PhD students put SA on map

Rhodes chemistry PhD students Gauta Matlou, Nobuhle Ndebele, Reitumetse Nkhahle and Lindokuhle Nene have come up tops in an international competition with their waste management system.
Rhodes chemistry PhD students Gauta Matlou, Nobuhle Ndebele, Reitumetse Nkhahle and Lindokuhle Nene have come up tops in an international competition with their waste management system.

A group of South African students have won an international competition to develop an idea that will provide meaningful work for young people within the next decade.

The four students - Nobuhle Ndebele, 24, Lindokuhle Nene, 25, Reitumetse Nkhahle, 26, and Gauta Matlou, 29, - all PhD chemistry students at Rhodes University in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) impressed the judges of the 2019 Hult Prize Regional Summit at Brookhouse International School in Nairobi, Kenya, with their business model.

They were the only South Africans who took part in the competition, beating 45 other teams from across the world.

Speaking on behalf of the team, Matlou said they were excited about the accolades they received from the judges.

"Our idea of creating job opportunities for the youth was through the collection of electronics and electrical waste materials for further recycling, repairing or re-purposing into new market products," he said.

The Hult Prize challenges innovative university and college students from across the world to a social entrepreneurship start-up that will create 10,000-plus meaningful jobs in the next decade.

Matlou said they chose the business model based on electronic waste because electronics have hazardous components in them.

"It is only the youth that can come up with solutions to South Africa's problems like environmental issues, declining economy and unemployment. That can be done through social entrepreneurship," Matlou said.

According to the team, the country annually produces about 316,000 tons of electronic waste.

Only about 12% is collected and recycled, which is then exported to other countries.

Nene said their aim was to contribute to the economy and promote South African goods in the process.

"The electronic waste that is currently not collected and recycled or repurposed will raise about R15bn for the country's economy," Nene said.

The team has been automatically entered into an acceleration programme and will spend eight weeks in the United Kingdom.

The programme's aim is to prepare the winning teams from regional summits for the final pitch competition where the best business idea will win $1000,000 (R1,4m) as capital injection for their start-up.

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