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New manager takes over reins at SAEON's national office

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Dr Theo Jongwana's selfie to commemorate his first day at the SAEON national office


Dr Jongwana is a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society. Membership into Golden Key is by invitation only to undergraduate and graduate students recognised to be among the top 15% of their class, either by overall grade performance or by an alternative standard approved by Golden Key's International Leadership Council.


Dr Jongwana's induction programme included orientation visits to the six SAEON nodes

Dr Theo Jongwana, who joined SAEON on 1 July 2015, is well suited for his new role as manager of SAEON's national office.

Not only does he have a qualification in financial and management skills under his belt, but he is also a trained natural scientist with more than twelve years' experience in research and development, applied chemistry, and quality and laboratory management.

Dr Jongwana was born and raised in Peddie in the Eastern Cape. He completed his national senior certificate at Nzululwazi High School in Alice. After completing a BSc at the University of the Western Cape majoring in Physics and Chemistry and a BSc Honours in Chemistry at the same university, he registered for a master's degree in Chemistry sponsored by Mintek. He graduated in 1999 with a thesis titled Photocatalysis of cyanide complexes with metal oxides under supervision of Prof. Andrew M. Crouch.

After a stint at Mintek as a scientist in their Hydrometallurgy division, he joined multinational mining, metals and petroleum company BHP Billiton as senior scientist on a two-year contract. When the contract ended, he was employed by Eskom as an Engineer Professional Chemist in their Research, Testing and Development Division, where he spent the next ten years fulfilling a wide variety of duties, ranging from research projects in water chemistry and identifying possible future areas of research to conducting workshops and liaising with key customers.

In 2014, while working at Eskom, he completed a PhD in Chemistry at the University of the Witwatersrand with a thesis titled, Speciation and monitoring of mercury species in air from coal fired power stations under supervision of Prof. Andrew M. Crouch.

Publications and affiliations

"Chapters from the thesis were published and cited in journals such as Fuel, Electrochimica Acta and SA Journal of Science," says Dr Jongwana, "and presentations and posters of this work were featured at conferences in South Africa and beyond our borders, in countries such as Italy, Botswana and Swaziland."

He is a member of the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNAPS); South African Mercury Assessment (SAMA) and Golden Key International Honour Society.

Joining SAEON

Dr Jongwana says what attracted him to the position at SAEON was the long-term monitoring aspect of the research and the fact that the research is intended to inform decision-making for a knowledge society and improved quality of life. "My first impressions of the organisation have been very favourable as the professional and strategic way in which the staff members go about their business has been evident right from the start," he remarks.

He regards SAEON's research infrastructure, data management, science engagement, knowledge generation, internationalisation and mobility as its greatest strengths. Current challenges that he is intent on addressing include funding for operations and closer involvement of the remote nodes.

World-class service

Dr Jongwana's position at SAEON links directly into the ‘world-class service' core value of the National Research Foundation, of which SAEON is an entity. Under his leadership, SAEON's national office delivers a suite of strategic and functional business support services to both the operating units and the corporate in accordance with a shared services model. This model serves as a framework for reducing administrative support costs and adding value to the core activities of the organisation.

The suite of strategic and functional business support services include human resource management, finance, registry, procurement, research administration, communication and stakeholder relations, compliance enforcement and monitoring, events coordination and management, contract management and corporate reporting. The SAEON shared services unit serves the six SAEON nodes from its base at the national office in Pretoria.

"SAEON's shared services unit is a hive of activity, constantly interacting with the nodes, suppliers, debtors and funders, banks and other stakeholder institutions," says Dr Jongwana with a smile, adding that studying for the Fundamental Management Diploma at Unisa's Graduate School of Business leadership to develop his financial and management skills is now paying dividends.

New interventions he would like to introduce include a workflow management system to streamline operations and a technical buyer to assist the nodes in their procurement.

When he's not at work, he likes to keep abreast of the latest news by reading print and online newspapers, surfing the Internet and being active on social media such as Twitter. "I also enjoy spending time with my family (wife, daughter and son) and playing soccer," he says.

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