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Wieland Gevers (1937 – )

The Order of Mapungubwe in

Wieland Gevers (1937 – ) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to the field of Higher Education (HE) and medicine.
Profile of Wieland Gevers

Prof Wieland Gevers was born in Piet Retief in the former Transvaal in 1937.

Gevers completed his education in Nigel, on the East Rand, in 1954, where he was awarded a scholarship as top Transvaal matriculant. Like his father, he went on to further his studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT). He completed a medical degree in 1960, and received the gold medal as the most distinguished medical graduate, with a first-class honours degree.

Gevers then completed an internship and practical training at Groote Schuur Hospital. He also offered his services at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, where he assisted the world-renowned heart surgeon, Prof Chris Barnard.

Gevers’ versatile mind saw him changing his career path by applying successfully for a Rhodes scholarship to study biochemistry at Oxford University. After completing four gruelling years in the United Kingdom (UK) until 1966, he received his BA Honours, MA and DPhil degrees in biochemistry, the last under the supervision the Nobel Prize winner, Sir Hans Krebs. From the UK, Gevers went to settle in New York, where he began working as a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University. Once again, luck tapped him on the shoulder: a second Nobel laureate, Dr Fritz Lipmann, pushed Gevers into an intensified world of competitive science research and publishing, which he recalls as the most exciting period of his life. It was during this time that he delivered a major research report during the Annual Symposium at the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratories on the discovery of enzymatic antibiotic synthesis, to an elite audience that included the celebrated molecular biologist, James D Watson.

After a short stint at his alma mater, UCT, in the Department of Chemical Pathology, Gevers was approached by the University of Stellenbosch in 1970 to establish and head a new department of medical biochemistry and a large Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit (now the Department of Science and Technology Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Tuberculosis Research), which he succeeded in doing within the space of a few years. He then set up the South African Biochemical Society (now the South African Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), which he represented for 20 years in the International Union of Biochemistry. He returned to UCT in 1978 to launch another medical biochemistry department and a second MRC Unit, a further large-scale opportunity to attract both science and medical graduates, and to mentor these individuals to their full potential.

In 1992, Gevers was appointed deputy vice-chancellor responsible for academic affairs at UCT, and became senior deputy vice-chancellor in 1996. Wearing several caps at the same time, he decided to concentrate on helping to develop the HE system in South Africa. He established and chaired, for nearly a decade, the first regional consortium of HE institutions in South Africa (now the Cape HE Consortium) and the first consortia library system in the country, Calico.

As a representative of all universities on the South African Qualifications Authority, Gevers strove to promote workable quality-assurance systems and qualification frameworks for tertiary-level institutions. He was one of the two main authors of the New Academic Framework’ report, which finally led to the implementation by the Department of Education of the country’s HE Qualifications Framework in 2007.

After his formal retirement from UCT in 2002, Gevers set up, raised funds for and personally directed the UCT’s large-scale new research facility, the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine. The institute is now formally associated with the African “third component” of the International Centre for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering. He then became president and later executive officer of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), another organisation he had helped to establish, where he played a major role in obtaining statutory recognition and securing funding for ASSAf from the United States National Academies as part of the African Science Academy Development Initiative.

He chaired the panel which wrote the significant 2006 ASSAf Report on A Strategic Approach to Research Publishing in South Africa, and was a senior member of the panel which wrote the 2007 ASSAf Report on HIV/AIDS, TB and Nutrition.

Professor Wieland Gevers has the creativity, outstanding leadership, individual mentorship and strategic vision that have helped many young scientists and other leaders who are still looking up to him.

Gevers is now retired, but still serves the academy and other organisations on a voluntary basis.