The day before he graduated as a Doctor of Engineering: Chemical, Dr Lukhanyo Mekuto was in Bloemfontein to receive a Research Excellence Award for Next Generation Researchers from the National Research Foundation (NRF).
Originally from Brown’s Farm, Philippi, Mekuto (28) is the only child of a domestic worker and the first one in his family to not only get postgraduate, but also undergraduate degrees. He is also one of the youngest PhD graduate CPUT has produced thus far.
He arrived at university in 2008 and obtained his BTech in Biotechnology in 2011. He went on to complete his MTech cum laude in 2014. He obtained his postgraduate degrees in record time too, completing his master’s degree in 18 months and his doctorate in two and a half years.
His advice to those who, like him, want to excel in whatever field they choose, is to determine who they are and what they want. “Distinguish yourself from others. The mistake we in the township make is that we want to go with the crowd. I decided in grade 10 that I was not going to do that anymore.
“I tell learners, ‘Define who you are and what you want. Once you’ve done that you have to make a conscious decision to go after what it is that you want,’” explains Mekuto, who on weekends tutors children from his area in maths and physics.
According to Mekuto, the number one excuse people give for not reaching their potential is a lack of funds. “I have come through the NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) system. NSFAS paid for my BTech up to my PhD, so in my view no funding is no excuse.”
His research revolved around the biological treatment of industrial wastewater generated by gold mines. His interest was piqued when he 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. Mekuto investigated the use of micro-organism to break up the cyanide into its component elements.