Sinehlanhla Memela

The first week of August marks important times in South Africa’s future and past. National Science Week (3 – 8 August) is a countrywide initiative that promotes careers in Science, Engineering and Technology to South African students. National Women’s Day (9 August) marks the 59th anniversary of the 1956 march of 20 000 women, who petitioned against the country’s pass laws.

Both events shed light on important issues: a skills shortage in Science, Engineering and Technology; and the limited female presence in these fields. UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science showcases its support for both causes in a series of articles that acknowledges its very own Wonder Women in Science. These are passionate, pioneering and persistent heroines (within the college) who are “kicking-ass” in Science and stand as shining examples for all women.

Raised in the small town of Harding on KZN’s South Coast, Ms Sinehlanhla Memela had to overcome: a poor high school education, funding issues, language barriers and gender discrimination to receive her Masters in Environmental Science cum laude.

Her thesis, “Vulnerabilities of African Female Refugees in South Africa: A Case Study of the Albert Park Area”, demonstrated the ways in which gender affects every element of the migration period. The project highlighted Memela’s empathy and social responsibility as a researcher. “My work was inspired by a passion for research and a desire to study how people interact with their environment”, said Memela.

If she were given a super power, she would want the ability to secure funding that created opportunities for woman to educate themselves; and become their own superheroes.

Behind every Wonder Woman are the supporters who’ve helped them become who they are. Sinehlanhla acknowledges Professor Brij Maharaj, Mr Nhlanhla Msimanga and her parents for their invaluable support and dedication in encouraging her to finish her thesis in record time.

Her theme song is I know that I can make it by Kirk Franklin. Whenever she is faced with failure, she looks to this song for motivation.

Ms Memela has a message for young women deciding on a career path. “Let us challenge the status quo that science is for men. The challenges that we face as woman must not break us, it must motivate us”. She believes that inspiring greatness means helping people to pursue their purpose in life.

The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science applauds Ms Memela for her tenacity and dedication to her work. Girl power meets brain power in the story of this Wonder Woman in Science.

Words and Graphics: Sashlin Girraj