PhD at 28 for township scientist who broke with the crowd

Lukanyo Mekuto CPUT's youngest PhD graduate. Image: CPUT
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CAPE TOWN – The son of a South African domestic worker and a gardener is the youngest student to be awarded a doctorate at Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

Biotechnologist Lukanyo Mekuto‚ 28‚ won his PhD for research into micro-organisms that break down cyanide in contaminated mine drainage.

The day before being capped at CPUT‚ Mekuto was in Bloemfontein to receive an award from the National Research Foundation for the same work‚ which was sparked by the death in KwaZulu-Natal of cattle that drank poisoned mine water.

“The ceremony went very well. I am proud of myself‚ all my hard work paid off‚” said Mekuto‚ whose family were unable to attend the ceremony due to work commitments.

“I am very happy that I am able to achieve this in spite of my parents not being there to see me walk on stage to get my doctorate. But it still is a good feeling when you are recognised in the field of work that you do‚” he said.

Growing up in Philippi‚ Mekuto decided he would not follow the same path as his peers. “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 any more‚” he said.

“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.”

Mekuto‚ who is now looking for employment‚ said he had decided not to let his upbringing define his future. “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‚” he said.

Mekuto obtained his BTech in 2011‚ followed by a postgraduate degree‚ a Master’s completed in 18 months and now his PhD‚ which took him three years. He tutors high school pupils in mathematics and physics over weekends. – Timeslive