National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Dr Vhahangwele Masindi

For his specialization in the valorization and beneficiation of wastewater through drinking water reclamation and minerals synthesis.

Prize sponsor: proSET (Professionals in Science, Engineering and Technology), a sector of the NSTF representing professional bodies and learned societies.

The 2019/2020 NSTF-South32 for TW Kambule-NSTF Award Emerging Researcher was won by Dr Vhahangwele Masindi, Research Scientist: Magalies Water; and Principal Researcher: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); and Research Fellow: University of South Africa; and Part-time Lecturer: University of Venda. He has made significant contributions in the field of environmental monitoring and wastewater treatment. His emphasis is on waste streams valorisation and beneficiation to attain a circular economy.

In the aftermath of the industrial revolution, (first and second) South Africa has experienced significant pollution of the environment and its precious resources caused by environmental contaminants. This has rendered pristine environments unfit to manifest their intrinsic values and foster life. Of prime concern is the contamination of the environment through acid mine drainage decants, municipal effluents discharge, and pit latrines or septic tanks seepages into groundwater.

Dr Vhahangwele Masindi is a research scientist at Magalies Water and a research fellow at the University of South Africa (Unisa). He has made significant contributions in the field of environmental monitoring and wastewater treatment. Masindi has patented, piloted, and published on numerous wastewater treatment technologies. Consequently, his strong emphasis on waste streams valorisation (stabilisation) and beneficiation to attain circular economy has firmly crystallised.

“The inspiration for my work derives from deep concern about the fact that nearly 900 million people lack access to safe drinking water, according to the United Nations General Assembly, which explicitly recognised, through Resolution 64/292, the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights,” Masindi explains.

“The rapid growth in population, along with urbanisation, further mount pressure on the already dwindling freshwater resources through the ever-increasing volumes of wastewater produced worldwide. There is an urgent need to effectively manage wastewater discharges and protect the receiving water bodies and different compartments of the environment.”

Masindi has developed unique and effective technologies for the removal of toxic and hazardous chemicals from acid mine water, municipal effluents, and contaminated ground water. The next step is to convert these “waste” chemicals into valuable resources. The selling of product minerals will then generate revenue that offsets the running costs of this technology, making his technologies self-sustainable.

He was the first person to propose the use of an integrated approach for the reclamation of drinking water and the synthesis of valuable minerals from mine water, and was also the first person to propose the use of South African cryptocrystalline magnesite for the treatment of municipal wastewater. His work on these technologies has been piloted in Emalahleni, Tshwane and Johannesburg municipalities, and has attracted international interest.

Masindi hopes to positively impact society by ensuring that water resources are available and suitable for human consumption, along with ensuring food security through the production of by-product fertilisers that will enhance agriculture.

His water reclamation process aims to stimulate job creation through the establishment of spin-off businesses, as well as preventing the many negative health consequences of contaminated water. Masindi’s work intends to facilitate the production of mineral resources that have various industrial applications, and his fostering of a circular economy in wastewater treatment will reduce the ecological impact of mining. — Kerry Haggard

To read the full Mail & Guardian supplement of articles about the work of all the 2020 Award Winners, click here.

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