Sav­ing MET­ALS FOR OUR FU­TURE GEN­ER­A­TIONS

Sehliselo Ndlovu is the first black wo­man pres­i­dent of the SA In­sti­tute of Min­ing and Me­tal­lurgy and is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the School of Chem­i­cal and Me­tal­lur­gi­cal En­gi­neer­ing at Wits Uni­ver­sity, writes Sue Grant-Mar­shall

CityPress - - Business -

Please call me Selo,” says the en­gag­ing as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor, Sehliselo Ndlovu, who has come full cir­cle with the SA In­sti­tute of Min­ing and Me­tal­lurgy (SAIMM), for it used to send min­ing books and mag­a­zines to the BSc en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent in me­tal­lurgy at the Uni­ver­sity of Zim­babwe.

Later on it paid for her air ticket to Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don. There she ob­tained her PhD in Min­er­als and Min­ing En­gi­neer­ing with a Bio­hy­dromet­al­lurgy spe­cial­i­sa­tion, in 2003.

“I grew up with the SAIMM, which serves the needs and in­ter­ests of min­ing in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als, play­ing a piv­otal role in my chem­i­cal and me­tal­lur­gi­cal en­gi­neer­ing life,” says Ndlovu. “It also paid for a year’s tu­ition at Im­pe­rial Col­lege so I am in­cred­i­bly proud to now be its pres­i­dent.”

She is pas­sion­ate about ad­vanc­ing and pro­mot­ing the field of me­tal­lurgy and was in­stru­men­tal in the es­tab­lish­ment of the SAIMM young pro­fes­sion­als’ coun­cil on which she serves.

“It in­volves youth in de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses around the cur­rent chal­lenges in the min­ing in­dus­try,” she elab­o­rates.

Ndlovu be­gan teach­ing and do­ing re­search in hy­dromet­al­lurgy at Wits Uni­ver­sity in 2004.

“We use so­lu­tions such as acids, al­ka­lis and com­plexes to ex­tract met­als from nat­u­ral ores, as well as re­cov­er­ing met­als from sec­ondary sources such as waste ma­te­ri­als.”

The lat­ter in­clude cat­alytic con­vert­ers in old cars, cell phone bat­ter­ies, com­put­ers and so on in the e-waste field.

“In Europe and other areas of the first world that have ex­hausted their vir­gin min­er­als for the most part, they now talk about the ‘cir­cu­lar econ­omy’. We need to save met­als for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, not least be­cause it is met­als that will drive the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion,” says the pro­fes­sor.

Raise an en­quir­ing eye­brow about the ex­ten­sive use of met­als and Ndlovu points to my cloth­ing ac­ces­sories, ring, even my hand­bag to il­lus­trate her point.

It is Ndlovu’s com­pre­hen­si­ble man­ner of com­mu­ni­cat­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of her sci­ence that has made her such a pop­u­lar teacher in the School of Chem­i­cal and Me­tal­lur­gi­cal En­gi­neer­ing at Wits.

She is cur­rently su­per­vis­ing five PhD and 13 master’s stu­dents and the list of her su­per­vi­sion of higher de­grees as well as her re­search pa­pers and pub­li­ca­tions through the years would fill sev­eral news­pa­per pages.

Her re­search in­volves work­ing with lo­cal min­ing com­pa­nies to solve a num­ber of chal­lenges, rang­ing from find­ing so­lu­tions to acid mine drainage, de­vel­op­ing new pro­cesses for higher metal ex­trac­tion ef­fi­cien­cies at lower costs, and con­serv­ing water and en­ergy in the me­tal­lur­gi­cal pro­cesses.

In ad­di­tion to her teach­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, she has been in­volved in cur­ricu­lum de­vel­op­ment at the school, which led to a new one be­ing im­ple­mented in 2015.

She’s been in­volved in col­lab­o­ra­tive re­search with uni­ver­si­ties in Ger­many and Ar­gentina, send­ing stu­dents there as well as to the US.

In view of the load on her slim shoul­ders, it’s no won­der that her stu­dents ask how she man­ages to be so well read and up to date on the top­ics they are re­search­ing.

Ndlovu’s jour­ney to her cur­rent po­si­tion is im­pres­sive.

She was born and grew up in Plumtree, Zim­babwe, be­fore mov­ing to Bu­l­awayo with her post­man fa­ther so she could at­tend St Columba’s High School there.

On hol­i­days back home, she and her six sib­lings helped her mother work in the fields, cul­ti­vat­ing maize, ground­nuts and sorghum, as well as look­ing af­ter cat­tle and goats.

“It was in­cred­i­bly hard work and I didn’t like it much,” she says frankly.

Her in­ter­est in min­ing was a byprod­uct of her pas­sion for “the ground, soil and min­er­als but the Uni­ver­sity of Zim­babwe did not en­cour­age women in min­ing so I con­cen­trated on me­tal­lurgy,” she says.

Iron­i­cally, her first job was work­ing for Bin­dura Nickel Cor­po­ra­tion where the then young wo­man de­signed a caus­tic soda pro­duc­tion plant for the whole re­fin­ery sec­tion in 1998. She went on to work in fer­roal­loys be­fore mov­ing into di­a­mond pro­duc­tion, over­see­ing the day-to-day run­ning of the di­a­mond re­cov­ery depart­ment at Bubye Min­er­als near Beit Bridge.

Shortly after­wards she went to Lon­don to study for her PhD and had been of­fered sev­eral jobs in the Bri­tish cap­i­tal as well as in Canada be­fore a col­league alerted her to the pos­si­bil­ity of work­ing at Wits.

“I wanted to come home to Africa, so when I got a call from the head of the school here, I didn’t hes­i­tate.”

To­day the busy pro­fes­sor, whose hus­band is a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, copes ad­mirably with the dif­fi­cult work-home bal­ance with their son, aged 11. She re­laxes by do­ing gym, run­ning half-marathons, bak­ing cakes and watch­ing sci-fi movies.

PHOTO: LOUIS GREEN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

MANY IRONS IN THE FIRE Pro­fes­sor Sehliselo Ndlovu

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