Nomaqhane Ndlovu has always known she wants to help people. Through her chemical engineering degree, she plans to empower her township community to make the most of their resources.
Currently in her fourth and final year of her degree at Wits, Nomaqhane is more motivated to succeed than ever. “When I was growing up in Tembisa, I wanted to help people,” she says. “Even when I was a child, I’d teach people at school. I decided to do chemical engineering because it’s broad and you can help people in many ways. I also don’t like doing the same thing every day as I get bored easily. With chemical engineering, I can also work closely with the community.”
Whether it’s educating people about water purification or offering waste management tools, Nomaqhane has many ideas for empowering others. “For example, I’d like to show people how they can use their wastewater to water their plants and grow vegetables, thereby spending less money on food and lowering their water consumption. Chemical engineering helps you find easier and cheaper ways to do things like that.”
Nomaquane plans to eventually start her own business but wants to gain experience and build a network in the working world first. “I’d like to do my MBA eventually, as I feel like it’s a basis for starting your own business,” she says.
It takes a village
Nomaquane wants to give back to her community so much because they contributed to making her the person she is today. “I feel like now I understand why they say it takes a village to raise a child,” she says.
“When I was in primary school, I used to spend a lot of time in the library. I’d go there to sit and just meet people. The first chemical engineer I met was through the librarian there. I told him I didn’t know how to choose between biological sciences and chemical engineering. He said he’d find people in both fields so I could decide what I wanted. He asked me to invite people from my school and he organised discussions.” It was also through a reading competition at the library that Nomaquane raised the money she needed to apply for university.
“Growing up, when I was struggling with my work, I’d also ask for help from people in the community who had graduated or were in a higher grade. The community’s helped me, so I have to give back.”
For Nomaquane, Moshal’s emphasis on paying it forward is something that comes naturally. “I don’t need recognition for doing that. That’s within me – it’s what I’m meant to be doing and what I grew up doing.”
Knowing what she wants
Always ambitious, Nomaquane knew she wanted to go to Wits early on. “When I was in Grade 9, they moved me to a class where there were often no teachers,” she says. “I knew if I wanted to go to Wits, I’d need to make a plan. So, I’d go to classes that did have teachers and I passed all my subjects. I knew the only way to get to Wits was to get a bursary.” She therefore moved to the Star School in grade 9 so she’d get the marks she needed to get into Dimension Data. “I knew from there, I’d get a Wits bursary.” Indeed, it was through Dimension Data that Nomaquane got her Moshal Scholarship.
“You must have a plan with your life from an early stage, that’s why we should target Grade 8s when mentoring learners. Grade 12 is too late to start,” she says. “They need time to decide on their paths. I want to go to younger grades and show them I was in the same situation as them and I made it, I’m graduating in record time. They’ve never seen university graduates, so I want to show them that it’s possible.”
A different path
Serious about her studies, Nomaquane says she goes against the grain. “I like to be different,” she says. “If people are smoking, I want to do something else. I made sure I had knowledge which is why I spent time in the library. I didn’t want to be tempted by negative influences in the township. I did well at school and was competitive, so I wanted to get top marks. I’m motivated by the impact I can have in the future.”
Although she’s faced challenges at varsity, Nomaquane has stayed on track. Through failing some tests and even suffering temporarily from depression, she’s picked herself up. “Luckily, I knew from a young age how to ask for help and I don’t wait until it’s too late,” she says. “When I’m struggling, I go to Shanaaz, my Moshal coordinator. Moshal provides great emotional support.”
Nomaquane is proud to be an inspiration, not just to her community but also to her family. “I’m the first graduate and that will hopefully inspire my little sister and cousins to go to university as well,” she says. “I want to be an example.”