A globally relevant African rooted Chemistry department that is responsive to socio- economic and environmental challenges in society through trans disciplinarity for a sustainable future. 



To contribute to the reduction of socio-economic challenges in a cleaner environment. 
Transformational experiences for the betterment of the world.



The Department of Chemistry is located on two sites (North and South Campuses) at Nelson Mandela University. As a comprehensive university, qualifications are offered in both pure and applied chemistry. Teaching, as well as community engagement programmes, are conducted in well-equipped facilities. The department furthermore contains modern laboratories and instrumentation for conducting fundamental and applied research to doctoral level in the areas of analytical, inorganic, organic, physical and polymer chemistry.

The Nelson Mandela University Chemistry Department has its roots in three previous institutions which were amalgamated.


Nelson Mandela University

The Nelson Mandela University (NMU), which until 20 July 2017 was named as the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), came into being on 1 January 2005 with the merging of the University of Port Elizabeth (UPE) and the Port Elizabeth Technikon (PET). This was preceded with the incorporation by UPE of the local branch of Vista University on 2 January 2004.


University of Port Elizabeth

The University of Port Elizabeth (UPE), the country’s first dual-medium residential university, was established on 31 January 1964 and the first academic year began on 1 March 1965. Originally the campus was situated in Bird Street and vicinity in the historic Central area of the city, later moving to the Driftsands site in Summerstrand. The new campus was inaugurated on 23 August 1975.

Chemistry was among the first departments created in the new university and it is notable that two of UPE’s founding professors were in Chemistry. Prof JF (Ferdi) de Wet was appointed to the Chair of Physical and Inorganic Chemistry, and Prof André Goosen to the Chair of Organic Chemistry. In 1967 the Chair of Physical and Inorganic Chemistry was uncoupled, leading to the appointment of Prof JGH du Preez to the Chair of Inorganic Chemistry. In 1979 Prof HE Rohwer took up the AECI Chair of Analytical Chemistry, and Prof WJ McGill, who held the Gentyre Chair of Polymer Chemistry in the Materials Science Department, returned to Chemistry in 1981 upon closure of the former department, then adding the Chair of Physical Chemistry in 1990 after the retirement of Prof de Wet.

With this solid base of senior leadership, teaching and research went from strength to strength and the department was soon established as one of the foremost in the land, offering training to doctoral level in the physical, inorganic, organic, analytical and polymer chemistry specialisation areas. The first MSc student graduated in 1966 and the first PhD was awarded in 1969. By the time the merger occurred in 2005, the department had produced 230 BSc (Hons), 139 MSc and 65 PhD graduates, and an international research reputation was well established.

UPE 'Blue Building', Bird Street

When UPE opened its doors in 1965, no laboratories existed yet for the first year Chemistry students to undergo practical training. Fortunately, an arrangement was made with the Head of Pharmacy, Mr TJ McCarthy, for their practical work to be performed in a laboratory at the Port Elizabeth Technical College in Russell Road. However, a new science building (the ‘Blue Building’) providing teaching and research laboratories, was erected in Bird Street in record time for the 1966 intake.

In 1979 the department moved into large new premises at Driftsands that boasted outstanding research and undergraduate laboratories, purpose-built for the specific needs of the analytical, inorganic, organic and physical specialisation areas, and equipped with a wide array of modern research instrumentation.


Vista University

Vista University was founded on 1 January 1982, comprising seven decentralized contact tuition campuses across the country, centred on township areas where the need for accessible and affordable higher education was urgent. The Vista PE campus was established in Missionvale, becoming the Missionvale Campus of UPE after the incorporation in 2004. Its location opened up access to higher education for many students from socially and financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Initially focused on the upgrading of teachers through its Education Faculty, Vista later extended its programmes, producing graduates in business, law, science and the humanities. Chemistry was offered as a major subject option in the BSc programme.

Chemistry was led by a central head of department based at the Mamelodi campus, and managed regionally through sub-heads.


Port Elizabeth Technikon

The Port Elizabeth Technikon (PET) had its origins in the country’s oldest art school, the Port Elizabeth Art School, founded in 1882. This institution became the Port Elizabeth Technical College in 1928 once a new building was erected in Russell Road, Central. It was renamed in 1969 as the College for Advanced Technical Education (CATE), then moving to Summerstrand in 1974 and becoming the Port Elizabeth Technikon in 1979.

