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Dr Phumlani Msomi (30)

Chemistry lecturer, University of Johannesburg

Dr Phumlani Msomi hails from Lamontville, KwaZulu-Natal, where he completed all of his basic schooling. He went on to complete a National Diploma in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) before moving on the Tshwane University of Technology to obtain his BTech. He went back to UJ to then complete both a master’s and PhD in chemistry. He has spent time at different organisations such as Columbus Steal, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Rand Water.

Msomi is a young and vibrant lecturer in chemistry at UJ. He enjoys teaching and believes that “education is the foundation for future growth and development”. He prepares his students for the real world by helping them to be independent thinkers and responsible South African citizens. He is excited about being able to work with and teach students from diverse South African backgrounds. Msomi’s research is focused on the development of membrane fuel cells that can produce energy with alcohol. Energy is an important issue in South Africa as we look for solutions to stabilise our energy sources and move towards cleaner forms of energy generation and storage.

In his drive for excellence, Msomi keeps two principles: “to be consistent, and to be committed”, in all that he does. He was able to finish his PhD in record time while also being a full-time lecturer at UJ. He is the youngest researcher in his faculty and he has already published research papers. Now he is working to build his international research profile, forming research collaborations across borders to make an impact.

Msomi gives back to the community by working with some of his colleagues and university students to teach chemistry to high school learners in townships. He looks to extend the experiences of Gauteng learners by exposing them to science, judging the science expo and talking about science careers. He has met students who are now at university, who say he was a great inspiration when they were still high school learners.

Msomi would like to become a professor and hone his entrepreneurial skills by growing a company that focuses on better use of water. More is still to come from Msomi — he is one of our shining young stars.

Twitter: @PFMsomi

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Dr. Ntombenhle Hlengiwe Gama (31)

Dr. Ntombenhle Hlengiwe Gama (31)

Biochemistry Lecturer, University of Pretoria

Thirty-one-year-old biochemistry lecturer Ntombenhle Hlengiwe Gama grew up in an environment where high value was placed on being clever, as the benefits of academic excellence could open doors that one never even imagined. She cites her parents’ divorce as an eye-opening event that motivated her to use education to pursue a better life for herself and her family, while also turning her into a bookworm who would use the library as a form of escape from reality and an avenue to dream big.

Her childhood conscientisation happened during a time when HIV/Aids rates in the country were rapidly escalating and mass media communication around the illness was being used in an effort to promote behavioural change.

Gama, who was born and raised in Kwa-Thema in the Ekurhuleni district, East of Johannesburg, made a promise to herself to get involved by finding a cure for HIV/Aids and becoming a pharmacologist. She may not have patented an HIV/Aids cure, but today, she holds a PhD and is a teaching academic in the biochemistry department at the University of Pretoria.

Biomedical sciences is the discipline which allows her to merge her love for chemistry and biology and her research focuses on the development of novel metal-based drugs as alternatives to current HIV/Aids treatment that are also effective against HIV/Aids-associated opportunistic infections.

In addition to this, Gama is currently pursuing a master’s degree in fundamental and systematic theology at St Augustine College of South Africa.

“My decision to study theology was informed by my belief that God is calling me for more, especially because life balances itself in different ways and Christianity is my anchoring – I can’t remember a time when I was not Christian,” she says.

An active member of the gender committee for churches in her district, Gama is also committed to the idea of making the church a safe space for honest and open conversations about LGBTI issues, gender sensitisation, positive masculinity and ubuntu.

Being a young woman in South Africa, Gama sometimes finds herself frustrated by societal expectations of the performance of womanhood, particularly as it relates to motherhood and marriage, however, she is excited and energised by the opportunities that women like her have today, and the fact that the world is hers to inherit. – Nomonde Ndwalaza

Twitter: @ntombygama

Keith Katyora (27) 

Keith Katyora (27) 

Electrical Engineer, Aurecon South Africa

Twenty-seven-year-old electrical engineer Keith Katyora knew from an early age that hard work is the magic ingredient that can turn a life around.

As a child, Katyora was continuously exposed to his father’s enthusiasm for African leaders such as Aliko Dangote and Strive Masiyiwa. His father would cut out newspaper articles and give them to him to read.

“My father would remind me that if these people, with all the challenges that stood in their way, could rise from their circumstances and make something of their lives, what is stopping me from working just as hard to overcome my current challenges?”

Born in Middelburg in Mpumalanga, Katyora is currently working towards a masters degree in energy studies at the University of Johannesburg, and his research topic explores the different scenarios that could feed into the unbundling of Eskom, as well as how the entire security value chain of energy supply can be improved.

