Inaugural Lecture: Professor William Froneman

26 October 2011

Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Deans, Heads of Department, colleagues, students, family and friends of Prof Froneman, ladies and gentlemen - molweni, good evening, welcome.

The University Calendar lists all the current full professors of Rhodes University. One of the new entries recorded is Prof. William Froneman.

This evening, as is our tradition, we have the presentation of the Inaugural Lecture that follows the University conferring the status of full professor on an academic.

It is an evening on which, as academic peers, colleagues, students, family, friends, and the public we celebrate the intellectual and scholarly achievements of one of our professors.

In the past five years there have been many amusing and endearing inaugural titles promising enlightening, informative and sometimes more serious lectures. Tonight’s is among the fascinatingly serious ones, being titled Biological oceanography at the Prince Edward Islands: a review of achievements, and is delivered by Professor Froneman of the Department of Zoology & Entomology.

William Froneman was born in the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital in Johannesburg in 1967. The second of three children, he spent many blissful hours during his early childhood and primary school years playing in rivers, dams and fields. From early on he found these environments to be fascinating sources for his collection of a variety of plants, insects and animals.

William matriculated from Pretoria Boys High School in 1985 with a less than impressive academic record which yielded a total of 26 admission points, well below the minimum of 29 points needed in 2011 to register for a Bachelor of Science at Rhodes University.

The strong emphasis he placed on sports during his high school career apparently accounted for an E for Science and a D for Biology (both taken on Higher Grade) despite a natural predisposition to the sciences which he had shown since early childhood.

Participating in a variety of sporting codes, including swimming, water polo, rugby and cricket, William was an active teenager whose achievement in sports took precedence over academics. 

Following his matriculation, William completed his national service during the years 1986 to 1987 in the air force where he attained the rank of corporal.

His love of the natural sciences prompted a return to his studies and he says his decision to attend Rhodes University was largely based on the fact that, other than Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (then known as the University of Port Elizabeth), it was the only tertiary institution that was willing to accept him as a Bachelor of Science undergraduate student majoring in Zoology and Botany.

Despite his erstwhile preference for the sporting arena, William went on to achieve a distinction in Zoology while under tutelage at Rhodes and continued his studies in the science through Honours to graduate with his PhD in Zoology in 1996.

While his PhD was underway, he was employed as the junior research officer of the Southern Ocean Group and became the recipient of the Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award for a junior member of staff in 1999.

William became a senior lecturer in 2002, promoted to the position of Associate Professor in 2005 and full Professor in 2009. He became a Director of the Southern Ocean Group in 2008, a role he continues to fulfil today.

During his time at Rhodes, William has been the recipient of the Meiring Naude Gold Medal of the Royal Society of South Africa in 2001, and was elected a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa in 2008.

He attained a C1 rating with the National Research Foundation (NRF) in 2000 and again in 2006, he is currently rated B3.

More recently, in 2010, he was the recipient of the prestigious Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award for a senior staff member.

William’s research has largely focused on the plankton food web dynamics of the Southern Ocean and southern African estuaries. Having participated in 11 research cruises to the Southern Ocean, he has acted as chief scientist for ship based activities on three occasions and served as group leader for the biological oceanography component of the research cruise on two occasions.

His research has realised six book chapters and 118 scientific publications in both local and international peer-reviewed scientific journals. A further six manuscripts are currently in press. The majority of these publications have been published in international scientific journals.

Additionally, his research has contributed to a number of data reports and he has presented his findings at both international and local conferences at which he has presented or co-authored some 63 oral and 38 poster presentations.

William has acted as a reviewer for no less than 32 mainstream scientific journals and in the evaluation of six international research programmes.

In 2007 he chaired the session on biogeochemical processes at the Biodiversity-Climate interactions: adaptation, mitigation and human livelihoods workshop hosted by the Royal Society and the Global Environmental Change Committee, Global Biodiversity Sub-Committee held in London.

More recently, in April this year, he served on the organising committee for the recent South African Marine Science Symposium and the Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Association conference that was held in Grahamstown.

In addition, he has refereed research proposals submitted to the NRF, the Water Research Commission, and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

He was also a specialist scientist at workshops on the eutrophication of inland waters and food webs of temporarily open/closed estuaries convened by the WRC.

He participated in the specialist workshop on A World wildlife Fund managed project on the establishment of a marine protected area in the waters surrounding the Prince Edward Islands. And he served as specialist at the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme: Southern Boundary workshop, hosted by Marine Coastal Management.

William is currently the convenor of the NRF ratings committee for the Animal and Veterinary Sciences. He has also served or continues to serve as a member on various committees such as:

  • the NRF’s annual Humboldt/South African Research awards;
  • the NRF advisory panel for the Conservation and Management of Ecosystem and Biodiversity focus area, now SeaChange;
  • the advisory panel for the establishment of a marine reserve around the Prince Edward Islands; and
  • the Scientific Committee for Oceanographic Research, South Africa.

He has been elected chairperson of the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanographic Research and the Programme Management Committee. He is also a member of the Southern African Society for Aquatic Scientists, the Consortium for Estuarine Research and Management, the Royal Society of South Africa, and the Academy of Science of South Africa.

Since the completion of his own PhD, William has successfully supervised 24 Masters and four Doctoral theses. He is currently supervising a further three Msc and two PhD students. He also acts as external examiner for various South African universities and has been the external examiner of a number of postgraduate theses produced by students in South Africa and abroad in Australia and India

Taking an interest in institutional processes at Rhodes, he has served on the Joint Research Council, the Internationalisation Committee, and the Committee of Assessors for PhD theses, as well as serving on a number of selection committees within the Faculty of Science.

Recognising the need to share the scientific findings of his research with members of the general public, William has presented numerous public lectures and published several popular science articles. He has also organised a workshop and presented lectures during the Science Festival held annually in Grahamstown and has been a guest on several television and talk radio shows, including 50/50 and Kowie radio.

It is my pleasure to introduce Professor William Froneman.


Last Modified: Wed, 19 Nov 2014 12:25:29 SAST