Dr Noma Stokwe is from a small village outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape. She completed her honours degree at the University of Fort Hare and then applied to both Stellenbosch and Rhodes University to do her master’s. Rhodes University was her preferred choice because it was closer to home, but Stellenbosch was quicker to offer her a bursary.
“Coming to Stellenbosch was my first time away from home. I didn’t know anybody, and it was a lot of change,” Stokwe remembers. Fortunately she had a supportive supervisor in Prof. Antoinette Malan. “If it wasn’t for her, I would have left,” says Stokwe. “If I look at the progress that I’ve made over the years, I wouldn’t have done it without her. She has been absolutely wonderful.”
Stokwe graduated with a master’s in 2009 and then worked as a research entomologist for the Agricultural Research Council at Infruitec. In 2012 she started her doctoral studies while still working part-time. “I wanted to help my brothers through university, and I couldn’t do that if I wasn’t working,” Stokwe explains. Both her younger brothers have since completed their qualifications.
Stokwe says that she was the first person from her village to obtain a doctorate. “It’s one of those things that makes one feel like one’s very blessed.” The fact that she has managed to balance her career with raising a family makes her achievements even more inspiring — especially for young women.
“When I go home, I go to my old school to talk to the matrics,” Stokwe says. “The teachers invite me, and I enjoy it.” Let’s hope that Stokwe motivates a new generation to follow her into science.
Image supplied by Noma Stokwe.