21 Icons Season II – Jill Farrant


Jill FarrantJohannesburg – Jill Farrant – “My life has been a series of near death experiences and resuscitations. I’ve had three almost fatal incidents and, like my plants, I’ve been able toresurrect, dry out, revive, and dry out again. I think the analogy goes one step further for me in that when you add a drop of water to those plants and they resurrect, as for me, you have to add a drop of spirit.”

On 16 November 2014 at 20h27 on SABC 3, the acclaimed series 21 ICONS South Africa will feature the sixteenth icon of its second season: Jill Farrant, a scientist and professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of Cape Town (UCT) specialising in plant responses to water deficit stress. Described as one of South Africans heroines, she is the ‘Queen of Rain.’

21 ICONS is a showcase for the South African spirit; a tribute to the men and women who have helped to shape our country and, indeed, our world. The series is part of an annual project which features unique narrative portraits and short films by Adrian Steirn, one of the continent’s pre-eminent photographers and filmmakers.

Steirn’s portrait of Farrantappears in the Sunday paper alongside the collectible poster. The beautiful portrait included in the project will be sold at a charity auction next year. She has nominated a charity of her choice to be the recipient of the funds.

On her selection as an icon Steirn comments, “Jill Farrant has gone through a voyage of discovery in both her professional and personal life. The resurrection of the plants that she devoted her work and research to is symbolic of the personal transformation that can be achieved through a spirit of courage, passion and conviction. It is a fascinating story that should be shared with others, so that they may be inspired to strive for success regardless of life’s afflictions.”

In an intimate conversation with Steirn, Farrant talks about her life growing up in a small village in Limpopo and her fascination with outdoor exploration. Today, she is a pioneer in the field of plant molecular and cell biology and has made a global impact with her research into ‘resurrection plants’; extraordinary drought resistant plants that magically ‘come back to life’ from a dried up, death-like state just 24 hours after being given just a mere drop of water.

“Growing up on the farm, I had special places that I went to often, called the flat rocks. I noticed a lifeless plant one day, and then it rained, and two days later when I returned to the river bed, it was very green and alive again. My encounter was something I wasn’t conscious of at the time, but after I completed my PHD in Medicinal Chemistryfrom the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban I elected to change research fields from investigating the causes of desiccation sensitivity in recalcitrant seeds and instead work on mechanisms of desiccation tolerance in vegetative tissues of resurrection plants. This was spurred when my memory triggered a diary entryI’d made noting my discovery of a seemingly dead plantand watching it return to life afterbeing rehydrated following a heavy rainfall.And then I went and collected the resurrection plants from that farm and that the surrounding area and I began an entire new line of research which I’m still involved in today.”

Her research has contributed to the understanding of mechanisms used by resurrection plants to tolerate desiccation. This knowledge has been fundamental to identifying characteristics (genes) that might be important for use in bioengineering of crops for improved drought tolerance.

The plants that are able to be revived and live again is a mirror to Farrant’s personal life that has experienced tumultuous times. Despite enormous academic and professional successes from an early age, Jill has battled with alcoholism, hit rock bottom, stints in rehabilitation and suffered relapse. Somehow, however, Farrant has turned her life around.

Of living in the present she says “We must celebrate our diversity and work with it.”

About 21 Icons South Africa

21 ICONS South Africa is an annual collection of photographs and short films of South Africans who have reached the pinnacle of achievement in their fields of endeavour. These men and women have been an inspiration through their extraordinary social contribution. It is not a definitive list and does not denote any ranking.

The short film-series documents the conversations between Steirn as the photographer and filmmaker and the icons. Each short film provides insight into both the subject and photographer’s creative approach to the portrait.


Season two of 21 ICONS South Africa is proudly sponsored by Mercedes-Benz South Africa, Momentum Asset Management, Nikon, Deloitte and the Department of Arts and Culture.


Season two debuted on Sunday 03 August continuing for another 20 weeks, one of 21 short films will be screened every Sunday on SABC 3 at 20h27.


On each of these Sundays, a poster of the icon’s portrait, taken by Adrian Steirn and his creative team, will be published in the City Press to form a memorable collection that everyone can own.

Media partners include SABC 3, City Press (Media 24), Provantage and Mxit.


Social Media:

21 Icons engages with the public through: Twitter: @21Icons Website: http://www.21icons.com Mobisite: www.21icons.com Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/21Icons Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/21ICONS/ iTunes App Store: http://tinyurl.com/lf3cfzm Google Play: http://tinyurl.com/ovtcy45