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Doing a PhD in science in post-apartheid South Africa as a black female I Career Highlight

Author: Nomhle Ngwenya Profile (South Africa)




I was born in South Africa in 1996 and I am considered part of the ‘born-free’ generation in the post-apartheid era. I am also part of a vibrant African youth that is actively seeking to create changes and advance development due to the injustices of slavery and colonialism that are still stemming on the African continent. Growing up I was fortunate to have been raised by parents who had access to opportunities to create a better life for themselves but to ensure that I was also equipped with the necessary resources to fulfil my highest potential. A key part of this was my education and I am the first person in my family and generation to have advanced my studies to the level that I am at. One of the things I have always appreciated about my education has been my exposure to STEM related subjects such as science. It is through science that I discovered my passion for an understanding of climate change and the impacts that it has for developing regions such as in Africa.


However, science still needs to transform in South Africa as historically black people were excluded from any STEM research or careers during apartheid. Aligned to my interest in global development is not only climate change but it is the narrative of who is representing the stories told about climate change and other STEM related issues. The biggest challenge I have faced in my academic journey is the lack of representation of young African women in STEM in South Africa. This comes down to societal and cultural pressures that young African women are faced with such as being expected to marry at a certain age or be pressured to have children. These are issues that I as a young person still encounter on a cultural and societal level. If novel solutions for Africa’s development is to occur, it is important that young African females are given an opportunity to participate in global development issues and are not excluded based on race, age or gender. These issues are linked to inclusion, transformation, diversity and gender equality which are issues that still needs to be addressed in a country that is still reeling from the consequences of apartheid, 27 years later.


As a young scientist and researcher, I am interested in has been around exploring low-carbon technologies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in South Africa as well as the important role of emerging and innovative climate finance to facilitate the energy transition. South Africa is in a very unique position in terms of climate change strategies as there needs to be a swift transition towards a low-carbon society which is essentially dependent on moving away from the reliance on fossil fuels where coal mining has been the backbone of the South African economy for decades. Whilst government and business leaders as well as policy makers decide how to handle this transition, carbon capture and storage may hold the key to achieving near and medium-term greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. Central to this is the need for the country to seek alternative financing such as green bonds in which I am one of the few scholars in the country and continent that has researched and explored green bonds as an emerging climate finance mechanism.



Get to Know Nomhle



  • A levels/ high school equivalent subjects: In South Africa we do not necessarily do A levels but I went to an all girls private Catholic school (IEB level). I did the following subjects: Geography, Maths, Life Sciences (Biology) - I think those are the relevant ones.


  • Graduate degrees - B.A (Majored in Geography and Sociology), Bsc Honours (Geography), Final year PhD (Geography and Environmental Studies)


Phd Title - The role of institutional frameworks in promoting green bonds to finance carbon capture and storage in South Africa

  • Brief Phd description - South Africa is amongst one of the world's highest carbon polluters and carbon capture and storage is one of the low-carbon technologies that the South African government has included as a mitigation strategy. However, this technology is highly capital intensive and financial resources need to be mobilised. South Africa has seen several success stories of green bonds and my research analyses how green bonds can also be extended to finance carbon capture and storage. Importantly, this needs to be supported by the necessary institutional structures such as clear government mandates, policies as well as frameworks to successfully implement this.


  • What motivated you to pursue a career in STEM? - Growing in a developing country such as South Africa, I realised that pursuing a career in STEM is one of the biggest stepping stones to being at the forefront of ground-breaking discoveries that can contribute to the country's growth and development. There is also still a need to motivate young black girls to enter such fields as there is a lack of representation.


  • Fun fact about your field ? - Elon Musk and Bill Gates who are amongst the world's richest people are very interested in funding feasible carbon capture and storage technologies.


Journey in 3 words - Rewarding, tiresome, joyful

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