Unemployed doctoral graduate to test the waters after finally landing internship

Dr Lukhanyo Mekuto at his graduation ceremony. (Supplied)
Dr Lukhanyo Mekuto at his graduation ceremony. (Supplied)

Cape Town - One of the youngest doctoral graduates from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology is expected to report for the first day of his new internship at the City of Cape Town on Thursday after months of searching for employment.

Lukhanyo Mekuto, 28, who on Friday, September 15, graduated as a Doctor of Engineering: Chemical from the institution, finally landed the internship when mayor Patricia De Lille offered him a position, saying his "expertise in engineering and micro-organism will be indispensable to the City of Cape Town's efforts to achieving water resilience".

Mekuto told News24 that he had woken up despondent in his home in Brown's Farm, Philippi on Wednesday morning. As one of the first in his family to get a postgraduate and undergraduate degree, he had been applying for jobs since February.

"I have applied for about 25 vacancies in my field. I only ever heard back from one of them," he said.

READ: Mpumalanga maths guru launches free classes for young pupils

De Lille read about the young man's story and Mekuto was contacted by the mayor's office for a meeting at 12:00.

"It was overwhelming, kind of like meeting the president. But we had a friendly chat and I didn't feel intimidated. She allowed me to voice my opinion about things," he said hours after stepping into her office.

He later walked out with the internship and the offer to start the next day.

De Lille's spokesperson Zara Nicholson said the mayor offered Mekuto an internship in the Water Resilience Task Team where he could advise on waste water treatment.

Nicholson said when vacancies open up at the city, he could then decide for which job he would like to apply.

For his PhD, Mekuto researched the biological treatment of industrial wastewater generated by gold mines, which drew his attention after he had read about cattle deaths in KwaZulu-Natal due to cyanide poisoning in 2012.

The cyanide came from their water, which was contaminated by mining activities in the area.

'Domestic worker'

He investigated the use of micro-organisms to break up the cyanide into its component elements.

"I explained my expertise in waste water treatment to the mayor, and she told me that coincidentally the City of Cape Town had a vacancy for someone with those very skills. Instead of looking, they had found me," an awe-struck Mekuto said.

He said his recent graduation was a "big moment" in his life, marred only by the fact that his parents were unable to share it with him due to "financial issues".

"My mother is a domestic worker who works three days a week. If she doesn't go, she doesn't get paid," he explained.

"My father is a gardener and his job is weather dependent. Due to financial issues, they couldn't miss a day's work."

Instead, his friends cheered him on as he walked across the stage at the CPUT auditorium.

Mekuto obtained his BTech in Biotechnology in 2011 and his MTech cum laude in 2014.

He completed his master's degree in 18 months and his doctorate in two and a half years.

Mekuto, who tutors children from Philippi in Maths and Physics over weekends, covered his studies with loans from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) from his BTech to his PhD.

He said he enjoyed working with the pupils, who are currently writing their preliminary exams.

"While I teach, I try to talk about life issues - nothing formal, but mostly to steer them away from things like crime and to give them advice in terms of their future careers," he said.

Although he has worked hard for the title of doctor, he giggles when referred to as Dr Mekuto.

"I'm still getting used to the sound of that," he said.


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