Inspiring Scientist Recalls Tough Childhood, Being a Single Mom: “I Don’t Know How My Mother Coped”

Inspiring Scientist Recalls Tough Childhood, Being a Single Mom: “I Don’t Know How My Mother Coped”

  • A doting mother-of-two has overcome many personal hurdles to become a university lecturer and scientist
  • Ncediwe Ndube-Tsolekile grew up in three different townships in Cape Town with a single mom who worked two jobs to support her and the two older siblings she has
  • But despite everything, the perseverant woman always dreamt of being a scientist and now mentors other young black females in academia

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A single mom-of-two is taking the science world by storm and works as a chemistry lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

But Ncediwe Ndube-Tsolekile’s early life wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, with the scientist growing up with a single mother who worked tirelessly as a nurse to support her and the older brother and sister she has.

chemistry lecturer, mentor, gugulethu, single mom, inspiring mom, cape town, scientist
In addition to being an accomplished researcher, Ncediwe Ndube-Tsolekile is also a mentor to young black women. Image: Ncediwe Ndube-Tsolekile/Supplied.
Source: UGC

Speaking to Briefly News, the 35-year-old reflects on her upbringing with a single mother, her life in various townships, her love of chemistry, and her passion for mentoring young black women in academia.

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Ncediwe was exposed to domestic violence at a young age

The brilliant woman explains that because her father was frequently abusive when he was drunk, her mother, Teboho Ndube, eventually divorced him:

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“I was about three years old and my siblings were also quite young but because of how traumatic the abuse was, I still remember it vividly. We stayed in the township of Langa initially, but after my mother and father divorced, we moved to Nyanga East.”

The scientist recalls that when she and her siblings lived with her mother in Nyanga, which is another Cape Town township, they stayed with many members of their extended family in one house, which was tough.

When she was around seven years old, the family moved to the Gugulethu township where her mother worked as a nurse.

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“My siblings and mother and I all stayed in one room of the home we moved into because while my mom bought the place, it took about two years for the deed of the house to go through,” she explains.
“Up until today I don’t know how my mother coped. She was a single mother working two jobs and still she managed to take good care of my siblings and I and ensured that we went to great schools. I attended Sea Point High School, with my sister a student at Cape Town High,” she recalls.

Ncediwe’s mother worked at Gugulethu Community Health Centre and in her spare time, she worked as a home nurse, taking care of an older couple in Constantia.

“My mother would walk all the way to work at the clinic in Gugulethu and it was quite a long way. But despite how hard she worked, she always made time for my siblings and I, and we had a great relationship with her; in fact, she was everything to us,” she fondly recalls.

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“My mother always said that although she was a nurse, she wanted her kids to be more educated and successful than her. It was tough, but she did her very best to work hard for us. She carried a lot,” she adds.
single moms, inspiring mothers, nurse, scientist, chemist, cape town
Ncediwe’s late mom, Teboho, was a big inspiration to her. Image: Ncediwe Ndube-Tsolekile/Supplied.
Source: UGC

Sadly, Ncediwe’s mother passed away in 2014 after battling Leukemia stoically for more than two years.

“I had my son, Nstika Tsolekile in 2013 and I felt like she just held on for us. Even when I gave birth to him, she was in ICU. Six months after my son was born, she passed away and I still miss her today and think, ‘mom, why did you have to leave us?’”

Developing a love for chemistry

Ncediwe says that she dreamt of being a chemist since she was a little girl, with her passion truly ignited in high school:

“I was in Cypress Primary School in Athlone when I developed my love for chemistry. I remember being squashed in a bakkie as we were on our way to school every morning and we’d always talk about our dream careers. I would always be the one to say ‘I want to be a scientist.’”

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“When I attended Sea Point High, my love was ignited even more because I finally got to see the chemistry lab I had always dreamed of,” she explains.

The Pinelands resident then went on to pursue her Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) in Chemistry at CPUT and graduated in 2007.

With her exceptional academic record, Ncediwe was then accepted to study towards her master’s degree in chemistry at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), while working as a scientist at the South African Medical Research Council.

In 2011, she bagged her master’s degree with distinction, but instead of going straight into studying for a PhD, Ncediwe just focused on working and taking care of her mother who was still very ill with cancer at the time.

“I started working as a lecturer in chemistry in 2014 at CPUT and enrolled at the University of Johannesburg for my PhD in 2015, which is the year I had my daughter, Maleta Tsolekile,” she explains.

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Ncediwe obtained her PhD in chemistry in 2020 and is now a senior lecturer at the university, mentoring other young scientists. In her specialisation, the good doc works with nanotechnology:

“I produce different materials at a nano size for various applications, so it could be bio applications, the paint industry, and so on. I produce the material and tailor it for specific industries.”

Coping as a single mom in academia

While the brilliant chemist was married when she had her two kiddies, she has since divorced her husband and notes that it’s quite tough coping as a single mother while working in academia:

“It’s very difficult, I don’t know how I manage it. I guess it’s just good time management. But I have a good support system in my older sister who’s always there for me and my kids.”

Ncediwe is also passionate about empowering other black women who are interested in becoming scientists, because as she rightfully said; representation matters:

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“I love grooming young black female students and helping them realise their own strengths. I am passionate about finding solutions to problems and supporting young black women through supervision, mentorship, and support.”
“I just enjoy showing them that I am like them and know their struggles. In research, when you’re a female, you must work hard, and when you’re a black female, you have to work even harder, especially students from rural areas and townships.”
scientist, mom, single mom, lab, CPUT, university lecturer, mentor
Ncediwe’s loves mentoring young female scientists. Image: Ncediwe Ndube-Tsolekile/Supplied.
Source: UGC

The brilliant scientist notes that she loves making a meaningful impact to society and the world of science:

“My biggest win thus far was receiving the Y2 rating from the National Research Foundation, meaning I am now recognised as a promising young researcher. It was just amazing getting that recognition from the scientific community,” she explains.

Ncediwe advises young women who are interested in becoming scientists to work diligently to achieve their dreams:

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“They need to work hard and never give up, because quite often in research you might not see the results of your labours immediately, but they come with time and perseverance.”

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