Shaky start at PMB school hasn’t stopped him aiming high

2014-10-20 00:00

IN his matric year, Sphumelele Ndlovu was one of hundreds of pupils whose education was disrupted when 24 teachers walked out of Kuhlekonke Secondary School in 2004.

But the young man — who was raised by his single mother, Patricia, in Elandskop near Pietermaritzburg — refused to let this challenge get in the way of his dreams.

Now part of the team at the Space Geodesy programme at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (Hart­RAO) near Johannesburg, he’s about to fly to America to take part in an international conference on laser ranging, organised by Nasa.

While there, Ndlovu will present a paper based on his PhD work at the event in Washington DC from October 27 to 31 — his first time overseas.

He hopes that his success in the field of science and engineering will encourage others to get a good education to pursue their dreams.

Ndlovu, who is speaking at his alma mater, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Pietermaritzburg) today, believes that if someone works hard they can succeed — regardless of where they come from.

“At varsity I was not getting top marks, but that didn’t discourage me,” he said.

“It’s not about the marks, it’s about the knowledge you acquire. If you work smart you’ll progress and achieve your goals.”

While he had no teachers for most of his matric year, he and his fellow pupils refused to give up.

“We would teach each other. I was good at maths so I helped those who weren’t, and those who were good at biology and English helped me,” he explained.

Ndlovu later applied to be part of the Science Foundation Programme (now the Centre for Science Access) at UKZN in Pietermaritzburg.

“That’s where I discovered my love for science. It was the toughest year ever, but it helped us to bridge the gap and get into varsity.”

A year later he started his undergraduate degree majoring in applied mathematics and physics, and then went on to do his honours and master’s degrees.

For his master’s he focused on the effects of thermo turbulence on laser beams.

Still thirsting for knowledge, the 28-year-old came across two doctorate posts.

“The Space Geodesy programme flew me to Jo’burg and told me I would be part of the team, working under Professor Ludwig Combrinck, on the lunar laser ranging (LLR) project,” Ndlovu said.

“The project aims to measure the distance between the Earth and the moon using lasers.”

Ndlovu has since successfully come up with software coding that ensures that the machine used by the team works correctly.

He has two children with his partner Promise Shabangu.

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