School of Applied Human Sciences Celebrates its Women Leaders

Top Left-Right: Professor Lauren Dyll, Professor Eliza Govender & Dr Phindile L Mayaba. Bottom Left-Right: Ms Denise O’Reilly, Dr Ruwayda Petrus, & Dr Sibonsile Zibane.
Top Left-Right: Professor Lauren Dyll, Professor Eliza Govender & Dr Phindile L Mayaba. Bottom Left-Right: Ms Denise O’Reilly, Dr Ruwayda Petrus, & Dr Sibonsile Zibane.

by Professor Matshepo Matoane, Dean of the School of Applied Human Sciences

August is branded the month for celebrating women. I believe every day should be a day for celebrating humanity. This is critical in an era that is characterised by constant change and uncertainty. Our lack of confidence in “tomorrow” has been amplified by the Corona Virus which has made us value what we used to take for granted – the simple act of breathing. This is all the more reason why we should celebrate humanity on a daily basis. Be that as it may, during the month of August we pay special homage to women. As the Dean of the School of Applied Human Sciences, I recognise the talent that all women have. Women are famous for multi-tasking…this will become evident as we share the biographies of some of the women in our School. Apart from being daughters, they are also siblings, wives, mothers, friends, leaders, mentors, chefs, nurturers, housekeepers, drivers (literally and metaphorically) … the list is endless. I would like to acknowledge each and every woman who is part of the School of Applied Human Sciences for their exceptional contribution to the School. Thank you for ensuring that our School is counted amongst those that attract the most students to their programmes and for contributing to moulding their futures. Thank you for your support and encouragement for fellow staff members and students; and for ensuring that the School continues to operate the best way it can. Thank you for absorbing the strain resulting from the impact of COVID-19 and for persevering, amidst many challenges. To the men in our School, I am very much aware of your presence. I appreciate your joining me in a spirit of Ubuntu to celebrate the women in our midst. You also deserve accolades, but this month, let us take a moment to salute our women colleagues. 

Having acknowledged all the women in our School, I would like to pay homage to our women leaders. Let us all remember that leadership is not only about occupying a position; it is reflected in how we manage ourselves and our lives; in that sense everyone can be a leader (albeit a silent one).

In line with the saying: “we rise by lifting others” (Robert Ingersoll), let me introduce you to six of our women leaders in the School:

Professor Lauren Dyll

Lauren Dyll is an NRF-rated researcher, an Associate Professor in the Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS) and the Academic Leader of Community Engagement in the School of Applied Human Sciences. In her leadership portfolio, she works alongside other colleagues in the College of Humanities to map the way for formal community engagement strategies and guidelines. She heads a School committee of passionate social workers, communication strategists, psychologists and criminologists who have provided immense support to firstly, the UKZN community and secondly external stakeholders and beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dyll is passionate about community engagement and this comes through in her attitude and actions.

Dyll enjoys spending time with her family – five sisters (one of whom is an identical twin) and a brother, there is always something to do. Her most rewarding time is spent with her two sons, who are almost three and five years old. Reading them stories, building Lego and puzzles, and playing make believe with them fulfils her the most. Luckily for her, ‘Dad’ is a fantastic home chef, which frees up time to be with the boys, and at the end of the day the family enjoys a delicious home cooked meal together. When time allows, she enjoys walking around the leafy suburb of Morningside and is getting back into yoga. She also always looks forward to escaping into a good film or television series.

Dyll’s research interests centre on participatory communication approaches and critical indigenous qualitative methodologies, particularly in cultural heritage and tourism in terms of the relationship between social change and identity. She has been a key contributor to Keyan Tomaselli’s long-standing Rethinking Indigeneity NRF-project that focuses on strategies to facilitate the participatory and transformative aspects of the research (and/or development) encounter. Most of her fieldwork has been conducted in the Kalahari area, and more recently in Mpumalanga where she is project leader for the South African National Heritage Council (NHC)-funded project, Mashishing Marking Memories. Dyll was recently appointed co-editor of Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies (Taylor and Francis) and serves on the editorial boards of The Journal of Autoethnography (University of California Press) and Communication, Technology and Development Journal (published by the UNESCO Chair at University Bordeaux Montaigne for Emerging Practices in Technology and Communication for Development). She is a member of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) Clearinghouse. Her volunteer community engagement is primarily as research portfolio leader and finance officer for ARROWSA: Art, Culture and Heritage for Peace.