In addition, he was the youngest member of the stakeholder team formulating input into the Ten Year National Science, Technology and Innovation plan being developed by the department of science and technology.

As chair of the Consulting Engineers of South Africa’s young professionals forum, he is currently drafting its 2019 energy manifesto, which was formulated from last year’s Big Energy debate, which focused on the perspective of young professionals. The debate was the first of its kind in terms of offering a space for young people to express their views about the energy future of the country.

Personally, Katyora wants to enable as many young promising people as possible to study at university. This is part of his overarching commitment to redefining the African narrative. He currently mentors university students and young professionals – reflecting that the most important thing is to ensure that those that come after him are well adjusted to the world of work, and can be engaged citizens who are capable of passing it forward. – Nomonde Ndwalaza 

Twitter: @MrTinashe

Humna Malik (26)

Humna Malik (26)

Engineer, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)

If you ever find yourself at the admin block or boardroom of the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) department of electrical and electronic engineering during scheduled load-shedding and you look around and wonder why the lights are still on, you probably have 26-year-old Humna Malik to thank.

In 2014, during her honours year at UJ she completed a project in renewable energy and converted her department’s boardroom and admin block to run on solar power, and the system is still up and running today.

Born in Pakistan, Malik moved to South Africa with her family when she was in primary school. Her early impressions of being in South Africa include her unbridled excitement at the potential to explore a new place to call ‘home’ with her siblings. Due to parental influence and her own curiosity, she found herself being drawn to maths and science from a very young age.

And when the time came, she elected to enrol for two degrees at once: engineering and IT, two strands along which she was determined to grow. It was a major challenge which would terrify most, but Malik took it in her stride.

“My family believed in me and I wanted to make them proud. I was told on many occasions by other people that it would be too much burden or it would be difficult to manage as a female in a male-dominated field, but this only gave me more will power to prove everyone wrong,” she says.

Today this multiple award-winner works as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in its defence and security department, with a bill to improving the community’s safety and security. She has responsibility over a number of different projects in a variety of fields and with different stakeholders including the South African Police Service, the Mandela Mining Precinct, the department of defence, the South African National Defence Force, Armscor and others.

In addition, she is  involved in improving the business strategy for national clients, and the implementation of capabilities, technical systems and policies in the CSIR.

Malik is inspired by the fact that the work she does at the CSIR is being used for the greater good and is improving the lives of everyone in quantifiable and often life-affirming ways.

The one thing she would change about her work is the “hurry up and wait” process in the government sector where a lot of time and effort is spent drafting proposals with no knowledge of whether the projects will see the light of day or not. Despite these frustrations she is clear that she is exactly where she should be. —Nomonde Ndwalaza 

Twitter: @humna.malik 

Innocensia Mangoato (26)

Innocensia Mangoato (26)

Researcher and Lecturer, Department of Pharmacology, University of the Free State 

Pharmacology researcher Innocensia Mangoato wants to change the face of science research and inspire more Black women to join the field.

She was born in exile to Tanzanian and South African parents and raised in a Kiswahili-and-Sepedi-speaking household. Because she was the only daughter in the family, she was moulded by her father to be self-sufficient.

She credits her exposure to traditional medicine as one of the most pivotal moments in her life, as it made her realise it is not “dark magic” but rather a holistic approach to healing that can and should work hand in hand with scientific methods.

Currently in her first year of PhD studies in the department of pharmacology at the University of the Free State, Mangoato has an MSc which focused on traditional medicines with a particular commitment to cannabis research and anti-cancer drug resistance.

“If we think about it, aspirin is sourced from a plant. Cancer right now is one of the highest killers, with two million deaths globally and the current regime of treatment that includes chemotherapy results in trauma as well as other undesirable effects.

“This speaks to the fact that we are in dire need of a new formulation where African traditional medicines can be included so we do not forget about the important work that herbalists and healers have been doing, especially in the attempt to decolonise science and merge the scientific with the traditional so that none of these knowledge systems do not die out,” she says.

Among Mangoato’s responsibilities in her job is the supervision of postgraduate dissertations and knowledge transfer, which she takes very seriously.

“I have to apply myself in terms of what I have learned – supervising has also taught me patience. It has taught me to approach and understand students differently because we are not all one thing,” she says.

She believes that more young women need to opt to remain in the science field, as students and as practitioners. “We just need to learn to speak up because we have something to say.” – Nomonde Ndwalaza

Twitter: @IMangoato 


Senamile Masango (32)

Senamile Masango (32)

PhD candidate in nuclear physics, University of the Western Cape

The number of women in engineering and science is a concern as women are still grossly under-represented, with the percentage of female graduates in science and engineering still below 20% in many countries, notes Senamile Masango (32). She is completing her doctoral studies in nuclear physics and is the founder of Women in Science and Engineering (Wise).

