The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, launched the Tshianeo Marwala Scholarship in honour of his grandmother, Tshianeo Marwala on Tuesday, 16 April 2019.
The Tshianeo Marwala Scholarship is for women from underprivileged backgrounds, who are pursuing studies with focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) at postgraduate level.
Speaking at the launch, Prof Marwala, himself a registered professional engineer and one of the country’s leading experts in 4IR, said his late grandmother was his inspiration and his first engineering teacher. “Vho-Tshianeo Marwala did not go to university in the US to study mechanical engineering as I did. She did not go to the University of Cambridge in England to study for a doctorate in artificial intelligence (AI) as I did. She never even left South Africa. Despite these limitations, she taught me engineering at an early age. She taught me how to predict the failure of buildings in advance,” Prof Marwala said.
Vho-Tshianeo was born in 1925 at Makhonde village in Venda, Limpopo. She was married to Tshamano in 1943, and the couple moved to Dutsuni village, also in Venda. Vho-Tshianeo was popular as a skilled artisan and a traditional engineer who used to make floor mats using reeds and clay pots – an art rich in lessons for engineering, such as supply-chain management, metallurgy, applied mathematics, thermodynamics and AI.
“Even though she didn’t go to school, my grandmother’s understanding of scientific principles such as vibration to assess clay pots was outstanding. She was able to apply the annealing process without knowing the Boltzmann equation invented by the Austrian scientist, Ludwig Boltzmann,” said Prof Marwala.
Prof Marwala said the aim of the Tshianeo Marwala Scholarship is to grow the number of women from rural areas in the engineering area. “Being a woman engineer is different from being a male in the industry. Not better, not worse, but different. South African women have made many advances in industry in recent years, but much more work needs to be done to attract and retain women, particularly in areas such as engineering. The search for qualified and talented engineers remains one of the greatest challenges faced by companies across the globe. An even greater difficulty is in attracting and retaining women engineers who comprise of a small percent of the available workforce in the sector. It’s important that women are visible in all areas of study, especially as we embrace 4IR.”