A department of Chemistry was apparently founded at the Port Elizabeth Technical College in 1929, although chemistry classes had already started the previous year. Initially, its function was primarily to provide chemistry courses for pharmacy training, although courses in general and industrial chemistry were also offered. Chemistry’s identity as a discrete department appears to have waned at times when the staff were instead associated with a general Department of Science, but eventually distinct subject departments became established.


In 1958, a Chemical Technician Diploma (CTD) was introduced, being later renamed as the National Diploma in Analytical Chemistry. A National Diploma in Rubber Technology, which later developed into the National Diploma in Polymer Technology, was also initiated at a later stage. When in 1993 legislation was passed enabling technikons to provide degree studies, a BTech programme in Chemistry was implemented.

Although several staff members individually had research interests during the late 1980’s, these activities were mostly associated with one of the local universities. A departmental research culture eventually became established during the following decade through the efforts of Dr Peter Loyson, and stimulated largely by the formation of the PE Technikon Catalytic Research Unit (PETCRU) under the guidance of Dr Ben Zeelie.

PE Technical College, Russell Road

The unit, which carried out applied industrial chemistry research, gained support from industry partners and provided the impetus for further expansion of applied research in the department, enabled through MTech and DTech programmes. Soon after the merger in 2005, the role of PETCRU was reassessed, and it was to form the nucleus for the establishment of the NMMU Institute for Chemical Technology (InnoVenton), a research entity in the Faculty of Science that is independent of the Department of Chemistry.


Heads of the various Departments of Chemistry

Nelson Mandela University

Dr A Ogunlaja (2022– )

Dr B Hlangothi (2019–2022)

Prof Z Tshentu (2017–2018)


Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Prof Z Tshentu (2016–2017)

Prof TIA Gerber (2010–2015), jointly with Prof EW Straeuli in 2010

Prof CW McCleland (2005–2009), jointly with Prof B Zeelie (2005–2006)


University of Port Elizabeth

Prof CW McCleland (1997–2004)

Prof WJ McGill (1994–1997)

Prof JGH du Preez (1970–1972, 1980, 1986)

Prof A Goosen (1968–1969, 1975–1977, 1981–1985, 1987–1993)

Prof JF de Wet (1965–1967, 1973–1974, 1978–1979)


Port Elizabeth Technikon

Prof B Zeelie (1996–2004)

Prof PLR Loyson (1980–1995)


College for Advanced Technical Education

Mr D Warren (1974–1978)

Mr JP Wagenaar (1970–1973)


Port Elizabeth Technical College

Dr B Ilsley (1967–1968)

Mr TJ McCarthy (1960–1967)

Mr JE Potgieter (1958–1960),

Mr JR Potgieter (1957–1958)

Mr C Price (1951–1956)

Mr T James (1930–1950)

Mr A Gardner (1928–1930)


Vista University PE (Sub-heads)

Dr A Abrahams (2003–2004)

Dr N Mama (née Skiti) (2002)

Dr SS Ravindran (1997–2001)

Prof J Turkstra (1997)

Dr GJ Summers (1992–1996)


Nelson Mandela University

Dr A Ogunlaja
(2022 - )

Dr B Hlangothi
(2019 - 2022)

Prof Z Tshentu
(2017 - 2018)


Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Prof Z Tshentu
(2016 - 2017)

Prof TIA Gerber
(2010 - 2015)

Prof CW McCleland
(2005 - 2009)

Prof B Zeelie
Jointly (2005 - 2006)


University of Port Elizabeth

Prof CW McCleland
(1997 - 2004)

Prof WJ McGill
(1994 - 1997)

Prof A Goosen
1968 - 1969, 1975 - 1977, 1981 - 1985, 1987 - 1993)

Prof JGH du Preez
(1970 - 1972, 1980, 1986

Prof JF de Wet
(1965 - 1967, 1973 - 1974, 1978 - 1979)


Port Elizabeth Technikon

Prof B Zeelie
(1996 - 2004)

Prof P Loyson
(1980 - 1995)


College for Advanced Technical Education

Mr D Warren
(1974 - 1978)

Mr JP Wagenaar
(1970 - 1973)


Port Elizabeth Technical College

Dr B Ilsley
(1967 - 1968)

Mr TJ McCarthy
(1960 - 1967)

Mr JE Potgieter
(1958 - 1960)

Mr JR Potgieter
(1957 - 1958)

Mr C Price
(1951 - 1956)

Mr T James
(1930 - 1950)


Mr A Gardner
(1928 - 1930)