Seldom do local communities acquaint themselves with careers such as Agronomist.
In fact, many would think of the phrase “Agronomist” as a fancy title that seems too aloof to achieve.
But for one black woman, her mission was to defy the odds and dispel any myths that such titles were only reserved for a privileged few.
Her name was Ndoni Mcunu.
A young pioneer and par excellence in the science world, Mcunu established the Young Black Women in Science at the age of 25.
The NGO is a research programme that aims to encourage women’s participation in STEM careers, technology, mentoring and education. We do so by approaching the career of a scientist in a trans and inter-disciplinary manner.
According to Mchunu, one of the reasons she had established the organisation was “to respond to complaints from other science students, who felt the same worry about their skills and sense of isolation that I did.”
She was referring to the challenges that she had encountered in pursuing her entry into the academic sector.
In one interview with the SABC, South Africa’s public broadcaster, Mcunu, who in 2017 was also elected to join the Mandela Washington Fellowship said: “There is a stereotype around Science as a whole. It’s a scary thing. When you say to a high school student to do maths core (school subject), it’s a case (of that student) thinking that no, I don’t want to do that. I’m going to fail instantly.”
She added that a lot of the challenges stem from confidence and the exposure that these young women or girls don’t have in the science industry.
She further highlighted in a TedEx talk on future leaders in Africa that while successful scientists around the world were more men, there had to be a collective effort in ensuring that this changes going forward, particularly in the 21st century.
The member of the Resilient 40 was in the past honoured with the Gagasi FM Shero Award in the Science and Technology and also formed part of The Mail & Guardian 200 Young Influential South Africans in 2016 under the education sector.
Her most notable and last achievement was when she was awarded the Most Distinguished Women Changer Maker by Humanitarian Awards Global on April 8, 2022 alongside former Executive Director of UN Women Dr Phumzile Mlambo–Ngcuka and philanthropist and businesswoman Dr Precious Motsepe as well as Naadiya Moosajee, South African engineer, social entrepreneur and co-founder of Women in Engineering (WomEng).
Her famous mantra has always been: “You are failing because you are trying, so keep trying.”
But those who spent time with her or were impacted talk of an inspiring 31-year-old whose only preoccupation was collecting awards.
Not at all.
Her role was also that of a mentor.
This was evident in her involvement in the For Women in Science conference held in Paris in March which aimed to provide an outreach platform to underprivileged learners from across the world.
At one stage she boldly stated that the challenge was no longer enrolling young black girls at universities or introducing them into the science field but rather keeping them in those institutions right until their dreams are realised.
“The challenges we are missing is them staying in the university system and academia, either pursuing a post-graduate degree or getting into professorship and that is where we see them leaving the system.”
She also alluded to the fact there is still a dire need for mentorship.
This, she said, includes financial support and “understanding that the models we attract these young women into are not the model they need” and that rather they need models that are going to be defined by them and implemented for the next generations to come.”
To quote remarks by the Wits Global Change Institute where Mcunu was a friend, a colleague and a PhD candidate, South Africa has certainly “lost a future leader.”
Ndoni passed away on April 16 while on vacation with friends at the Cradle of Human Kind. The cause of her death has been linked to gas leakage at the accommodation venue.
A memorial service will be held on April 22 in Sandton and a funeral will take place on April 30 in La Lucia Durban.
Hamba Kahle ntokazi (farewell young woman)
You have certainly left your mark as a young African child.