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Cambridge graduate fired-up about SA’s renewables

Jabulani Nyathi graduated with a Master of Philosophy degree in engineering for sustainable development from the University of Cambridge recently. He is excited about South Africa’s renewable energy potential and he wants to play a role in ensuring everyone taps into its benefits

Jabulani Nyathi graduated with a Master of Philosophy degree in engineering for sustainable development from the University of Cambridge recently. He is excited about South Africa’s renewable energy potential and he wants to play a role in ensuring everyone taps into its benefits

Published Dec 19, 2021

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ENGINEERING a path away from coal and fossil fuels to using renewable energy sources in South Africa is what fires-up Jabulani Nyathi’s ambition.

But ensuring that a “just transition” occurs when the country’s reliance swings to renewable energy is the particular focus of 24-year-old Nyathi.

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He’s made another massive surge towards achieving that ideal by obtaining a Master's qualification from the University of Cambridge recently.

Jabulani Nyathi graduated with a Master of Philosophy degree in engineering for sustainable development from the University of Cambridge recently. He is excited about South Africa’s renewable energy potential and he wants to play a role in ensuring everyone taps into its benefits

A Cecil Renaud Overseas Scholarship, awarded only to former KZN school pupils, enabled him to study at Cambridge, and he graduated with a Master of Philosophy degree in engineering for sustainable development last month.

Jabulani Nyathi recently graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge. His desire is to bridge the gap between the haves and the have nots when South Africa taps fully into its renewable energy resources

Nyathi, who completed his chemical engineering degree at the University of Cape Town in 2019, titled his Master’s dissertation “The Just Transition in South Africa”.

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His academic work drilled into the need for an equitable process of distribution of benefits when the energy transition becomes a reality.

Nyathi wants nobody to be “left behind”.

He rated highly the relevance of his Master’s programme and said it was a break out from the mould of traditional engineering education.

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“It incorporates ideas that look at problems from a systems-level and understanding the interdependencies of different aspects of life like the economy, governance, policies and society.”

“Basically, the course was about opening up the mind of the engineer and building engineers who could create solutions towards sustainable development.”

Nyathi is presently employed by a company in London that has made sustainable development and engineering their business.

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“As much as I am in London, I am still very much involved in the energy space in South Africa.

“We also have an office in South Africa, and I am working on a project which includes the eThekwini and Buffalo City municipalities. We also have work in Kenya and eSwatini.”

After his UCT degree, Nyathi realised that, as a young engineer, he needed to use his profession as a “force for good and to take on the leadership role to try and make the change”.

“I knew the Master’s qualification would give me the tools to make that change”.

He became the first to achieve a Master’s degree in his family, and they were overjoyed, and many watched his graduation virtually from their home in Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit, Mpumalanga Province) while his mother did so in Pretoria.

“It was an especially proud moment for my grandparents. They were the ones who influenced us to get an education.”

Jabulani Nyathi with his mom Catherine in 2015 when he collected Kearsney College’s dux award

“My granddad was a school principal, and my grandma was a teacher, and they were both disciplinarians.”

He said his mum had to move to Pretoria for work reasons, and he spent his early childhood years with his grandparents in Mbombela before moving to KZN.

He was a pupil at Mbombela’s Laerskool Laeveld when the director of the Drakensberg Boys Choir School came on a recruitment drive.

Nyathi, who already had a love for singing, auditioned to attend the Winterton-based school, but that desire hit a low note when his mother considered the high fees.

But he shouted hurrah when he got a call from Drakensberg, saying he had been granted a bursary to join.

“Living in the Berg from Grade 6 to 8 was a brilliant experience. I got to travel the world with the school’s choir, and being that proficient in music was amazing.”

He applied to the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa for a bursary to one of their affiliates, and Kearsney College granted him an academic scholarship.

Nyathi joined in Grade 10 and finished matric earning Kearsney’s Dux award.

“It was a brilliant time at Kearsney. The teachers were great, and you could do the things you enjoyed the most.”

The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation realised Nyathi had entrepreneurial potential and presented him with a bursary to pursue his chemical engineering degree at UCT.

As a candidate fellow of the foundation, while at UCT, he was part of a programme where he received guidance in areas of leadership, entrepreneurial and academic development.

“That was brilliant because the world away from university life was unlocked for me, and I got to cultivate the entrepreneurial skill that I didn’t think I had.”

Looking back, Nyathi said he was grateful for all his scholarship opportunities.

“There is always a way to get things done. Finance is a challenge but not insurmountable. It is okay to struggle, but if you live a good life and have good support, you can achieve.”

He said hard work and focusing on priorities were essential.

“Even brilliant people put in the slog.”

SUNDAY TRIBUNE

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