Through Wise, Masango provides leadership and role models for young women wishing to enter the fields of science and engineering. Among other things, the organisation also raises the profiles of women scientists and engineers and highlights and addresses problems faced by women in these fields. It challenges perceptions that pertain to or result in the exclusion of women in science.

Proceeds made from Masango’s speaking engagements go towards raising money to provide science kits for disadvantaged schools. She believes strongly that girls in Africa, “should be encouraged to take science subjects. Not only those who might pursue a scientific or technological career, but also those who would then be enabled to apply scientific concepts in their daily lives”.

She notes that being a black woman in the science industry presents a set of its own challenges, such as men “always looking down on you like you are not capable or you don’t deserve to be a scientist”. She notes that these challenges propel her ambition and the need to change those perceptions even more. “I will work hard and ensure that I excel — I want to break every barrier so that I am not limited,” she adds.

She has made multiple notable strides in her this far. She passed her master’s in nuclear physics with Cum Laude. In 2017 she was part of the first African led experiment at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN. She has addressed President Cyril Ramaphosa several times on the challenges faced by young scientists. She is one of South Africa’s successful female black scientists under 35, has shared the stage with Naomi Campbell at the Forbes Leading Women summit 2019 and has been invited to speak at many local and international platforms. She is leading a research team representing South Africa as part of the Brics Youth Energy Outlook 2019. – Welcome Lishivha

Twitter: @senamileMasango

Dumisani Mlotswa (28)

Dumisani Mlotswa (28)

Part-Time Lecturer and  Post-Graduate Candidate, TUT and Unisa 

Twenty-eight-year-old academic Dumisani Mlotswa is convinced that he was a quiet, sensible child growing up. However, urban legend has it that he was incredibly naughty, and would enter a room full of elders and shout ‘Mina ngi ngay’ivala le room nou!’ without any fear of reprisal. Today, where he finds himself in front of a high school classroom teaching, before a computer researching or behind the podium in a lecture theatre, Mlotswa is equally at home, working with brand new research or young people’s enthusiasm to learn.

His academic potential was realised when he was in grade 8: he fell in love with the library and never looked back. Born in Phuthaditjhaba, a small town in the Free State, Mlotswa yearned for higher education as soon as he knew there was such a thing.

Currently Mlotswa is pursuing an MSc in physics, specialising in nanoscience and nanotechnology at the University of South Africa (Unisa). He also teaches first year physics on a part-time basis in the engineering department at the Tshwane University of Technology.

Financial difficulties caused him to pause in his academic trajectory after he attained his honours degree in science at Free State University. They were circumstances which forced him to branch into a teaching career, and he’s thrived in this area. Between 2015 and 2017, Mlotswa taught maths and physical sciences to the senior high school pupils of Mohaladitwe Senior Secondary School in the Free State. Those years saw the school acknowledged as being among the best performing schools in the province and the country in those subjects: he set his pupils on fire with enthusiasm for the material.

His current research relates to working with luminance material to emit light with electricity with the hope of developing a self-glowing lightbulb that is able to absorb protons from the sun and convert them into light.

But now that he’s back researching at a university, a part of him still misses teaching high school students, as the transformative potential to change young lives is high and quantifiable.

“High school students do not have the level of technology we have at university, but at a university level the approach is less hands on. You can only motivate people to a certain extent whereas at school the pupils are still being influenced by their teachers.” – Nomonde Ndwalaza


Yoshlyn Naidoo (32)

Yoshlyn Naidoo (32)

PhD student, lecturer, psychiatrist and researcher, Department of Psychiatry, University of the Witwatersrand

A number of education specialists have said that because South African school children’s basic literacy and numeracy skills are so low, it is a pointless exercise to teach 21st-century skills such as computer programming and robotics. However, thirty-two-year old entrepreneur and engineer Yoshlyn Naidoo’s response to this line of thinking is that South Africa’s education system needs to be changed radically, instead.
“Without trivialising the very real challenges of low literacy and numeracy skills, we need to realise that what we need in Africa as a whole is a complete change of mind-set,” he says, referring to himself as an ‘innovationist’.

“Africa currently has the youngest population in the world and these young people need to be raised to become our own innovators.”

Yet he believes that Africa is still seen by the rest of the world (and to some extent by itself) primarily as a consumer of the world’s products.

“It’s not about technology being in the classroom, it is about how that technology is used because we don’t want technology to continue to be an added barrier for African children when they go and study further. We need to expose them to technology as much as possible.”

