Blazing a Trail for Black Female Nuclear Physicists in SA - Dr Pulane Molokwane
BLAZING A TRAIL FOR BLACK FEMALE NUCLEAR PHYSICISTS IN SA
Business Update invited innovative Nuclear Physicist, Environmental Specialist and businesswoman, Dr Pulane Molokwane, to share her views on the future effects of climate change on SA businesses and about the role of women in STEMI
WITH 15 YEARS’ EXPERIENCE SPANNING THE SCIENCE SPACE, WHAT AREAS HAVE YOU BECOME MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT, AND WHY?
My first love will always be Nuclear Science – Nuclear Physics to be precise. It has technically helped me to get to where I am today; the field exposed me to an environment in which I identified opportunities to grow and study further. Which I followed with studying the subject of waste minimisation in general.
I have grown to appreciate my work in the water sector, which I landed up getting involved in purely by accident, through my PhD project. To date I have published 30 peer reviewed papers and two book chapters in these fields. I have also managed to learn and grow in the governance space. On the whole, gaining the practical skills and publishing my writing has been an enjoyable ride – not without its challenges though. I believe being able to blend one’s technical skills with corporate governance is exactly what the business space needs, and probably speaks to the kind of directors we need too.
WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND HOW IT WILL AFFECT SOUTH AFRICAN BUSINESSES IN THE FUTURE?
The rise in average temperatures and frequency of high category 'natural’ disasters has increased – these occurrences are real. And those are just two examples of what is to come.
Global warming is happening because of the use of fossil fuels, and carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere – and other activities which disturb the ecosystem. There is a dire need to conserve and restore the ecosystems and biodiversity as a whole, and therefore, for businesses to play their part and adapt.
There is, however, a need to make this transition just: it should not be at the cost of lives or the economy or the ecosystem. This will be a fine balancing act but is certainly doable. And the contribution of the coal and mining sector to the economy cannot be disregarded.
WHAT STEPS HAVE THE SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT AND BUSINESSES TAKEN TO MITIGATE CLIMATE CHANGE?
The government has made the right moves in trying to address this, through emission tax, the carbon tax bill, and many waste and environmental actions that have been taken. The failure has been in enforcing most of these actions. I do not think major polluters are doing enough to mitigate the effects of climate change, and the state has not been punitive enough for them to feel it financially.
DROUGHT HAS BECOME A COMMON THEME IN AREAS AROUND SOUTH AFRICA. HOW DO YOU SEE THIS CRISIS PLAYING OUT OVER THE NEXT 5-10 YEARS?
There will be no new water in the future; the weather patterns have demonstrated that. The country is going to experience less rain going forward. We therefore need a paradigm shift in the way we manage our water resources. A wholistic source-to-sea management of our water resources is urgently required. This includes a coordinated approach to how investments in infrastructure are made. There is also a need to appreciate the true value of water and how water can be an economic driver. (I am currently leading the work/paper that is looking at Water Security within the NPC – the paper is out for consultation with stakeholders.)
WHAT REMEDIAL ACTION NEEDS TO BE TAKEN TO ADDRESS SOUTH AFRICA’S URGENT ENERGY CONCERNS?
This is a complicated one; it needs a multi- pronged approach. We need to bring in alternative energy sources, a phased-in cost-effective clean nuclear energy, to assist our state-owned companies (SOCs) to get out of the ditch they find themselves in, so that they can fulfill their developmental mandate as envisioned by the NDP. There is plenty of scope for different technologies to contribute to the energy space.
WHY DO YOU BELIEVE IT’S IMPORTANT TO ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN TO GET INVOLVED IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, MATHEMATICS AND INNOVATION (STEMI)?
Diversity leads to better products and results, as found in a study done by MIT. The field is dominated by men, and mostly older men, and less by women and people of colour. This picture has to change.
Studying in the STEMI field opens up a world of opportunities for women. It will assist in reshaping the workforce by providing a pipeline of women who can perform highly technical and functioning roles across multiple industries. Lastly, if you educate a woman, you educate a nation. After all, we make up more than 50% of the population.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF ADDING INNOVATION TO THE STEM MIX?
Most, if not all, businesses want to be more innovative. I believe the importance of innovation is increasing – and increasing significantly. One of the keys to any successful business is being able to come up with new ideas to keep operations, products and services fresh. Businesses then need to make those ideas a reality: innovation.
IT TOOK AN EXTRAORDINARY AMOUNT OF GRIT AND DETERMINATION TO ACHIEVE WHAT YOU HAVE. ARE THERE KEY LESSONS YOU LEARNT ALONG THE WAY THAT UP-AND-COMING WOMEN IN STEMI COULD TAKE ON BOARD?
It can be a trying journey! Studying in this field requires much tenacity, investment and sacrifice. What I didn’t know when I started out was that I would constantly have to prove myself in a male-dominated space. Most male counterparts ignore your ideas, only for a similar idea to be brought up by a man and taken on board as a great idea. You are continuously boxed in, expected to conform and be grateful even for being mistreated, as though you’ve been done a favour. The worst is when you have to put up with the same breaking down from fellow women. All this is meant to make you stronger and more focused. In response, all you need to do is let your work do the loud talking, not you. You will have a few failures; it is part of the training (at times harsh training). Yes, one gets tired but giving up is not an option. No matter what happens God will always place good people strategically in your path to assist you to reach the next step and eventually your goal.