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Change the world

04/01/2021

An unwavering commitment to water conservation culminated in a doctorate for a Southern Cape academic, whose lifelong dream to change her world through education began under an avocado tree two decades ago.

Zimbabwean-born Tatenda Mapeto, 33, a forest management lecturer at Nelson Mandela University’s George Campus, received the coveted qualification during Summer Graduation 2020, the institution’s online ceremony for its 1212 students, this month.

Mapeto’s PhD in Nature Conservation, in the field of forest hydrology, offered critical research into eco-hydrological patterns in tree production systems – vital for negotiating South Africa’s ongoing water scarcity.

Her journey started during a mini project on wetland delineation – using biophysical principles to understand how placing the right trees on the right sites contributes to managing for both water and fibre provision.

Mapeto completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees, focusing on the delicate balance between trees, humans, and water usage.

Her research contributed to a body of knowledge on water balance processes in both plantation and indigenous forests in South Africa’s Southern Cape region.

Married to Fero Katerere, a wood technologist and marketing professional, Mapeto was born in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.

Her parents, now retired, were dedicated entrepreneurs who had high expectations for their five children, she said.

“It wasn’t always easy, but my dad managed to send us to good schools. All the cents from bread and milk sales (in their spaza shop) went into our education.

“He vowed to make sure that we would have a good basic education and he did just that. This qualification is about him and his struggles.”

Mapeto’s mother qualified as an accountant and obtained a master’s degree – all while “being a great mom to her children.”

It was this “start from zero and get somewhere” approach to life that inspired Mapeto to do more than make ends meet; she excelled at school, particularly in maths, science and chemistry.

A National Diploma in Forestry from Zimbabwe College of Forestry was followed by studies at the University of Zimbabwe and Nelson Mandela University, where she completed postgraduate degrees and qualifications in project management and forest science.

Her university lecturing job focuses on forest inventory, management, planning and the decision-making environment in which forest resource managers operate.

“I teach modules connecting forest management skills and the informational needs and flows that underpin ecologically bearable, economically viable and socially acceptable forest production systems.”

Education is freeing, allowing one to “live life to its fullest,” said Mapeto. “My education journey was fraught with financial challenges.

“One day, aged nine or 10, I was sitting under my granny’s avocado tree, where I asked my father what would happen now, as I’d been sent home for non-payment of school fees.

“He said that he would get me to university, with or without money, as I could get a bursary, because I was smart.”

“That stayed with me. And when I wanted to do my master’s, but had no funds, my supervisor, Professor Jos Louw, told me that money should be the last thing that stops one from achieving one’s dreams.”

Her mentors included Prof Louw, Dr Mark Gush, Dr Richard Bugan, Professor Jenny Fincham and her uncle, Watson Mlambo, a high school maths and physics teacher, to whom her PhD is dedicated.

She also credited her grandmother, parents and siblings as inspirational cheerleaders in all her adventures.

“What I Iove about education is that it is a process of becoming,” said Mapeto. “It has carved a pathway to creating value for myself, my family, my community and, I hope, in the world one day.

“I hope that I can inspire others with the words: it can be done.”

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777
Zandile.Mbabela@mandela.ac.za