How a Domestic Worker’s Son Became South Africa's 1st Black Observational Ocean Biogeochemist

How a Domestic Worker’s Son Became South Africa's 1st Black Observational Ocean Biogeochemist

  • Mhlangabezi Mdutyana slept on his friends‘ couch for an entire year while studying, but that didn't hold him back from graduating
  • His mother was a domestic worker while his father was a security guard, so funds for studying were limited
  • Mhlangabezi defied his background odds to become South Africa's first black observational ocean biogeochemist

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By Farai Diza - Freelance Journalist

Many people from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to fulfil their goals and dreams due to financial constraints.

Mdutyana received a doctoral degree in Observational Ocean Biogeochemistry on 14 December. Photo credit: Supplied.
Source: UGC

But it was a case of chasing dreams or living in the shadows for Mhlangabezi Mdutyana.

Mdutyana had a standard upbringing in the rural area. Even though his mother was a domestic worker while his father was a security guard, he never gave up on his dreams. He used academics as his arsenal that would catapult him to dizzier heights.

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But the road was a challenging one for a young man who had grown up and spent most of his life in rural Mthatha. Moving to a big city like Cape Town was an eye opener.

"Adaption takes time. When I arrived in Cape Town, I simply had no choice but to adapt and to work even harder," he said.

Mdutyana grabbed newspaper headlines after he became South Africa's first ever black observational ocean biogeochemist.

An observational ocean bigeochemist is responsible for investigating the role marine organisms play in cycling carbon and nutrients in the upper ocean.

"Ocean biogeochemistry is the field of science that studies the carbon and nutrient transformation that occurs through biological, chemical and geological processes," he stressed.

He told Briefly News:

"The more we pursue, understand and appreciate our science passion, more people will show interest."

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But what drove his interest in marine while his peers were embarking on engineering and business management related degrees?

"I grew up in the rural areas and I was very close to nature. I had an intimate connection with the flora and fauna," he added.

Mdutyana’s journey with UCT started in 2015 when he was awarded a scholarship to pursue his Master’s in marine biogeochemistry. Even though the scholarship offered him free education, funding his personal lifestyle was the biggest hurdle.

"It was such a crunch time for me. I could not turn down the scholarship and had to look for better alternatives in terms of where I stayed. A friend offered me his couch to sleep on and so I squatted at his place. I slept on the couch for the entire duration of my Master's. It was such a great privilege and I will always be grateful to my friend for his generosity," he said.

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The phase was a tough one for Mdutyana but he never stopped believing in what he had set out to achieve. He intended to use his Master's degree as the stepping stone.

Mdutyana's mother was a domestic helper and his father a security guard, he was raised in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. Photo credit: Supplied.
Source: UGC

The stepping stone shone even brighter faculty department that his MSC had been upgraded to a PHD in 2017. It was not by fluke or luck. His hard work and thirst for excellence had been rewarded.

“I became a doctoral candidate under the guidance of Dr Sarah Fawcett, a senior lecturer in the department of oceanography,” Mdutyana revealed.

Mdutyana is now busy with his postdoctoral research at UCT. He was awarded the University Research Committee’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Award and begins his postdoctoral research fellowship in earnest in 2022.

Even though his ambition is to inspire other kids to venture into marine studies, he is fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead. Perhaps the recent matriculants will take guidance from this incredible story.

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"Sharing knowledge is important for growth in sciences. I would like to raise awareness about Africans involved in polar research. I grew up in the villages and I know the interest will always spark up," he said.

Nightwatchman-turned-PhD graduate goes down in Mzansi’s history books

In similar news, Dr Andries Jerrick Daniels is making moves in the education sector. The 40-year-old bagged his PhD in viticulture from Stellenbosch University (SU) recently.

The institution describes him as the first black South African man to bag a doctorate in viticulture. Daniels worked as a nightwatchman at SU's Visual Arts building while completing his undergraduate degree.

He stated that he wanted to make something of his life and when the job of nightwatchman arose, he grabbed it with both hands.

Source: Briefly News

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