The scientist who plucked his dream from the sky

 

Sphumelele Ndlovu’s life was derailed when strikes caused 24 out of the 28 teachers at his school to abandon their posts in his matric year. His mother sold chickens to provide for her children, never considering herself worse off than others. But the family was poor. Education was Ndlovu’s ticket to a better future, and he wasn’t going to give it up without a fight.

Left without a choice, he and his peers taught themselves their vital final year’s work. In a bittersweet end to an unjustly stymied year, Ndlovu acquired his matric without the marks necessary to begin a university degree. But he remained determined to find an alternate avenue to tertiary education. He applied for a science foundation programme at UKZN, passed the entrance test and secured sponsorship for himself in the process. Over a decade later, Ndlovu finds himself studying towards his PhD in laser study and working at Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory.

He is part of a team of scientists that has set out to measure the distance between the earth and moon using lasers. It is the sixth-ever such venture, but the first to be carried out by an African team. A man whose horizon was once confined to the perimeter of a chicken coop now handles tools that allow his eyes to glide over galaxies. Ndlovu’s life so far has been the embodiment of sheer will. And it proves that no dream is out-of-bounds, no matter where you come from or what stands in your way.