Mpumalanga-born Lebogang Mahlare is passionate about technology and its importance in African development. Her decision to do a master’s in New York was influenced fundamentally by a desire for international exposure.
“As South Africans we are underexposed to other parts of the continent; my friend, who had studied overseas, had wonderful things to say about the study abroad experience.”
Despite being a top maths scholar during her schooling, the decision to study engineering happened serendipitously. “I remember not being too sure what I wanted to study at varsity, so friend of mine and I put my three choices — law, engineering and actuarial sciences — into a hat. I literally picked engineering from a hat.”
After completing her BSc degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cape Town Mahlare applied to and was accepted for an MSc programme in urban systems engineering at New York University on an Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Scholarship.
“My experience also reasserted to me that South Africa has strong institutions that can easily compete with NYU, because my formative years at UCT were solid enough to ensure that I could easily thrive in this new context. We are doing something right ko hae and we need to protect it and ensure it stays longer and can spread to more people. It’s really just the difference of prestige.”
She is also a former director of a nongovernmental organisation called Women in Engineering, and her involvement in it is informed by how there continues to be a mental block for women in engineering when it comes to competing with men. “The Stem field requires a lot of transformation, and we need to understand why the sector needs women and what that benefit could be. Ultimately, diversity fosters the best of what is achievable.”
Mahlare’s master’s thesis research explored how renewable energy mini-grid technology can reduce energy poverty in Africa through electrifying rural communities. She has also recently worked at the World Bank Group’s
International Finance Corporation.
She is excited about existing in an era where the passing of time has meant the redefinition of societal values. “I am motivated by the radical shift in the position of women, with campaigns ranging from #MeToo to the gender wage gap. It allows us to unpack our values, because women are now occupying and transforming these spaces.” — Nomonde Ndwalaza