National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Simphiwe wants to do research into producing large amounts of clean energy.

Simphiwe Kubheka is studying electrical and computer engineering at the University of Cape Town. He matriculated at Emhlwaneni High School in KwaZulu-Natal.



“Being a South African citizen and watching my country going through the never-ending cycle of loadshedding has inspired me to try and come up with sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions to fix the electricity shortages.”



Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? What inspires you?

My name is Simphiwe Kubheka, and I am from the village of Peacetown at Ladysmith. I am a passionate young man who grew up in an inspiring environment, known for violence, and very little literacy. Growing up in a demoralising area, I was determined to reach high, proving that one’s background does not matter, as your passion and determination surpasses all. As there has not been any very big achievement from my local area, I want to be the first one to reach the top, come up with the greatest discoveries and earn myself the greatest image of all time next to the greatest like Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla to mention a few. I want to make my family, school, community and mostly myself proud.

Where did you complete your schooling?  Tell us about this school and your teachers

I completed my last five years of schooling at Emhlwaneni High School. It was a very strict school, but mostly caring and nurturing. My teachers regarded themselves as our parents the moment we left our homes. Their intentions were very pure as their goal was to protect us from all the world’s temptations in any possible way, while they gave us the best education we could wish for. They are the most dedicated teachers who did not mind sacrificing their weekends and holidays, not just for the matric classes but also for the lower classes, to help us fill in gaps in topics we lacked in the most. We also had morning and afternoon classes. We did not play much sport in our school, because the school was focusing mainly on teaching. We, as learners, used to think of that as boring, but soon learnt that our school was able to maintain the 100% pass rate due to its dedication to the teaching and learning process. We did have soccer and netball on Wednesday, talent days. Those were good times and looking back on them, I can gladly say I enjoyed my high school years.


Why did you choose the course you are studying?

Electricity has been my greatest interest, not only because of how the controlling and manipulation of electrons’ movement has revolutionised the modern world, but the amount and complexity of calculations based absolutely on abstract thinking are interesting and fun. My goal is to specialise in either microprocessors, machine learning or power grids, as they are very much in demand. To me they are by far the most interesting courses in engineering and are mathematically dense. Many people avoid electrical engineering as they deem it hard, but as a person who likes challenges, I saw an opportunity to prove that nothing is too difficult if you put your mind and mostly your heart into it. Being a South African citizen and watching my country going through the never-ending cycle of loadshedding has inspired me to try and come up with sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions to fix the electricity shortages.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I see myself being one of the most successful researchers and the founder of new laws which can be implemented on producing large amounts of clean energy. I always dreamt of owning my own successful company, creating job opportunities for South Africans. If not so, I plan on starting my own electric car company, with a lower production cost, making it cheaper so that we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per year. One of the reasons I chose this degree was because of its flexibility, from software engineering to hardware, to power grids, and with that, I see my goal of being an entrepreneur becoming even more realistic.

Why do you enjoy science and maths?

I view science and maths as proper exercises for a mind, the keys to greater advancements in the world. Maths and physics require a lot of analytical thinking, which is undoubtedly a prior need to many fields of study. Even as I grew up, I was fascinated by how all the wonders of the universe can be simplified and governed by mathematical laws, how much the world has been revolutionised through the discoveries of these laws. I saw these subjects as being intriguing and even when I was in lower classes, upon getting free time alone, I would go through advanced physics and maths books to see the interesting knowledge I could acquire if I continued with these subjects. My teachers used to say I was very biased because I only excelled in these subjects. I could not help it; working with numbers is what brought me joy, and I did not see myself doing anything else. The childhood passion and the obsession I had with these subjects brought me where I am, made me choose this course, and I believe they will take me far.


Why do you think some people have problems doing well in maths and science?

Back in my high school days my schoolmates who were having difficulties with math and science asked how I got to be so good in them. Using soccer as example, I mentioned how players train or play the whole day. From the perspective of viewers, they are torturing themselves. For them it is different, they have passion for what they are doing. The torture we see, is the only thing that according to them, brings them happiness, peace. We create desires in our hearts, and what we desire the most, is what we find easy to achieve. It is the same concept with maths and physics. It is true that we do not possess equal intellectual capabilities, but passion conquers it all. Many learners hate these subjects, and I always told them , “with that mindset, mastering maths and physics will be impossible”.

What advice do you have for school learners who struggle with these subjects?

Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Failing to do something the first time does not mean the end of it, it is just a first attempt at learning, and there are many attempts to be taken. Pride is the enemy when it comes to these subjects. I have noticed, especially more recently, that people do not ask for help, because they are too proud.  I always fell behind one learner, except in maths. He was not a brilliant learner, but very hardworking, and he found maths very challenging. But through dedication, always studying, asking teachers for help, he ended up besting me once. Just as I realised he was better than me in everything now, I also realised I had a rival, someone to push me in a good way. In my experience it is a good thing to have a rival at school, someone who will help you bring out the best in you while you do the same thing for him/her. Ask for help whenever you need it, from your teachers, even your schoolmates, and most importantly learn to love these subjects. By seeing their importance in your life and things you might achieve with them, you can slowly develop that passion you need. At the end of the day we cherish what we think is of dire importance in our lives.


Any tips for learners in grades 11 and 12?

Being a grade 11/12 student is very challenging and interesting. Your perspective determines how these years are going to be for you. As I have seen it, viewing something as challenging means something different from viewing it as being difficult. In my opinion, viewing something as a challenge means you are eager to solve it, put in the effort find the solution, as opposed to viewing as being difficult. Create a good mindset. We do face challenges in life, but let them be what they are: challenges. That means you must devote as much time as you can to studying while also catering for other important things in your life. Start working in groups, as a war is won by army, not one person. Teachers are there for you, your classmates are there for you, you have everything you need to win this war, soldier. Take it and conquer.

What advice do you have for matriculants who must apply for places in higher education institutions?

We all have favourite universities and colleges we want to go to, but looking at the bigger picture, it is important to note that you might not be accepted in that institution you wish to, but you can still be able enrol in your dream course. It is therefore important to apply in as many institutions as you can. Another thing, sharing something that happened to me: doing something you love very much is of dire importance. I applied to study medicine at Wits, and I was accepted. Did I want to do it? No, I applied because teachers and other people wanted me to, because of its prestige. I ended up not taking it, regardless of what was said, because I knew that what I chose would affect me for the rest my life. Do what is in your heart. Do not fall for what people say, or what others do, your life of independence is about to begin. Begin in by doing what interests you and might bring you joy for the rest of your life. Universities and colleges are not places of fun; many people are fortunate to be accepted in them, but not all graduate, because of the mindset they came with. Moving away from your parents, your home, does not mean forgetting all their teachings. Always remember where you come from what you came to do, and things you have been through to get there, and trust me you will never go wrong.


Understanding excellence – what makes an achiever?

A person who attempts something that he/she has never done before and achieves a high level of success in it is an achiever. We thrive for what we desire and although sometimes we see it being further away from our reach, we push harder to get there. Failing through the process, but still having passion and endurance to keep going makes an achiever. Facing challenges is inevitable, but knowing the path to success is uneven will help you prepare your mind for them. A river running from the source sometimes flows laminarly and turbulently along its path, run through many obstacles, but in the end, through all of that, it reaches its destination. Excellence is hard worked for, and with it rises an achiever.

A message to South African youth in general?

I was not born from a privileged home or went to a privileged school, but I managed to get where I am now and I’m still heading further. It is not about what you have or what your parents bring to your plate, it is about what you want to have, what you want to achieve, what you want your legacy to be, what you want to be known for, everything that you and only have done for yourself, your family and everyone around you. It We are born in the world where everything from technology to science is developing fast, which also means an exponential increase in good and bad influences all around us. It is therefore good to take care of yourself, choose the people you associate with and activities you affiliate yourself with wisely. Use technology, science in a good way to feed yourself knowledge, because knowledge is power, and education is the key to success. We may all have different talents, interests but the road is still the same, thus you should prepare for the best and the worst, but always remember why you chose that path in the first place, because what you wanted to do resided in your heart for a long time.

If you had ONE opportunity to speak directly to a very influential person, who would you choose and what would you say to them?

A person who had the greatest influence on me was my maths teacher. He was not only the best in teaching it, but his love for the subject made me even more interested in it. He always told us to him, his job is not only to teach, but to also mould us to be better people in the future. He always gave us great advice on how, when facing certain life challenges, should we react. He was a straightforward person, passionate about his work. With him by our sides, we knew we had a father. He used to push me to do my best, told me when I was deviating from my original self. We even had a teacher at my school who chose to do teaching over medicine, because he admired him so much and wanted to be like him. It was very inspiring and showed how an influential person he was. I could have gone online, looked for famous influential speakers, but with a man like that, what more, or new things could I have wanted to hear?? I always asked him, and I will still ask him the same thing, to keep on being the man he is, the father he is and a great influencer to everyone.

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