South Africa is known and respected for its peaceful transition from the apartheid system to an inclusive democracy.
The apartheid struggle, and the subsequent transition of power, produced many Peace Prize Laureates – Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela.
South Africa’s political achievements are widely known and valued, but the country’s achievements in science and technology are less prominent.
In fact, many people may not know that South African Aaron Klug won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for the development of crystallographic electron microscopy.
It is also not widely known that three South Africans have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine over the past few decades.
Here are some of the great discoveries, innovations, and inventions which South Africa gave to the world.
First heart transplant
South African surgeon Chris Barnard performed the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant on 3 December 1967 at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.
New gene identified which is a cause of sudden death
Researchers at UCT’s Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Research in Africa identified a new gene which is a major cause of sudden death among young people. Maryam Fish‚ Gasnat Shaboodien, and Sarah Kraus make up the UCT team that made the discovery.
First penis transplant
South African urologist Andre van der Merwe and plastic surgeon Frank Graewe performed the world’s first successful penis transplant in December 2014.
Dolosse to protect harbour walls
These large concrete blocks, known as dolosse (plural) or a dolos (singular), were invented by South African Eric Mowbray Merrifield in 1963 and are used around the world to protect harbour walls from the erosive force of ocean waves.
John Raubenheimer invented the Pool Bug Automatic Pool Cleaner in the late 1960s, shortly before the Kreepy Krauly made its debut.
The Kreepy Krauly is an automated swimming pool cleaner, and South Africa’s Ferdinand Chauvier is credited with the invention of it in 1974.
Other local pool cleaning systems include Helga Schmeider’s The Pool Ranger and the Baracuda MARS Pool Cleaner.
Developing a vaccine against yellow fever
South African-American virologist and physician Max Theiler developed a vaccine against yellow fever in 1937, and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1951 for the achievement.
Development of crystallographic electron microscopy
Aaron Klug won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 for his development of crystallographic electron microscopy and his structural elucidation of biologically-important nucleic acid-protein complexes.
Klug studied at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Cape Town before moving to Britain to do his PhD at Trinity College, Cambridge.
X-Ray computed tomography
Allan McLeod Cormack won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Godfrey Hounsfield for their work on X-ray computed tomography (CT).
Advances in genetic code
South African biologist Sydney Brenner won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contribution on the genetic code and areas of molecular biology.
Full-body X-ray scanner
The South African company Lodox Systems made a unique full-body X-ray scanner which provides a full-body X-ray image in 13 seconds.
Quiet cellular antenna technology
Two Vodacom employees, Gordon Mayhew-Ridgers and Paul van Jaarsveld, invented cellular antenna technology which reduces “noisy” emissions from cellular base stations.
The invention was needed to offer mobile services in the Karoo without compromising the Square Kilometre Array research.
Cheaper solar power
An innovation in solar power which uses a micro-thin metallic film by Professor Vivian Alberts at the University of Johannesburg made solar electricity five-times cheaper compared to using solar photovoltaic cells.
The Tellurometer, the first successful microwave electronic distance measurement equipment, was invented by Trevor Lloyd Wadley from the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Pratley Putty was invented by George Pratley, a South African engineer who developed products for the mining sector. Pratley invented his famous putty in the sixties while looking for glue that would hold components in an electrical box.
Q20 multi-purpose lubricant was invented in South Africa in 1950, and is known for its lubrication, rust prevention, and protective properties.
Vodacom’s prepaid airtime
In November 1996, Vodacom was the first network in the world to introduce prepaid airtime on an Intelligent Network platform – which made it possible to debit customers’ accounts while they were speaking.
World’s first digital laser
The CSIR developed the world’s first digital laser in September 2013. The innovation is expected to spur numerous applications to improve the communication and health sectors, said Professor Andrew Forbes of the CSIR National Laser Centre.
The experimental work in the laser project was done by doctoral candidate and CSIR researcher Sandile Ngcobo.
South African engineer Henri Johnson is credited with the invention of the speed gun and technologies used to measure the speed of balls in sport.
The South African-made speed gun was first used at The Oval during the 1999 World Cup.
Thawte Consulting is a certificate authority for X.509 certificates, which was founded in 1995 by Mark Shuttleworth.
In 1999, Verisign acquired Thawte in a stock purchase from Shuttleworth for $575 million.