Thandolwenkosi Mthembu wants to design African cities that serve their populations and that can grow to support rapid urban development. “I want to do more than just design buildings; I want to change and affect people’s lives,” she says.
Mthembu is studying for an MSc in city design for developing countries at Oxford Brookes University in England on a prestigious Chevening Scholarship. She aims to improve areas like her hometown of Hammarsdale in KwaZulu-Natal. “My hometown is riddled with poverty and other social ills, and my academic training has brought to light the urban development issues that the society I live in faces.”
She hopes her “innovative but sympathetic design approach,” coupled with a strong interest in decreasing the effects of poverty, will fuel her career in the built environment.
She previously studied architecture at the University of Cape Town on a scholarship from the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. While there she fell pregnant with her son, so she completed her degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, closer to her family.
Her experiences of poverty and being a single mother have shaped her. “I’m committed to the transformation of the spaces in which Africans live, and I’m a strong advocate for equal opportunities for women in male-dominated fields such as architecture, and for transformation of all issues around race and the empowerment of women,” she says.
In 2015 she was part of an international workshop on reshaping the socio-ecological landscapes of Kya Sands informal settlement. She is also the founder of Power Generation, a youth organisation empowering the disadvantaged through education, sports and cultural activities.
Before going to the UK she lectured in architecture at Durban University of Technology.
— Lesley Stones