South Africa could do with more women in science, says UP’s Prof Mmantsae Moche Diale

Posted on August 30, 2019

When she was the Minister of Science and Technology in 2016, Dr Naledi Pandor ‘bent the rules’ and made it a point to grant 42 South African Research Chairs Initiative chairs (SARChI) exclusively to women. This was her response to the overwhelming number of male researchers previously awarded SARChI chairs; as a result, almost half of the National Research Foundation’s (NRF) funded research professors are women.

One of these outstanding women is Professor Mmantsae Moche Diale, the recently appointed NRF SARChI Chair in Clean and Green Energy at the University of Pretoria. Prof Diale believes that more women are needed in science in order to mature renewable energy technology for the country.

              Professor Mmantsae Moche Diale

“Energy from Eskom is very expensive, and renewable energy is still not affordable, but the advantage of renewable is that it is clean to the environment,” says Prof Diale, whose research focuses on harnessing energy from solar panels and hydrogen fuel. She says this high energy cost “affects the poorest the most, where people resort to stealing electricity to survive”.

“My general belief about the poor is that if we can put solar panels on houses in Soweto or Mamelodi, we would drastically reduce the issue of stolen electricity and non-payment of electricity to Eskom.” In turn we can pay the small suppliers of electricity from their panels on roof tops, and consequently reduce unemployment.

Prof Diale believes there are still too few women doing research in South Africa, and in particular black women. “We have not yet done enough to ensure that we get more women involved in research,” she says. “We should bend the rules in order to attract young, black women into research and help them survive this difficult and sometimes hostile environment.”

UNESCO statistics paint a bleak picture that shows a lack of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and innovation in South Africa, and Prof Diale wants to change that by mentoring young women from basic degree to PhD.

She suggests that the environment needs to be made more enjoyable for women and for them to feel safe. “Some women are scared of being attacked by predatory men, especially when they work at late hours in the lab,” she says.  

The key to attracting young women in science lies in investing time and resources in finding them at an early stage, such as in high school. As more women become part of the solution to expensive energy production, Prof Diale believes that the technology will mature to help the poor, and vulnerable people of South Africa.

Read more profiles on other amazing #WomenofUP featured in this series celebrating Women's Month:

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