Dyll’s message of encouragement to aspiring (women) leaders is borrowed from Kavita N. Ramdas (director of the Open Society Foundations’ Women's Rights Program), ‘We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational, and so disciplined they can be free.’

Professor Lauren Dyll

Professor Eliza Govender

Eliza Govender is an NRF-rated researcher, an Associate Professor in the CCMS and the Academic Leader of the Centre.

‘I balance my academic life with creativity and quiet time with my bible. I like spending time doing very amateur paintings, diamond dot art, redecorating home spaces and baking. I spend hours in the kitchen on weekends, making a mess with my three children. Lockdown has often involved baking contests on the weekends with my two-year-old, six-year-old and nine-year-old. I love gardening, walking and hiking and hope to be hiking the Tugela Falls soon,’ said Govender.

Govender is an internationally recognised researcher in the field of health communication from a communication for social change perspective. She is passionate about communicating health effectively and addressing the disciplinary divide between communication and public health. Her specific research interests centre on the utilisation of culturally-centred participatory methodologies to advance the promotion of HIV combination prevention; and the adoption of human-centred design for biomedical innovations. In Communicating COVID-19 Interdisciplinary Perspectives currently in print with Palgrave MacMillian, Govender and co-editors Dr Monique Lewis from Griffith University and Dr Kate Holland from the University of Canberra, explore public health responses from different countries. The chapters examine community-driven approaches, governments and political leaders’ communication strategies, public health advocacy, and pandemic inequalities.


In her message to encourage those aspiring to become (women) leaders, Govender says: ‘Developing an academic career during your 30 and 40s can be overwhelming, especially if you have little children, but it’s important to never give up on your dreams. I found that my personal foundation in Christ has enabled me to manage the ongoing demands of work and family. Through this I have been able to set “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) career and family goals. I encourage all aspiring leaders to set short, medium and long-term goals, write down your vision and keep it in sight daily, and ensure that your goals are SMART.’

Professor Eliza Govender

Ms Denise O’Reilly

Denise O’Reilly is the School Operations Manager for the School of Applied Human Sciences. She specialises in systems, processes, procedures and communication and hopes to enhance the School’s operations by ensuring that it has a concrete set of standard operating procedures across the professional and academic spheres.  She believes that, ‘it is critical to ensure that all staff are aware of their role and where they fit in the “big picture”, and that they know how important they are as part of the bigger team.  It is also important to note that we do not work in silos.  I therefore envisage my role as that of strengthening operational efficiencies, facilitating staff capacity development and ensuring effective communication and regular engagement’.

‘My interests include cooking, baking and experimenting with new recipes – my kids can attest to this.  My kids and I are always looking for something new to try out.  It is also a way for me to bond with them. We spend most of our time together in the kitchen and I use this to get to know them better - their likes and dislikes – and we sing and dance together.  Family time is very important to me.  I also enjoy engaging with others, especially children because I find that they are honest and open minded and their opinions are unfiltered.  We learn so much more about ourselves and our surroundings if we just listen, without prejudice, to what children and others have to say.  I also enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with others because I feel that we should always learn from others and assist one another wherever we can,’ she said.

Denis’s message of encouragement to aspiring (women) leaders is: ‘Do not become complacent and despondent.  Always reassess and review and always ask what more can be done and how things can be done more efficiently.’

Ms Denise O’Reilly

Dr Ruwayda Petrus

Ruwayda Petrus is a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Psychology and the Academic Leader of Teaching and Learning (T&L) in the School of Applied Human Sciences. One aspect of her portfolio is overseeing the quality assurance practices in the School, particularly in relation to its various programmes. She chairs the School T&L Committee and facilitates teaching related staff development and training. Petrus works closely with the School Operations Manager to provide academic monitoring and support for students in the School and ensures that University Teaching and Learning policies are communicated and implemented across the different disciplines in a standard way. The Schools’ T&L Office, in collaboration with the Director of T&L for the College, is currently working on a T&L series on key Teaching and Learning Issues and Challenges.

