It takes a stack of determination and a ton of passion to emerge from a family of 21 children to become a scientist with a doctorate in chemical engineering, and that is exactly what Dr Vezekile “Veve” Dladla did. She managed to complete her matric in spite of the family falling on hard times and was selected as the first South African to participate in the James Madison University/University of KwaZulu-Natal exchange programme. This led to publication in a leading journal, an impressive achievement for one so young. She also engages in groundbreaking research and has managed to build a family, all in only 28 years.
“I’ve always been fascinated by science, especially chemistry,” she says. “I had a fully funded opportunity to work as a research scholar at James Madison University in the USA where we did materials science research with fellow undergraduates. My curiosity remained unsated and so I got my PhD.”
For Dladla, the journey wasn’t easy. Coming from a polygamist family where she was child number 20 of 21, her family didn’t have much money and her father, the breadwinner, lost his job when she was 12. To fund her university application and acceptance fees, she had to apply for funds from her local church in Botha’s Hill. “I was able to obtain a Study Trust bursary to pay for part of my undergraduate studies and finally got a scholarship from the National Research Foundation to fund my postgraduate studies,” she says. “My goal is to continue contributing to the development of a scientific body of knowledge and technologies that will improve the quality of chemically-processed daily use products such as sugar and paper.”
Dladla is intent on helping take South Africa into the frontlines of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to empower more South Africans by transforming jobs and creating new opportunities. She’s an inspiration for young women in South Africa who aspire to step into the sciences and change the world. — Tamsin Oxford