Zikhona Tywabi-Ngevu was born and bred in Machibini village in the Mtebele area, a few kilometres from Queenstown, Eastern Cape. She matriculated from the local Hexagon High School in 2003 in Queenstown majoring in mathematics, accounting and physics. After completing her grade 12 she then proceeded to Durban University of Technology (DUT) where she graduated with a national diploma in analytical chemistry and a BTech degree in chemistry. In 2012 she completed a Master’s degree in chemistry cum laude and capped it all with a PhD, also in chemistry from DUT. She later interned at Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and had a stint at the University of Alabama.
Currently, she is a lecturer and researcher at the chemistry department at Nelson Mandela University (NMU). Before then Tywabi-Ngevu worked in similar capacities at various universities including DUT, Zululand, Fort Hare and UKZN. She also did other ancillary courses in disciplines such as intellectual property, patenting, technology transfer and commercialisation with World Intellectual Property Office. She also obtained a post-graduate diploma in higher education from UKZN.
Tywabi-Ngevu is a recipient of several accolades and they include:
- Mail and Guardian 200 Young South African 2017
- KZN Gagasi FM Shero Award 2017 (both in the category of Science and Technology)
- 4th Edition Women in Science Research Fellowship in 2018 and
- 2019 Inspiring Fifty SA Women in STEM
Providing academic support
Tywabi-Ngevu is also the founder of Dr ZTN Foundation – a non-profit company – which is a youth education engagement programme. The foundation provides academic support to grade 12 learners including finding them bursary opportunities as well as university admission. In addition, it also collects professional clothes for graduates from underprivileged backgrounds under the theme “Clothing Drive-Fitted for work”.
The clothes are given to graduates when they start new jobs or attend job interviews. The foundation also operates on Facebook under the name “Dr Zeesh’s Foundation”. Through this platform, Tywabi-Ngevu shares scholarship, job, leadership and in-service training opportunities with the youth in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape. Furthermore, it also assists the youth in how to fill out application forms and write motivation letters.
Becoming a chemistry enthusiast by chance
But Twyabi-Ngevu says it was by sheer chance that she pursued chemistry as her area of interest. Initially, she wanted to enrol for a medical degree at UKZN but after she could not get an outcome about her application she panicked, and decided to go to DUT to enquire if she could register for any medicine-related courses. But she was advised that the only available space was in chemistry and without hesitation, she enrolled for a national diploma in analytical chemistry. She says she doesn’t regret a bit her decision to pursue chemistry and would never swap it for anything.
Tywabi-Ngevu is among a small cohort of young female lecturers who are driving a silent revolution to transform the face of STEMi across the country’s academic institutions. She says being a young female lecturer in a male-dominated environment “freaks me out a bit because I somehow feel like I am under constant “watch” since I am one of the youngest academics in the country. I had to learn to work hard over the years to prove myself. I must be honest, it can be frustrating and draining though, but it also motivates me to work harder. “Overall, it is a great feeling because no one in my family, my village, my hometown has been an academic at the institution of higher learning at my age,” she says.
Bumping up women’s participation in STEMi
Asked about what can be done to increase the participation of women within the STEMi stream, Tywabi-Ngevu says women must ensure they do the best they can to excel in everything they do, however unimportant it may seem at the time. She says women should also believe that they can do anything in this world, including playing soccer or rugby.
“Women must not be afraid to make decisions and must not be afraid to make mistakes. They must get into the habit of attending science networking events and following other women in sciences on social media and other platforms,” says Tywabi-Ngevu. This is because networking is extremely important and a valuable way to expand one’s knowledge; to learn from the success of others, get new clients (if you are an entrepreneur) and tell others about your business or research or studies etc., she adds.