This realisation led Naidoo to cofound robotics company CRSP dsgn, with Thatho Moagi. Based in Pretoria, the company’s mission is to increase access to quality science, technology, engineering and math resources, while fostering 21st-century learning in South African classrooms.

Their current flagship product, the CRSP ROBO Educational Robotics Toy Kit, is a range of affordable educational robotics kits developed to enable children in grades 4 to 9, to learn about electric circuits and create robotics inventions, in their existing classrooms.

For Naidoo, this is a passion project. After completing a mechanical engineering degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, he worked at an aerospace and defence company for five years. He was part of a team that won the greatest young system engineers of the year award from the International Council on Systems Engineering in 2015.

CRSP dsgn won the South African Breweries Foundation’s social innovation award in 2016 and was recently a finalist in the Johannesburg edition of the global super league of start-ups competition.

Naidoo and his team completed a pilot of their product with over 1 600 educators and learners in the Ekurhuleni South district, in partnership with the Gauteng department of basic education. The pilot validated the need for a resource such as their robotics kit across the South African educational landscape.– Itumeleng Molefe

LinkedIn: Yoshlyn Naidoo

Chumisa Ndlazi (27)

Chumisa Ndlazi (27)

Marketing and Communications Practitioner, CSIR

The ability to make science accessible to the layman is why Chumisa Ndlazi is so good at her job with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

As its marketing and communications practitioner, she’s making its research understandable and winning good media coverage around the world. One area she highlights is the CSIR’s National Laser Centre and its achievements with Aeroswift, the world’s largest and fastest metal 3D printer.

Ndlazi also helped the CSIR’s Photonics Prototyping Facilities to establish an industry networking forum. That brings together industry players to discuss opportunities and challenges for the photonics sector in South Africa. Photonics involves generating and harnessing light and the use of lasers in fields including alternative energy, manufacturing, health, telecoms and security. Ndlazi also co-ordinated an open day for small businesses involved in laser-based manufacturing, to promote the CSIR’s own capabilities.

To spread a love of science among younger generations, she often hosts school visits and highlights the exciting work the CSIR scientists do. “This is very important if we want to inspire a generation that is passionate about science and technology and is not intimidated by the subject,” she says.

She admits her first couple of months at the CSIR were daunting, because she had to manage its media activities without fully understanding the research it was doing. “Science wasn’t always a subject that fascinated me because I didn’t understand the importance of it. However, when I joined the CSIR and started interacting with the researchers, reading and learning about the work they do and its impact,  I developed a passion for science communications,” she says. “Now I’m convinced that science communicators have a huge role to play in bridging the gap between the world of science and technology and the public.”

It’s their duty to translate complex research and development work happening in laboratories into simple content tailored for potential investors, collaboration partners, students, entrepreneurs and ordinary individuals. “If we stopped communicating, they would not know about the amazing work the CSIR researchers do and the impact it has in solving some of the challenges we experience as a country,” she says.

After hours, she volunteers her skills to the Black Science Technology and Engineering Professionals organisation to highlight the contribution made by black scientists and promote science, engineering and technology as key drivers of economic development. — Lesley Stones

LinkedIn: Chumisa Ndlazi 

Dr Sphumelele Ndlovu (32)

Dr Sphumelele Ndlovu (32)

Founder, Indabuko Institute

Dr Sphumelele Ndlovu is one of five directors at Indabuko Institute, where he is the acting managing director. His role entails developing research proposals for funding requests in order to support the company’s ongoing research and development on energy solutions. His work with the institute came after his selection as one of the 400 young scientists selected across the globe to participate in the 2016 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany.

That opportunity brought with it a lot of publicity, which resulted in him being invited to the Union Buildings for a meeting with Silas Zimu, the former energy advisor and Dr Bheki Mfeka, the former economics advisor to the president, which led to the establishment of Indabuko Institute. Ndlovu notes that being able to put together a team of young, vibrant and talented scientists to form the institute, all in a space of less than 18 months, and still being able to gather support from the department of trade and industry through their Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme “was the biggest highlight of my career”.

Ndlovu’s deep interest in science and mathematics came out of the dire conditions he found himself in high school. “Early in my matric year, 24 of the school’s 28 teachers that walked out, leaving me and my peers to teach ourselves. I became the mathematics and physical science teacher, as I had some experience in using the formulas. This helped me to pass mathematics and physical science, but just short of a matric exemption to enter university,” he notes.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Science Foundation Programme enabled him to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics and Physics, after which he went on to do his honours and master’s. He then applied for and was awarded a Professional Development Programme for PhD studies under the Space Geodesy Programme at Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, a facility of the National Research Foundation.

