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Professor George Ekama

The Order of Mapungubwe in

Professor George Ekama Awarded for:
His excellent research that has provided innovative solutions to enhancing and improving wastewater treatment. His important work is helping the country to find solutions to water scarcity.

Profile of Professor George Ekama

Professor George Ekama is a civil engineer specialising in the field of wastewater treatment. He lives by a simple research credo: locally inspired, globally relevant. In 2006, he received a National Research Foundation (NRF) A1-rating in recognition of his research in wastewater treatment systems and has retained an A-rating since.

Ekama is widely published with more than 150 papers on wastewater treatment in top international journals. He is one of only seven South Africans and one of only four South African academics to be listed on, an international website of the most cited academics in the world. His work on wastewater treatment began in the 1970s and has mushroomed over the past 30 years.

His work got its impetus from the growth of algal blooms in South Africa’s surface water, like the Hartbeespoort Dam, which prompted a national research drive into biological nitrogen and phosphorus removal from municipal wastewater, supported by the then Water Research Commission. Today, there are many biological nitrogen and phosphorus removal wastewater treatment plants not only in South Africa, but also all over the world.

Ekama has remained at the forefront of developments in wastewater treatment, primarily through a strong research group. He has always been a team player, working with postgraduate students and remaining focused on the research group’s strengths. In the 25 years under NRF review, he has supervised 43 MSc and 24 PhD students.

Ekama obtained his BSc degree, a postgraduate diploma and a PhD degree in engineering, all from the University of Cape Town (UCT). From 1978, he worked as a research officer at UCT and has been Professor of Water Quality Engineering at UCT since 1991. Focusing on municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, Ekama’s work has covered a broad range of areas, from biological nitrogen and phosphorus removal, activated sludge system modelling, biological sulphate reduction, anaerobic digestion, plant wide modelling of whole wastewater treatment plants and investigating alternatives to desalination for augmenting urban water supply, such as seawater toilet flushing and source separation of urine.

With his postgraduate students, he has twice won the Water Institute of Southern Africa’s (WISA) Umgeni Award for most significant paper on water as well as the WISA Piet Vosloo Memorial prize for the development of mathematical models for wastewater treatment plant design and operation. He is a senior fellow of WISA and a fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, UCT and the South African Academy of Engineers.

Ekama was a major contributor to the International Water Association (IWA) book Biological Wastewater Treatment: Principles, Modelling and Design. In three years, the publication has become IWA Publishing’s second best seller and has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabic. It also forms the basis of an internet-based postgraduate course on wastewater treatment administered by the Unesco-IHE Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands for students in developing countries who do not have access to high quality Master’s Degree programmes in wastewater treatment.

He has made numerous plenary conference contributions and his work has attracted over 3 000 citations. In a developing country such as South Africa, good surface-water quality is paramount, and Ekama’s research has made a significant contribution – not only nationally but also internationally.