by: Sheilan Clarke – 2 October 2017

Black women are still finding it difficult to navigate the world of science. This, despite the many noteworthy women in science, like Buyiswa Sondezi, who became the first woman in Africa to obtain a PhD in Experimental physics in 2014.

We spoke Makosha Satekga, Ndoni Mcunu and Penester Tjale, who are showing that it doesn’t matter your gender or colour, you too can do great things in the name of science.

Penester Tjale
Geologist and Environmental Science MSc candidate

Her passion for geography started out of curiousity of rock formations. “I was born in a village called Moletlane in Limpopo and there were these big rocks called outcrops all over the streets,” she reminisces. This led her to pursuing a B-Tech in Geology from the Tshwane University of Technology.

“My field involves extracting minerals from the Vaal river to ensure good quality water that we can consume. Geologists also make sure to always look for quality coal that can be used for electricity,” she explains.
Recalling the first time she went underground, she says she was amazed by how vast it was. “ Once underground, I was fascinated by the different layers of rocks and how different each layer was from the other. It smelled fine because the mine I worked at had a good ventilation system,” she excitedly explains.

Being from Limpopo, she says she understands the challenges faced there. “The greatest challenge would be lack of information or the access to it, as most people in rural areas don’t have access to internet and the relevant information,” she says.

She was recently elected as one of the judges at the International Science Expo for young scientists which runs between 3 and 5 October in Boksburg.

 Makosha Satekge
Junior Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist

Have you ever wondered how your GPS knows exactly where you are? For that, we have people like Makosha Satekge to thank.

She pursued a four-year BSc Geomatics degree, with a specialisation in Geoinformatics, at the University of Cape Town. She’s currently a GIS specialist at Spatial Dimension

“This field of science studies how computer science and mathematics can be used to capture, process, analyse and present geographic information. Statistics SA uses GIS to create interactive digital maps, assisting government and NGOs to identify locations which require basic services,” she explains.
The workplace is a challenging place for black women in science. “There is always the idea that your role is to fill a quota and make the company look progressive for having so many women on their books. So you start a job with a mountain of a task to prove yourself whereas in many cases for men, competence is assumed,” she explains. She believes that more information about women in science should be provided to girls in rural areas and townships, as a way to motivate girls to become scientists. “It would be more effective if these information sessions could be done in person and possibly even by someone from their community,” she adds.

Ndoni Mcunu
Environmental Scientist and founder of Black Women in Science

Ndoni’s drive for knowledge led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at the University of KwaZulu Natal in 2012 and eventually led to her landing a spot on the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans list for 2016.

“I am passionate about understanding how better we can improve food production for farmers,” she says.

“For the young student stressing about not qualifying to enter into a desired field, know that there are always other ways to enter into your field of interest,” she says, “I wanted to study a degree in agriculture, however, I did not have the needed points to enter into the field but I then got accepted to study environmental sciences. I have however been able to focus on agriculture during my postgraduate research studies,” she says.

She founded Black Women in Science in 2015 with the aim of providing guidance and support to black, coloured and Indian high school girls who would like to become scientists. “We provide research skills, leadership and mentorship support to university students. We aim to do this through developing clubs and societies within universities.”

For her and the organisation, it’s important to have women have influence in research topics and encourage youth. “We need women to help influence innovation and policy around different sectors in science,” she says.