“Scientific research, which always poses challenges that require solutions, has given me an opportunity to learn new things and in the process, taught me how little we know,” says Ndlovu on what he enjoys most about working in the science field. He was raised by a single mother who sold chickens to provide for him and his brother, an experience he says propelled him to write and publish his memoir, Aiming for the Stars, a memoir of a village boy who plucked his science dream from the sky. – Welcome Lishivha 

Twitter: @SphumeNdlovu

Dr. Philiswa Nomngongo (34)

Dr. Philiswa Nomngongo (34)

Associate Professor, University of Johannesburg 

In reflecting on what led her to embark on a career in the science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) fields, associate professor Philiswa Nomngongo credits her school teacher who had a BSc qualification. This was the first person with a BSc that she had ever met, and she was intrigued at what it was and what possibilities it came with, particularly because most teachers at the time had bachelor of education degrees.  She started off life in a small town in the Eastern Cape called Flagstaff, but today, Nomngongo is one of the young Black female leading researchers in the field of science and technology at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) with a specialisation in the fields of analytical and environmental chemistry, nanotechnology and medical geology.

She is a recipient of many awards including the most promising researcher of the year at UJ, L’Oréal-Unesco’s women in science award and an award from the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World.

Nomngongo remembers being drawn specifically to the field of analytical chemistry because it gives her free rein to flex her creative muscles  as she can explore the chemical and quality composition of anything – from food to the particles used in children’s toys – and break all of it down to its natural parts.

Her work also allows her to be intentional about developing young scientists and empowering young Black females from disadvantaged backgrounds through teaching and learning. This includes community projects for rural formally disadvantaged schools by providing teaching, training and participation in national science expo to promote Stem careers.

Nomngongo understands that for young scientists to flourish, they need an environment that is open and accessible, and is committed to helping them succeed.

She tries to do this for the students she supervises: “It’s important for supervisors to take the time to understand the students they are working with or training, so that you do not make assumptions.

This understanding allows them not to be scared and to do the work in a respectful, friendly and comfortable environment,” she says. – Nomonde Ndwalaza

Tumelo Phaahlamohlaka (28)

Tumelo Phaahlamohlaka (28)

Research Fellow at University of the Witwatersrand

Many people may feel it would be more sustainable for South Africa to move towards a knowledge economy. Research fellow and tech transfer assistant Tumelo Phaahlamohlaka (28) disagrees. He believes the focus of South African research is mainly geared to producing publications on fundamental research rather than innovating solutions to real-life problems. This became obvious to him after he completed a second masters degree at Cambridge University in 2017.

Armed with his BSc and honours from the University of Limpopo, his MSc and PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand, and born and raised outside the town of Jane Furse in Limpopo, Phaahlamohlaka considers his Cambridge masters an “MBA for science.” In reading for it, he gained many skills about the business of science.

As a child who grew up without electricity at home, he had to find inventive ways to keep his mind occupied. His father struggled to pay for his education, but understood the transformative potential of education and raised Phaahlamohlaka into a young man who loves reading.

Phaahlamohlaka has made crucial contributions to the development of new catalysts for what is known as the Fischer-Tropsch process: the collection of chemical reactions that converts coal and hydrogen into synthetic lubrication oils and synthetic fuel. It’s a particularly important process to South Africa because the country has large deposits of coal which, if sold as they are, have low commercial value, which can be significantly increased if it is converted to synthetic oils, petrol and diesel fuel.

As a Wits research fellow, Phaahlamohlaka investigates nano-technology where he works on creating nano-materials for use in photocells in solar panels and for smart sensors.

In his spare time, Phaahlamohlaka works as a technology transfer assistant at Wits Enterprise where he helps to guide other researchers on how to develop their research into viable business.

Phaahlamohlaka believes South Africa is poised to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution, but only if its society is strategic about objectives. Artificial intelligence is great and comes with many opportunities, but we need more people working … and we need more people training,” he says.

“I do not believe hype: I think if we focus on one specific thing at a macro level … a lot more people will benefit, which is what we need.

“South Africa is really punching above its weight,” he adds, reflecting on the opportunities available for research. – Itumeleng Molefe and Nomonde Ndwalaza

LinkedIn: Tumelo Phaahlamohlaka

Sorene Shifa (28)

Sorene Shifa (28)

Founder, Cyber Czar 

Earlier this year, Sorene Shifa addressed a group of 43 young girls at a gaming and cyber security training camp for the African Girls Can Code Initiative in Pretoria.

“I told them that cyber security is not just about coding and hacking,” she says. “When I told them that it is not just for white men, they laughed because that is what we are all used to seeing.”

