From high school, he has always achieved well academically and in his work and research, he tried to come up with new and innovative ways to improve society.
This led him to develop a new artificial intelligence machine that could change the way we treat diseases. For this he won numerous awards, including the Order of Mapungubwe, the highest award given by the South African government for outstanding achievement.
On Monday, Marwala added a new feather to his numerous achievements when he was inaugurated as the vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg.
Speaking to The Star before the ceremony, Marwala said he was excited about the inauguration and that he was already three months into the top job at the institution.
“This (the inauguration)is just about bringing all our key stakeholders and saying to them ‘this is what we are doing for the next five years’ and ‘this is what we are going to achieve in the next five years for the institution and society’,” Marwala said.
He started in the position in January, taking over from Professor Ihron Rensburg.
The road to occupying the highest office at UJ has not been an easy one. In the early years of his schooling, Marwala attended classes under a tree. He had to balance his school work with herding livestock for his family in Tshivhase, Limpopo.
The young Marwala was determined to succeed and attended Mbilwi Secondary School - known for producing high-performing learners.
While in matric at Mbilwi, he entered and won the National Youth Science Olympiad and was sent to the UK to attend the London International Youth Science Fortnight. After the trip, he decided to study engineering and was awarded a scholarship by the Educational Opportunities Council to study mechanical engineering at Case Western Reserve University in the US, where he graduated magna cum laude in his class.
In 1995, he was employed at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as a project engineer. He then obtained his master’s in mechanical engineering at the University of Pretoria in 1996. Between 1997 and 2000, he went to Cambridge University to complete a PhD in artificial intelligence, after which he became a post-doctoral research associate at the University of London’s Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, where he worked on intelligence software.
On his return to South Africa in 2001, he took up a position at SA Breweries, before joining the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand as associate professor and head of control and systems group.
Before his appointment as vice-chancellor and principal, he was the deputy vice-chancellor: research and internationalisation, and the executive dean of the faculty of engineering and the built environment at the University of Johannesburg.