SUNCOI initiative, said she was his friend, mentor, supervisor and colleague: “We have taken chemistry to places in South Africa where no one was willing to go or could imagine going. She is one of the most driven people I’ve ever met. I’ve learned so much from her. I promise to make her proud of me one day.”
Messages of condolences were also received from Prof Sibusiso Moyo, Vice-Rector: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies at SU, Prof Jonathan Jansen, project leader of the Futures Professors Programme and distinguished professor at SU, and Mr Ronald Engelbrecht. FET Curriculum Coordinator for the Metro South Education District in the Western Cape Education Department.