Shifa stresses that there are many aspects to cyber security that require different skill sets. “We need people to create policies on cyber security, and we need data scientists and lawyers who understand policies and laws around cyber security, but also understand how things work on the internet.” Shifa says that she has always loved to challenge herself and do things that go against people’s expectations of her. She moved to South Africa when she was 17 and has half-Ethiopian and half-Eritrean heritage. She studied software development at Bond University and completed honours and master’s degrees in information and cyber security at the University of Johannesburg. In addition to studying information law at the University of Geneva, Shifa has numerous accreditations in internet governance, information systems and cyber security. Shifa has served in different leadership positions including as an information systems officer and a technology analyst at the UN’s International Telecommunication Union in Switzerland. In 2015, she founded Cyber Czar, a cyber security firm that aims to protect the most vulnerable against cyber crimes and create a culture of cyber security in South Africa. Cyber Czar also advocates for equal opportunities for women in the ICT eco-system by inspiring girls to pursue studies and careers in the field of ICT and cyber security. Cyber Czar serves as a platform to empower African girls with pertinent and quality skills in order to remain relevant and become the beneficiaries of the knowledge-based economy.

“I don’t like the term ‘women empowerment’ — I think we are already empowered. What we need is opportunities and exposure to different possibilities.” Shifa also believes in the power of ICT to open doors to opportunities.

“ICT is not something we can avoid, even if we want to,” she says. “It is everywhere now, whether you want to work in biology or engineering, it is part of everything. And we need to expose girls to it very early.” – Itumeleng Molefe 

LinkedIn: Sorene Assefa

Yanga Tekane (31)

Yanga Tekane (31)

Senior Engineer, Sovereignty Systems 

Thirty-one-year-old senior engineer at Sovereignty Systems always had a very sophisticated instinct for 3D design, and he knows that engineering is a field that can take him in any possible direction.

But he didn’t always know this. When Tekane, who was born in the small Eastern Cape town of Whittlesea, finished grade 12, he knew what he didn’t want to do. He knew he definitely didn’t want to go into medicine because his mother was a nurse and he had seen how taxing that was on her.

“A family friend sat me down and highlighted some things I had not taken note of before,” he says. He was reminded of how he built a three dimensional wire model of the Apollo Spaceship from a picture he was given as a birthday gift when he was seven years old.

“Everyone was amazed because the picture only showed a third of the spaceship structure which only revealed one landing leg.”

As a seven-year-old and with no prompting, he was able to figure out that there were three landing legs to this space ship. Later on, he built 3D wire models of spaceships based on a TV series he loved called 2040. It was obvious to Tekane’s family friend that he should become an engineer.

And so he did. He went on to complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, a master’s at the University of Johannesburg and he’s currently busy with his PhD there too.

Tekane currently works as a contract and design engineer on a variety of engineering projects. As a contract engineer he gets involved in the initial stages of the projects such as proposal documentation, rate and deliverable negotiations, client feedback, project scoping and work-scheduling, and sub-contractor sourcing and appointment. His work as a design engineer includes leading detailed feasibility studies and mathematical model design.

Tekane is a specialist in both fields of miniature aerial vehicle design and digital terrain modelling. Professionally he engages problems which require electrical, mechanical and geo-technical problem solving.

“I don’t see myself as an electrical engineer,” he says. “That restricts my capabilities. Rather, I see myself as an engineer capable of practising in all such fields equally.”

Since 2014, Tekane has been building engineering capabilities for rural farmers in his spare time. This allows them to have running water for irrigation, sanitation and drinking.  Tekane wants to continue using his skills to help develop South Africa’s knowledge economy.

“I hope one day my talents and skill-set will allow South Africa to be producers of technology competing with countries like America and China not just being consumers of technology.” – Itumeleng Molefe

LinkedIn: Yanga Tekane, Pr Eng 

Dr. Charlette Tiloke (29)

Dr. Charlette Tiloke (29)

Scientific writer, University of KwaZulu-Natal - Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Always known for her passionate goal-setting priorities, 29-year-old scientific writer Charlette Tiloke, who works for the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is living her dream life.

Her commitment lies in research innovation and cost-effective alternative therapies for people without access to therapy for a better life.

Growing up in the small town of Chatsworth in Durban, she was always able to achieve balance in her life and to this day, despite the demands of a significant academic career, she always makes time for sport.

She completed a BSc in biomedical science and an honours degree in medical chemistry at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Her masters project, focusing on South Africa’s medicinal plants and their synthesised nanoparticles was upgraded to a PhD in Medical Biochemistry, at the same university. Her high academic results and impeccable research acumen won her scholarship support from the National Research Foundation.