Petrus has four siblings and grew up in Namibia. She completed her PhD in 2017 and is currently a postdoc fellow with the DRILL programme as part of the mental health track. Her PhD assessed the wellbeing of nurses in the context of the re-engineered primary health care and national health insurance systems.

Petrus has been involved in various research projects at UKZN’s Centre for Rural Health and is currently a co-Principal Investigator on two projects; Mental Health and Gender Initiative and Learning health systems: fostering participatory learning and action to equip rural health workers as change agents for maternal and newborn care. She penned two opinion pieces as part of her DRILL fellowship titled Caring For The Caregiver During Covid-19 ( and Supporting Healthcare Workers during Covid-19 ( She also hosted a webinar for the African Federation of Emergency Nursing on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Petrus is actively involved in community engagement for the School and with colleagues from Psychology and the Centre for Rural Health, developed a series of videos related to mental health and COVID-19 which can be found on the UKZN YouTube channel

Regarding her foray into leadership and her message to aspiring (women) leaders, Petrus has this to say: ‘I did not set out to be a leader but rather to be a team player and to do my best to learn as much as I could in order to help the team achieve success. Listen to others, learn from others, believe in yourself, be yourself and don’t be afraid to lean on others.’

Dr Ruwayda Petrus

Dr Sibonsile Zibane

Sibonsile Zibane, passionately known as KaZibane, and to others Bonnie, is a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Social Work, for which she is also the Academic Leader.  Her passion for advancing Afrocentric thought and her more than ten years of practice in community-based work in 11 African countries inspired her to be one of the founders of the Ma’at Institute that aims to advance Afrocentric movements and research and African-centered psychosocial interventions in the time of COVID-19.

KaZibane is married to Mr Ncumisa Xaba and is the mother of two sons.  With proud KwaMashu roots, she is currently engrossed in rural experiences in her new rural home at Umzimkhulu.  The conversations, scenery, hills, mountains, rivers, crops, and the livestock cradle and ignite her.  They also speak to her spirituality and belief system.

KaZibane is leading special interventions, and research projects and is a partner in national and international projects including Mapping Social Work in Higher Education during COVID-19 (UKZN, University of Complutense, Madrid, & National Autonomous University of Mexico); University of Eswatini/UKZN Social Work Practice Education Project; Associate Editor: The Southern African Journal of Social Work & Social Development;  NIHSS Project Intellectualisation of IsiZulu in four selected Universities in KZN (UKZN, MUT, DUT & UNIZUL), HWSETA COVID-19 Psychosocial Support Internship Project; and an NRF Thuthuka project: Africanisation of Social Work Education. 

She has been acknowledged at UKZN, nationally, and internationally for her contributions to the Humanities. Key awards include: 2020 Dean of the School of Applied Human Sciences’ COVID-19 Special Award; 2019 Best Overall Presentation Award for the presentation titled, ‘Games Gone Wrong’: Boys, School Games and the Construction of Violent Masculinities’ in Malaysia; 2018 Staff Excellence Award for The Best Bilingual, Transformed and Africanised Curriculum; and 2010 Educator of the Year Award (Up and Coming Category): Association of South African Schools of Social Work Education Institutions. 

While KaZibane’s life journey encountered challenges and losses, her values of respect and dignity for every person, interdependence, service to others, and the spirit of harmony and order, made her more resilient and determined to succeed.  

KaZibane believes that ‘development is multidirectional.  To see the changes that we are yearning for, we need to be available to serve ourselves and to serve others.  For African women, in particular, leadership is a platform to rewrite our history, cast away all forms of oppression, and display the leadership qualities that we want to see influence our institutional culture.’

Dr Sibonsile Zibane

Let us continue to lift one another as we rise!

News Timeline

UKZN Hosts Global Irish Diaspora Congress

UKZN’s College of Humanities hosted the 2nd Global Irish Diaspora Congress, bringing together scholars from countries all over the world, including Argentina, Britain, China, Ireland, South Africa, the United States of

Read More

Social Work Day Celebrated at UKZN

The Social Work discipline within the School of Applied Human Sciences hosted a series of events at the Denis Shepstone Building on the Howard College campus to mark World Social

Read More