Siyabulela Xuza was at the Chamber of Mines yesterday afternoon sharing his life experiences in order to inspire others
There aren’t many South Africans who have the honor of having a planet named after them.
At the age of 26, Harvard graduate Siyabulela Xuza had this honor bestowed upon him after he took first place at an international science fair, the Global Science and Engineering fair for an alternative rocket fuel.
He gave a motivational talk to Engineering students at the Chamber of Mines yesterday afternoon. Xuza had the audience eating out of his hands after sharing with them that he had been, even if it was for just four months, a Witsie who stayed at Knockando Halls of Residence before he found out that he had been awarded a scholarship to Harvard.
His story is one about perseverance and optimism that knows no bounds. He believes in hard work and to “Remain Ruthlessly Curious” which is his personal motto.
Believer: Siya Xuza sharing stories of his childhood in order to inspire Witsies. Photo: Michelle Gumede
Xuza recounts how as a little boy growing up in Northcrest Township in Umthatha, he was fascinated by watching an airplane in the sky. He did not know what it was, but he wanted to find out.
At some point in his young life he decided he wanted to go to Jupiter, so he’d build a rocket. This decision led to him blowing up parts of his mother’s kitchen in an attempt to create fuel for his rocket.
Xuza’s story is appealing to so many young people because it is authentic. During the question and answer session, he explained how he prefers to tell his own story to inspire young people, in whose position he once was. He believes that because it’s genuine and it’s from him about him, then people are likely to get the message far easier.
“It is estimated that 850 million people in Africa do not have access to energy. As an innovator, it is our [sic] job to try to solve the problems of tomorrow by improving on yesterday’s solutions…” said Xuza. This is the reason he was inspired to create a micro fuel cell that will last longer after it has been charged. He does however admit that even though this cell will revolutionize the availability of power, it is still financially impractical to mass produce.
Xuza says this is why his partnership with TOTAL is so important because then he will be equipped with the necessary financial skills in order to solve this problem.
The humble and quietly confident young man is proof, as clichéd as this sounds, that if you work hard, have a clear vision and persevere, anything is possible.
Total South Africa and Wits University renewed the metaphoric vows of their partnership earlier this week.
In 2010 Total SA signed their first memorandum of understanding with Wits, which saw Total funding students’ studies and research at the university in an effort to remedy the skills shortage present in South Africa.
DOTTED LINE: Total’s CEO, Christian des Closiéres and Wits VC Prof Adam Habib renew a memorandum of agreement, in which Total pledge financial support for the university. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Total SA’s managing director and CEO, Christian des Closiéres, said Total had over 90 scholarships on the continent to make sure the youth are equipped with the “powerful weapon” of education. Des Closiéres said the partnership with Wits went beyond financing students’ studies and included a multidimensional investment that saw Total funding research and training of academic staff at Wits. In total 14 students had benefitted from the partnership over the past three years.
Highlighting why he saw the partnership as mutually beneficial, Wits Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib said Total would need the capacities of “a whole new generation of engineers” and the skills of many other professions.
While Wits may have a much smaller engineering programme than the University of Pretoria but it is “perhaps the strongest engineering programme in the country and probably the continent,” said Habib. He said this strength lay in the vast amount of engineering research done at Wits, and being one of the only universities in the world with a mining engineering school, was another advantage.
Wits hopes to branch out into petroleum engineering and the partnership with Total could facilitate this move. “Wits as an institution is beginning to ensure that the capacity for petroleum engineering, the skill sets required for it and the partnerships required for it, is developed in the country,” said Habib.
Along with this, Wits is trying to build partnerships with other universities across the continent to “begin to weave an intellectual capacity that can begin to support the developmental agenda of the African continent”.
Two ex-Witsies, whose studies were sponsored by Total, were present at the signing and said they were particularly grateful for the opportunity to go to Total’s summer school while they were studying at Wits.
The summer school runs for a week and consists of a series of seminars on various energy issues. Chemical engineering graduate Thulisile Cingo said the summer school was a way for Total to get insight and ideas from the various students they fund worldwide.