In 2017 Tiloke was one of two candidates from Sub-Saharan Africa to be awarded  the L’Oréal-Unesco regional fellowship for women in science, supporting her postdoctoral research.

She believes in cost effective therapies because currently the cost implications of chemo- and radiotherapy, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis therapies for the majority of the South African population is prohibitive. This, in her opinion, makes the development of cheaper alternatives such as plant-derived therapeutics, which have less side effects, more urgent.

Tiloke has published 16 research articles in accredited journals and two chapters in books, during her brief academic career, so far. Over the years, she has been actively involved in the cosupervision of honours, masters and PhD dissertations in the department of medical biochemistry at UKZN and has mentored several other master’s research projects.

An ardent netball and volleyball player, who takes all her passions as far as she can, she has represented the KwaZulu-Natal team in provincial, national and international tournaments. —Nomonde Ndwalaza

Twitter: @charlette.tiloke

Sibusiso Reuben Bakana (31) 

Sibusiso Reuben Bakana (31) 

PhD Student, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics 

Thirty-one-year old academic Sibusiso Reuben Bakana was born in Ivory Park, near Tembisa on the East Rand and he has overcome immense character building challenges in order to be a Fourth Industrial Revolutionary who is role modelling South African excellence on the world’s stage. At a young age, he lost his father and financial challenges became very difficult: he had to choose between soccer boots and school shoes and was compelled to use a Shoprite plastic bag as a school case. His journey speaks to a delicate combination of resilience and self-leadership, “When you are happy, you are successful – because it means a particular goal has been attained for you to reach such a state of happiness. Success to me also means being able to achieve my set goals despite the obstacles,” he says.

Currently engaged with his PhD in artificial intelligence (AI) at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Bakana is also the first South Africa student to represent the Diplomatic society of South Africa in China, providing thought leadership on issues of mutual interest. He was formerly a senior energy advisor at City Power Johannesburg, responsible for the approval of solar systems that are found all over Johannesburg.

His experiences in student leadership at the University of Johannesburg where he studied as an undergraduate informed his development into a leader who delivers on promises, does not get corrupted by power and can respect diverse people and opinions.

Living in China means he misses uphuthu and amasi every day, and it’s alerted him to the potential for the positive representation of South Africa, particularly as it relates to the deep seated value systems, “ …we have to teach the Chinese about ubuntu and they can learn a lot about how we appreciate things, because when we greet we say sawubona, meaning we can see you, and the response will be affirming that indeed we can see each other by responding by yebo, which means yes you can see me. Our languages are interesting and should be contributing positively in this Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he says.

As someone who finds himself at the forefront of the AI zeitgeist, Bakana feels incredibly fortunate to be trusted by both the South African and Chinese governments to contribute to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics domain.

He looks forward to help build a South Africa where more young people do not have their development arrested by situational disadvantage, but can be supported so that they too, can thrive. —Nomonde Ndlwalaza  

Twitter: @luoben_laoshi

Zipho Tyoda (32)

Zipho Tyoda (32)

Deputy Director Of Earth Observations, Department Of Science And Technology

Thirty-two-year-old earth sciences graduate Zipho Tyoda was deemed a trailblazer in 2018, by the SADC, but if you look at the trajectory of his career, he’s been blazing trails right from the start.

Hailing from the small town of Idutywa in the Eastern Cape, Tyoda studied at Stellenbosch University, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in geology and an honours degree in applied and economic geology in 2010.

In 2011, he joined the Council for Geosciences as a geographic information systems (GIS) intern and started a master’s degree in GIS and remote sensing. He won two awards for his master’s project in 2012 and 2013 at the Geo-Information Society of Southern Africa student conference at the University of Cape Town.

Tyoda currently works as a the deputy director of earth observations at the Department of Science and Technology. His portfolio includes the oversight of the South African National Space Agency and coordinating South Africa’s earth observations landscape through the Geneva-based organisation, South Africa-Group on Earth Observations (SA-GEO).

Tyoda also works with a number of research and development institutions, the private sector, academia and government departments. He co-chairs a global working group laying the blueprint on sharing of earth observations data through the development of data sharing principles, data management guidelines and the mapping of the member states’ data sharing policies. The work that he does is used to monitor elements such as the water level of dams to help stakeholders (such as government) make policy decisions. The observations of SA-GEO were used to make decisions during the recent drought experienced in the Western Cape province.

Tyoda says that the GIS sectors remains largely untransformed and that he particularly found the lack of black role models challenging when he was completing his studies. This was something that continued when he joined the Council for Geosciences. “It was very difficult in the beginning to create a network of people working in the sector when I started,” he says.

