Bongani Dladla is a talented young engineer who received numerous awards during his time at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he studied for a BSc in civil engineering. He opted for a career in engineering because he believed that he could use these skills to change people’s lives for the better.
“I considered medicine, but I realised that most doctors solved problems one person at a time, so I chose civil engineering, as the infrastructure I would design and build could serve many people at the same time, and for many years,” says Dladla. “I also wanted to create things that would outlive me. Imagine how proud the designers of the Moses Mabida Stadium in Durban, Dubai’s Burj Al Arab or Khalifa buildings feel? There are engineers alive today who delivered these monuments to us. I feel like I am doing something real.”
Dladla’s field of study is quite broad, covering the issues of water and the environment. He has also worked on numerous projects to enhance his repertoire and skills. He collaborated with Derek Stretch, an internationally recognised scholar in environmental fluid mechanics while at UKZN, and got to know the hydrodynamic and sediment transport of the St Lucia estuarine system.
“The significance of this study is that changed the management practices that were destroying the sustainability of the system,” says Dladla. “It disproved a 50-year old myth regarding the situation of St Lucia Lake.”
After UKZN in 2011, Dladla spent five years as a civil engineer at Umgeni Water, where he worked with mostly a young team of engineers and technicians in the design of complex water systems. “This was truly an empowering experience because of the supportive environment and [it] helped me gain my confidence as an engineer,” he says.
Dladla is currently working on a project that examines the sustainability of innovative biofuel production in Durban. He is working with his mentor, Professor Stretch, and Dr Fenner from Cambridge University, and while the project is a secret, his passion for it certainly is not.
“The ultimate goal is to reduce coastal cities’ reliance on fossil fuel and move towards renewable energy,” he says. “The study has the potential to put South Africa on the map when it comes to renewable energy, and will go a long way towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
The journey to success has not been an easy one for Dladla, as his township school lost its physics teacher while he was in grade 9, and the role was only filled when he was in matric. For someone who wanted to study engineering, it was a devastating blow.
“We had to form peer groups and learn the subject on our own,” says Dladla. “Although I marginally passed the subject, matriculated with merit and had distinctions in a few subjects, UKZN rejected my application. I had to do an access programme for a year to improve my sciences.”
Four years later he graduated top of his engineering class and today he is at Cambridge University, where Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking studied, just to name a few. Today Dladla is a husband, a father and remains as committed to his career today as he was when he started.
— Tamsin Oxford