Dr Banothile Makhubela

Chemistry lecturer, University of Johannesburg

Dr Banothile Makhubela is an extraordinary academic, leader, scholar and scientist with a truly exceptional portfolio. She is a senior lecturer at the department of chemistry at the University of Johannesburg, has a PhD from the University of Cape Town, and supervises, trains and mentors postgraduate students. She contributes ground-breaking research and has received numerous awards, both locally and internationally. To date, she has 10 prestigious scholarships, fellowships and grants — and 15 publications.

“I have been intrigued by science since I was 11 years old,” says Makhubela. “I found chemistry more understandable than other subjects and my undergraduate studies saw me studying the inherent properties of transition metal compounds such as redox activity, light absorption and emission. This led me into research in organometallic chemistry, with an interest in the application of organometallic complexes in drug discovery, and as a catalyst for the conversion of renewable feedstocks, fuels and commodities.”

Today, Makhubela’s research focuses on synthetic organometallic chemistry with applications in catalysis and drug discovery. The goal is the development of catalytic technology for the purpose of renewable biomass/bio-derived platform molecule conversion in a sustainable manner. In short: technological inventions that can be used to manufacture second and third generation biofuels competitively.

“Much of Africa is burdened by disease and it is stifling development,” she says. “This area of research is aimed at designing and preparing on transition metal-containing compounds for applications in anti-cancer, anti-HIV, antituberculosis and anti-malaria agents. We hope to contribute to overcoming the challenge of the disease burden and potentially improving the quality of life for people on the continent.”

Makhubela’s road to success has not been easy; she had to fight for funds to support her studies and she says “You have to work harder than your male counterparts for equal achievements, and even after having achieved your goals you get ‘she got that because she is a woman.’” Her advice? “Don’t let people dictate to you what you can or cannot achieve in life. I put emphasis on quality over quantity and strive to be the best in my area of research.”

— Tamsin Oxford

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