He wants his story and his hard work to show young people that with hard work, anyone can make it to the top of their chosen field at both a national and international level. But becoming a father in 2010 is one of the main things that drives him.“Being an example for my son, impressing him and encouraging him motivates me to succeed,” he says. – Itumeleng Molefe 

LinkedIn: Zipho Tyoda

Dr Sindisiwe Buthelezi (31)

Dr Sindisiwe Buthelezi (31)

Scientific Researcher, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research 

For 31-year-old scientific researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Sindisiwe Buthelezi, a career in science is one with unlimited possibilities.

“It gives one the opportunity to make a contribution that may result in improving people’s lives,” she says.  “The world is facing a significant challenge in health with an enormous amount of people suffering from various diseases such as cancer, HIV/Aids, malaria, etcetera.”

She is currently involved in research that focuses on identifying drug targets relevant to the South African population. Her work will ensure that people receive safe and effective treatments and ultimately help improve their quality of life. This work will also eventually contribute to the development of the pharmaceutical industry and economy in South Africa.

Buthelezi’s career in biochemistry started when her older brother asked her what her favourite subject was. She had just finished matric and was not sure what she wanted to do. Her brother went to an internet café and did some research on careers in that field. Buthelezi, who was born and raised in the small town of Emondlo, in KwaZulu-Natal, settled on microbiology and secured a place to study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal where, through a chance encounter, the dean encouraged her to take up biochemistry as her second major.

“In my first year, I became more and more fascinated by the functioning of the human body,” she says. “We had a fascinating lecture on fat metabolism and this allowed me to relate the subject matter to real life examples. This further fuelled my interest in understanding how the internal functioning of the body can lead to catastrophic changes that manifest themselves as diseases such as diabetes.”

Buthelezi went on to complete an honours degree at the University of the Witwatersrand and a master’s degree at the University of Cape Town. For her PhD, she investigated ways to increase the stability of anti-rabies drugs to address cold-chain challenges faced by developing countries. Her PhD resulted in the publication of five articles in internationally peer reviewed journals.

Buthelezi currently works as a researcher in biochemistry and molecular biology at the CSIR. Her research group provides analytical services on the mass spectrometer that allow her to collaborate with various researchers who are interested in finding new drug targets for diseases such as cancer, HIV/Aids and rabies for human application.

Buthelezi believes that having a child enabled her to keep focused: “The work that I do is not only about science but also securing a better future for us.” – Itumeleng Molefe

LinkedIn: Sindisiwe Buthelezi

Dr Aurelia Alvina Williams (35) 

Dr Aurelia Alvina Williams (35) 

Senior Lecturer, Biochemistry, North West University 

Thirty-five-year-old biochemist, lecturer and senior academic Dr Aurelia Alvina Williams has always loved learning, so much so that when she was a child, the idea of missing a day of school – for whatever reason – would bring her to tears. One of the pivotal moments that led to her forging a career in the science, technology, engineering and maths stream happened in the classroom.

“I remember my biology teacher reflecting with a sense of longing during one of our lessons that he wished he could have studied biochemistry … and I was curious about what it was because I had never come across that word before … so I went home and did some research.” And the rest is biochemistry history.

Born and raised in the town of Nigel, in the East Rand, Williams spent her undergraduate years up to masters level at the University of Johannesburg. After completing her PhD at the university of Pretoria, she went to the University of California, San Francisco to do her postdoctoral studies; it was an experience that energised her to bring back all her learning and help South Africa grow.

“The exposure I received in the United States made me realise that South Africa is on par with the world when it comes to our research; what we could be doing better is to coordinate and archive that research so that it can be more accessible and synchronised.”

Williams’ core research interest is in a field called metabolomics, which explores how different stimuli work to change the metabolism of the host through exploring data and statistics. Because South Africa has such a high HIV/Aids,her research is pivotal to how the disease will be managed for years to come.

Today, she is a senior biochemistry lecturer at North West University and is also involved in the training and mentorship of postgraduate students at the university. She is also the deputy secretary of Metabolomics South Africa.

Williams is also incredibly passionate about developing young girls to their fullest potential, and her involvement with the DreamGirls Academy, a sisterhood organisation of empowered women driven to empower teen girls and young women allows her to do exactly this and more.

“It’s important that I tell the young women and girls about my journey so that they can know that if they set their minds at working hard and overcoming whatever challenges are in their way they can make it too. It’s important that they see themselves in me because I see myself in them.” – Nomonde Ndwalaza 

LinkedIn: Aurelia Williams (Ph.D. Biochemistry)