Senamile Masango
Senamile Masango

How Senamile Masango went from rural Nongoma to a degree in nuclear physics

By Harriet Box Time of article published Apr 4, 2019

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Cape Town - The sky has been the limit for Senamile Masango from a young age, when she dreamed of being the first African woman in space.

That dream is still on track as she obtains her Master’s degree in Nuclear Physics - cum laude - from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) this week.

Senamile, 32, who is graduating on Friday as one of only a few women in South Africa to obtain a degree in the field, will be continuing her studies towards a doctorate.

But Senamile’s journey from rural Nongoma in KwaZulu-Natal to UWC has been punctuated with tragic loss. She has been in mourning over the death of her only daughter, 7-year-old Sindisiwe, from a motor accident in 2016.

After Sindisiwe’s death, she needed a change of environment to deal with the hurt. Senamile relocated to Cape Town and threw herself into her studies. “It took some time, but eventually I found my healing with the support of staff and friends I’ve met and made at UWC,” she said.

Her path had many highlights. Senamile was part of a major African-led experiment at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research and one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. She was also the only woman represented in the group. It was one of Senamile’s big goals, “because it’s every scientist’s dream to go to Cern”.

Senamile speaks fondly of the people who inspired her. “My late father, Dr M J Masango, is one of them. Nine years after his passing I still live by his teachings. He grew up in the apartheid era in a poor family without a father, but that didn’t stop him from achieving his dreams.”

His inspiring example helped her work towards her goals: achieving her doctorate and raising money to build science laboratories in rural areas.

She launched the Senamile Masango Foundation in 2014, which aims to empower women in South Africa and Africa. It offers programmes for school pupils and professionals to increase the scientific productivity and efficiency of women scientists in the Third World and to strengthen the research efforts of, and training opportunities for, young women scientists and engineers.

Senamile is also the founder and chairwoman of Women in Science and Engineering in Africa (“Wise Africa”). Wise Africa provides leadership and role models for young people wishing to enter the fields of science and technology.

The University of the Western Cape is celebrating the achievements of thousands of its students at its April Graduation 2019.

Over five days, the University will confer dozens of PhDs, hundreds of Master’s and Honours degrees and thousands of Bachelors degrees, diplomas and certificates.

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