Silindokuhle Jakavula grew up in eNgqushwa, a village near a small town called Peddie in the Eastern Cape. She is currently pursuing a PhD in chemistry at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), thanks to the generous funding by the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Exploring innovative methods
Her research focuses on an important area of water purification which will help bolster the country as it addresses the widespread and serious challenge of water pollution. Jakavula’s research, through the use of membrane technology and nanomaterials, also explores various “analytical methods for the extraction, pre-concentration and removal of both organic and inorganic pollutants that exist in our water systems”.
Addressing global water scarcity
Jakavula is confident that her research will significantly contribute to finding innovative methods on how water can be purified on a larger scale. She also wishes that her published findings will add to the stock of knowledge within the broader science field as the world searches for solutions to address the problem of global water scarcity. At more personal level, Jakavula wants her research to motivate and inspire younger generation particularly in impoverished South African communities.
Importance of education
Jakavula is happy about her academic achievement so far, however, she says her journey has not been easy. She and her cousins were brought up under very trying circumstances by their grandparents as their mothers relocated to different cities in search of work. But despite the difficult situation their grandparents impressed upon them the importance of education. “My grandmother really loved education and wanted all of us to finish school. At one point, my cousin and I had to move and stay with relatives who were closer to school because we were struggling to get transport to our school. My family as a whole has been a very supportive family when it comes to education – even now they are still very supportive,” says Jakavula. And she seems she took her granny’s advice to heart given where she is now academically.
Another formidable challenge that Jakavula has had to wrestle with and that could have potentially derailed her academic success was falling pregnant while she was in her third year. Naturally she felt disappointed but she says it is her family that felt betrayed as they consistently gave her moral and social support throughout her studies. The family suggested she should abandon her studies and stay at home after giving birth. [But] “Since I was only left with in-service training to finish my studies, I talked to my family and begged them to let me finish my studies. Because they believed in me, they allowed me to go back and finish. Hence, I keep on saying I wouldn’t be where I am without my family,” says Jakavula. She says her dream is to remain within the academic space to inspire as well as teach the younger generation.
She says when she was in Grade 11, she did not know which career path to follow. Her maths teacher motivated and advise her to pursue the STEMi fields. This was further reinforced when people and professionals from various universities and companies visited her school to give career guidance. Upon completing matric her aunt accompanied her to Walter Sisulu University (WSU) to apply in person. Based on her outstanding results, she was advised to register for a diploma in analytical chemistry. Since then she never looked back as she went on to obtain a diploma in analytical chemistry at WSU, followed by BTech in chemistry from the Vaal University of Technology and an MSc with distinction in chemistry at UJ.
Not only is Jakavula grateful to her family who encouraged her at a very young age to value education but she also believes the NRF deserves praise for funding her studies. “The NRF had a great impact on my studies. If I didn’t get the funding, I wouldn’t have continued with my studies,” she observes. “I also want to continue to contribute to research and come up with new ways or findings that will greatly impact the science field as well as our country as a whole. I believe research helps to come up with new ideas that will form part of the future,” concludes Jakavula.