University of KwaZulu-Natal vice-chancellor Prof Malegapuru Makgoba has been honoured as one of the country’s “top researchers and scientists” by the South African-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Makgoba was presented with the South African-German Science Award, the first of its kind, for his “outstanding contributions of international standard and impact” to the development of science in and for SA.

The occasion, held in Joburg on Friday evening, celebrated the relationship between the two countries and the 60th anniversary of the chamber.

It was attended by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and German vice-chancellor Philipp Rösler, among others.

In selecting the recipient of the award, criteria including current research projects, postgraduate supervision, publication record, previous awards and teaching experience were considered.

The chamber credited Makgoba with “several ground- breaking discoveries in immunology, with the most notable being his seminal work in four areas in 1988 that led to the greater understanding of the human immune responses”.

In an interview with The Mercury before the event, Makgoba said: “Recognition by your peers is often very important. Recognition of seminal work that you have done is extremely important.

“Recognition by your own country is also a very important endorsement. I think the SA-German Chamber of Commerce Award encompasses all three.”

Makgoba has been invited to spend six days in Germany early next year, visiting immunologists and research facilities there.

The award comes as the $40 million (R346m) KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-Rith) opens its doors today, and on the heels of UKZN, for the first time cracking the top 400 of the Times Higher Education university world rankings last week. The K-Rith research facility was born out of a partnership between UKZN and the US-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute and had been in the making for 13 years.

Makgoba said the uniqueness of K-Rith was that it placed the best facility in the world at the epicentre of where the problem was. Of the rankings, Makgoba said it had been his “personal” mission to make the cut. “All that we have been striving for is|beginning to come together in the most positive way. This is independent global recognition.

“I was raised to recognise the importance of competition. There’s nothing I relish more”.

He said that he saw the process as a learning curve, and one which focused the university and its staff on its core mandate.