In her small town of Tigane, near Krugersdorp in the North West province, Masego Sebolai is regarded as an inspiration to the local youth who need positive role models. She is also a textbook example of the embodiment of diligence and perseverance particularly in the face of adversity.
Qualified with an MSc in Biomedical Forensic Science (BFS), Sebolai’s academic journey started just like most high school pupils in black communities. During her high school days, she didn’t not have an inkling as to which career path she would pursue when she completed her Grade 12 studies. But what she was definitely sure about was her passion to help other fellow human beings and her love for science especially the study of human body.
Popular crime series
Naturally, given her love for science, medicine was an obvious choice for her but that was not where her heart was. Sebolai says the thought of being responsible for someone’s health and possibly watching someone die on her watch is what discouraged her from pursuing medicine. It was not until she watched one of the popular TV series on crime and forensics, where a team of forensic scientists work closely with the FBI experts to solve crimes, that she decided there and then that this was the sort of a career she was cut for.
Bringing justice to victims
Says Sebolai: “It was exciting to watch scientists searching [for] and examining evidence that might assist in bringing justice to victims. They were putting a complex puzzle together and I wanted to be part of their team. It was love at first sight.” Unfortunately, at the time there was no university in the country that offered a degree in forensic science. But in 2014, when she was in her second year of her undergraduate studies, the University of the Free State introduced a programme for students specialising in forensics. And she jumped at the opportunity.
Derailing academic programme
But it was not plain sailing for Sebolai for soon after she enrolled she ran into financial difficulties. As if this was not enough, her younger brother passed on mysteriously. And the combination of all these mishaps threw her academic programme into a tailspin. Although these inflicted an enormous emotional toll on her, Sebolai remained focused and continued with her studies. “I made a decision to go back to treating the degree as a passion and a tool to make a difference, and bring closure and justice for others,” she says.
Lack of funding
Upon earning her undergraduate and honours degrees in forensic genetics from UFS, Sebolai enrolled for an MSc in BFS with the University of Cape Town (UCT). Because it was just recently introduced, it presented another financial challenge as there was no bursary let alone NRF funding. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic including another death in the family compounded things for her. Overwhelmed, Sebolai briefly flirted with the idea of de-registering but thanks to the support from her friends and family, she managed to pass her first semester. Soon thereafter she secured funding from UCT Financial Aid that covered her academic expenses.
Educating people about forensic science
Sebolai’s dream is to work for the South African Police Service to share her knowledge in relation to crime scene investigation and to help bring justice and closure to victims of crime and their families. More importantly, says Sebolai, she wants to educate ordinary people to appreciate what forensic science entails. Forensic science is one of the high priority careers as it falls under the STEMi field. It is particularly important and relevant in the context of the rising levels of murder crimes in South Africa. It is a key feature of the country’s criminal justice system where scientists have to examine and analyse evidence ranging from firearm, ballistics to fingerprint examination.
Bringing justice to victims and families
“I want to educate people, especially those from poor backgrounds, about forensic science; the importance of protecting the crime scene and not cleaning after our deceased loved ones, the importance of forensic evidence and the role it plays in assisting to bring justice for the victims and their families,” says Sebolai. “I want to be part of the people who are looking at all the angles of the root cause of the high crime rate in our country, and assist in trying to find ways to decrease the rate and make our country safe,” concludes Sebolai.