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New director named for iThemba Labs

Image: AfricanLibrarian [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Makondelele Victor Tshivhase will take reins of South African accelerator facility in June

South Africa’s National Research Foundation has named the next director of iThemba Labs, a centre for accelerator-based science.

Makondelele Victor Tshivhase will take over as managing director on 1 June, the NRF said, replacing Faïçal Azaïez, who has held the post since 2016.

Tshivhase is a nuclear scientist who previously directed the Centre for Applied Radiation Science and Technology at North-West University.

Research Professional News understands that Azaïez, whose contract was coming to an end in June, has already left the post.

In mid-March, the NRF confirmed to Research Professional News that Vincent Spannenberg, head of financial management and business administration at iThemba Labs, would serve as acting managing director while the appointment of a permanent director was being finalised.

Simon Connell, a physicist at the University of Johannesburg, welcomed the appointment. “We are pleased that the appointment is made from within the South African community: a person trained and working in our environment, who would know the local situation,” he said.

“We are looking forward to supporting him particularly to develop benefits of the laboratory for all South Africa and also its profile and contribution in the international community,” Connell added.

Controversial search

The search for a successor for Azaïez has caused controversy in South Africa’s physics community.

In July 2022, the publication of an advert for a ‘designate’ director of iThemba Labs sparked some physicists to ask whether this was a junior position—something they feared could weaken the new leadership.

Members of the physics community also questioned the relatively short timeline for applications, saying this gave the impression that the recruiters had a preselected candidate in mind.

At the time of that advert, the NRF said the director-designate would take over from Azaïez when he steps down after a “determined, short overlap period”, to “ensure a seamless transition and handover”.

However, in October the NRF readvertised the post, making no mention of the post being ‘designate’ and giving candidates longer to apply.