Researcher Thembisile Mahlangu develops materials for water treatment and disinfection. She is also a lecturer at the Durban University of Technology.
“I want to see a solution that will bring socioeconomic benefits to South Africa. I also want to produce graduates that are problem-solvers and innovators,” she says.
By her own admission, Mahlangu finds success addictive. She pushes boundaries to bridge the innovation chasm and create products that can be commercialised. She also wants to be a role model for those she mentors at Nka’Thuto Edu Propeller, a nonprofit organisation that assists learners come up with STEMI [science, technology, engineering, maths and innovation] solutions to problems where they live. And she participates in activities at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research where STEMI projects and nanotechnology are explained to schoolchildren and university students.
Mahlangu highlights the importance of sharing information. “When I was in undergrad, I had the perception that chemical engineering was about working in a mine or an industrial plant. I was surprised to learn that I could still be in research and development — the path I fell in love with. I never thought I’d be passionate about my career to the point of studying further.”
And creating a nurturing home has been equally fulfilling. “Giving birth to my son was one of my proudest moments too. I am a young black woman from Mamelodi, and I had a childhood that is considered normal where I am from. It’s not every day that women from there pursue careers in STEMI and follow through to doctoral level. I am thrilled by the thought that I’ll have obtained a doctoral degree by the time I turn 31”.