The engineer with corrosion-resistant guts

04 June 2012
Long road: It took a while for Ntseuoa Motsieloa to get to UCT, but he's made good use of his time here.
Long road: It took a while for Ntseuoa Motsieloa to get to UCT, but he's made good use of his time here.

Ntseuoa Motsieloa's story is one that has become all the more familiar as the profiles of UCT students change.

His story began in the rural areas of Maseru in Lesotho, herding his father's cattle, while attending St Benedict's Primary School in the small village of Ha Khanyetsi.

His parents, Motsieloa says, "loved education". His own love for bridges, dams, skyscrapers - he read about them insatiably at the United Nations Library in Maseru - inspired him at school, and he finished top of his class at St Joseph's High School in Maseru. He still wasn't ready for UCT, however.

School-leaving certificates in Lesotho are rated as O-level, and are not sufficient for direct entrance into UCT. Far from being discouraged, Motsieloa enrolled for a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and computer science at the National University of Lesotho.

Inspired by the story of astronomer Dr Thebe Medupe - "reading about his success journey despite poverty inspired me, and I also wanted to go to UCT, like he did" - he burnt the midnight oil. After finishing top of his class at the end of his first year, he applied (successfully) to study civil engineering at UCT in 2005.

Motsieloa graduated with a first-class pass in 2009, with his thesis rated the second-best in its category (cement and concrete materials).

In 2010, he was granted a scholarship from the Concrete and Cement Institute to register for a master's degree in concrete materials and structural engineering at UCT.

Two-and-a-half years of work into the resistance of sewer-pipe concrete to acid later, he will graduate this June with a degree that he believes will make a valuable contribution to producing acid-resistant sewer pipes.

The topic is relevant both in South Africa and globally, he says.

"The consequences of the structural failure of these pipes are destructive; the closure of roads for repair and rehabilitation causes havoc, and may cost more than the repair itself."

Motsieloa's perseverance, though, may just be stronger than any drainage system he designs in future.

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