Wastewater treatment and management have been some of the chronic challenges that municipalities across the country have been battling with for many years.
Experts say one of the contributory factors to the problem is the lack of qualified personnel to ensure there is regular maintenance and management of the wastewater treatment systems and all the associated equipment.
Pinky Mokwena can just be the appropriate person to help resolve some of these challenges. Mokwena has a Masters’ Degree in environmental sciences from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT)’s Faculty of Sciences.
She recently walked away with the coveted first prize of the inaugural Inter-University Innovation Challenge 2021 Blue Oceans Award with mouth-watering R150 000 prize money. Mokwena beat off 64 of her fellow TUT students including a host of other competitors who took part in the challenge.
Mokwena competed in the waste management category and the theme of her submission was on the use of organic maize tassel to remove perfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances in water.
The purpose of the challenge is to encourage students from all the Tshwane-based tertiary institutions to help develop innovative solutions to a range of the city’s most urgent service delivery challenges.
The competition is a collaboration involving a number of stakeholders and these include the city of Tshwane, The Innovation Hub, Tshwane University of Technology, University of South Africa, University of Pretoria, Tuksnovation, Universities of South Africa, Eskom; Human Sciences Research Council and the Technology Innovation Agency.
At the heart of the collaborative programme is to recast the city of Tshwane as “Africa’s Innovation Capital”. It also serves as a platform for innovators at universities to provide easy to implement and cost-effective solutions that will assist the city to overcome service delivery challenges ranging from energy and electricity, waste management, revenue collection to transportation.
Mokwena’s waste water treatment technique allows for a dual solution to two of the greatest South African environmental challenges, namely water treatment and waste management. According to research, water containing PFAS has significant health and environmental hazards, such as acute toxicities, carcinogenicity and bio-accumulation in water environments. Having a treatment methods such as the one Mokwena invented, would ensure quality water for the city of Tshwane and South Africa at large.
Mokwena was naturally excited about the accolade and dedicated it to her supervisor who she said played a vital role during her studies. “I believe this is the beginning of many great partnerships to come, in particular with the City of Tshwane,” she said.
The city has subsequently invited her to prepare a presentation on how it can benefit from her technology towards waste water treatment, which is currently troubling the city.
Dr Hamilton Mphidi, the innovation and technology transfer office manager said: “These solutions could ultimately also improve the quality of life in South Africa and beyond our borders.
Secondly, the programme aims to build a vibrant, competitive entrepreneurship community in Tshwane by building a pipeline of entrepreneurs and innovators; creating a platform for student entrepreneurs to display their innovative ideas and identify service delivery focused innovations that can be up scaled and commercialised.” In addition, said Mphidi, this initiative seeks to provide support (financial and non-financial) to student entrepreneurs.