PhD graduate acknowledges the rocks in his life

07 December 2021 | Story Stephen Langtry. Photo Supplied. Read time 4 min.
Marvel Makhubele will be graduating with a PhD in Geoscience on 14 December 2021.
Marvel Makhubele will be graduating with a PhD in Geoscience on 14 December 2021.

Raised by a single mother of three children, Marvel Makhubele has come a long way from his roots in Limpopo. He will be graduating with a PhD in Geoscience from the University of Cape Town (UCT) on 14 December 2021.

His doctoral research encompassed an attempt to understand how the Algoa and Gamtoos basins evolved since the Jurassic period to the present, and if there is any potential for oil and gas in that area. His work will help to identify the best places to explore for oil and gas.

His research generated controversy. “Fossil fuel contributes to global warming but many countries depend on fossil fuels to run their economies,” Marvel said. “We need to tailor our own approaches as Africans. For example, electric cars are not practical for everyone in South Africa. We need to progress into cleaner and sustainable energy but not do it in a way that will cripple Africa’s economy.”

Limpopo to Cape Town

Marvel was brought up in a very modest, single-parent household in Tshikota, a township of Louis Trichardt in Limpopo. His mother valued education so much that she trained to become a nurse while looking after her own little children: Marvel and his siblings, older sister Rhulani and younger brother Thabelo, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago.


“I saw my mom doing the best that she could to make sure that we always had food on the table.”

“Growing up, I saw my mom doing the best that she could to make sure that we always had food on the table; we always had school uniforms. She sacrificed a lot,” he said. “I remember the one time that I was in matric I was called for an interview for a bursary. She used her last R50 to send me to that interview.”

Marvel’s decision to register to study at UCT in 2007 – the first pupil from his school ever to do so – was an effort to challenge himself.

He did his BSc in chemistry and geology and his honours in applied geophysics and petroleum geology at UCT. He then moved to the University of the Western Cape (UWC) where he completed his master’s in petroleum geoscience through a full scholarship from Sasol. He returned to UCT in 2018 to do his PhD.

He is currently living and working in London but said that he misses Cape Town.


“I have just always been fortunate to be surrounded by strong women.”

He met his wife while doing his honours. “She is one of the brightest people that I have ever met. I have just always been fortunate to be surrounded by strong women.”

She supported him and their daughter, now almost three years old, while he studied for his PhD, worked full-time in a demanding job and relocated his young family to the United Kingdom during the pandemic.

Marvel said, “I am a huge patriot. I believe in South Africa. I think that there’s so much potential. I’ve got every intention of coming back and working with disadvantaged communities because that’s something that’s been close to my heart and something that I still do.”

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Graduation December 2021


Graduation 2021

We understand the disappointment that our students and their families feel about the impact that the global pandemic has had on the normal operations for graduation ceremonies. Please know that the decision to host virtual graduation events was not taken lightly. We congratulate the December 2021 graduands on their academic success during exceptionally challenging times.

The December 2021 cohort graduated during the virtual celebratory events as per the published schedule available on the graduation page on the UCT Students website, where you will find full information about graduation.

You can also follow the celebrations on UCT’s Twitter page by using the #UCTGrad2021 hashtag.


Video and photo highlights

You did it!

The names of all of the December 2021 graduands (before the ceremony) and graduates (after the ceremony) can be found in the ceremony programme PDFs. Congratulations to all of you!

Faculty of EBE and Faculty of Science 17:00, 14 December 2021
Faculty of Humanities 19:30, 13 December 2021
Faculty of Commerce 17:00, 13 December 2021

Our stories: inspirational graduates

The UCT News team has profiled a cross-section of inspirational graduands whose stories have inspired us. To all those we haven’t been able to feature, we’d like to say: each one of you is an inspiration – to your university, your families and your communities. We wish you every success in the future.

Distinguished Teacher Award

The Distinguished Teacher Award is the highest accolade awarded to teaching staff at all levels within the university. Through the award, the University of Cape Town acknowledges the primary place of teaching and learning in the university’s work.

Fellows of UCT

UCT’s Council established fellowships for members of permanent academic staff in recognition of original, distinguished academic work that merits special recognition. In 2021, nine new fellows have been recognised.