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Durban University of Technology (DUT) alumnus Bheka Mbonambi is exhilarated upon hearing the news of him being selected as one of the 20 educators in South Africa to participate in the Youth in Climate Robotics Project.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in South Africa is implementing a six-month project during 2021 called Think Big Start Small: Youth-led robotics for multi-dimensional climate solutions. He was selected to participate in the project after a competitive application and selection process.

UNDP implements the project with FEMSTEM (Pty) LTD and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Johannesburg. FEMSTEM makes use of the globally recognised non-profit science centre offering science learning experiences in maths, science and technology school curricula to learners, educators and the public.

The project goal is to equip at least 60 learners and 20 teachers from 20 schools across South Africa, with skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, including robotics and coding, and to empower learners to use these skills to address local climate-related issues, targeting Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, 13 and 15.

Mbonambi is a DUT graduate with two qualifications, a National Diploma in Horticulture and an Advance Diploma in Sustainable Horticulture. He owns a Gardening and Landscape business called Scape Star Trading. He is a cofounder of Enriching Foundation Through Sustainability; which is a community project aimed at schools, to best occupy the youth in activities. He was also a part time tutor at DUT.

Upon hearing the news of such an achievement, Mbonambi said: “I celebrate every opportunity rendered to me. I didn’t believe that this was happening, I was filled with joy. I am always worried about being the right person for these type of opportunities. After seeing myself being shortlisted, I realise that just the shortlisting for me was already an achievement on its own.”

Also sending her congratulations to him was DUT’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement, Professor Sibusiso Moyo.

“Congratulations and well done. This is a great achievement and thanks so much for putting DUT on the map,” she said.

Speaking about how he was informed about the competition, he specified that his close friend, Lethukuthula Shabalala, recommended him for this training programme. He conveyed that he had mentioned to his friend previously about a similar programme that he had attended that was offered by DUT called DUT MIT Summer School 2020, a Quantitative and Qualitative Data Analytics Workshop.

“It introduced me to Coding skills. I think observing that these programmes are technology driven he sent me the link and I applied,” he said.

Mbonambi explained that he would now be able to facilitate the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to students. He said that an invite is going to be sent to students and should they be interested they can apply.

“There is a XINABOX Kit that we will use for the robotics and mechanise learning, this kit has chips function as digital sensors (temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, soil moisture, light intensity, UV index, carbon dioxide concentration), core processing, interfaces, power solutions, is the basis of the programme and it will be used for the innovative ideas. Selected successful innovations will be exposed to funding,” he said.

For the talented Mbonambi, this is also not the first time he has achieved an accolade.

“I was selected as one of the four to coordinate an online hackathon programme DUT-MIT (Africa) ACSeedE’,” he said.

Delving more on the Youth in Climate Robotics Project, Mbonambi said that in terms of technology, South Africa is behind other international countries. He conveyed that more youth involvement is required to improve the state the country is in.

“We need more programmes and opportunities that are initiated and operated by the youth. I know many students who find it hard to write an email, at this day and age it is unacceptable we need to try hard. We need more platforms to help us formulate great ideas that are applicable in the real world. I stand for youth empowerment,” he stressed.

He relayed that his drive to succeed was motivated by his harsh background, his late mother, and the fact that he wants to be great.

“DUT has amazing women, in my view that help seal the entire ship to be steered in the right direction. They are true to themselves, resilient, engaged, transparent and mother figures. These mother figures at DUT are Professor Sibusiso Moyo, Dr JM Matetoa-Mohapi, Prof Keolebogile Motaung and Ms Nons Khanyile. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to them and that may they always open their doors to their students,” he said.

Mbonambi also stressed the importance for both staff, students and DUT alumni to participate in national and international competitions, like this one.

“The entire world is developing and transitioning into the 4th Industrial Revolution, where machines are taking over conventional jobs. If we don’t participate in technology and robotics driven opportunities, we are going to be excluded from the industry and qualifications won’t be enough to develop this country. These opportunities are for free, we need to impact change, develop our own machinery, inventions. This will disintegrate poverty, crime, and unemployment rate in South Africa,” he added.

Going forward, Mbonambi’s future goal is to secure capital to continue with his Gardening and Landscaping business and to see it operating and to start an office at DUT that will allow students to tackle problems with solutions and focus on student collaborations for better innovation.

Pictured: Bheka Mbonambi

Waheeda Peters

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