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Change the world


Predicting solar energy accurately is the focus of Aphiwe Magaya’s Master’s research in the Department of Statistics at Nelson Mandela University. He received his Master’s during the 2024 autumn graduation.


Aphiwe Magaya at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton.

“It is essential to be able to accurately predict solar energy or photovoltaic (PV) output to know how much power is available on any given day from large solar installations, as well as for the integration of solar energy into the national grid when this happens at scale,” says Magaya, who explains that PV output ranges according to variables, such as the weather and sun strength.

In his study, Magaya assessed several statistical models to predict the energy output of a 1 megawatt (MW) photovoltaic system installed on Nelson Mandela University’s South Campus.

“The statistical models I used are Artificial Neural Networks (ANN), Support Vector Machines (SVM), Multiple Linear Regression (MLR), and Regression Trees (RT),” he explains.

“I compared the performance of each of the models and the results indicated that the ANN model performed best in determining solar energy output.”

The study is readily available and Magaya hopes it will be taken further “to assist in addressing the big energy issue South Africa is facing”.

He is now a data scientist with Altron Digital Business in Sandton, where he started in November last year. “My dream job is to be a well-rounded and experienced data scientist, says Magaya whose motto is: ‘never forget the life you once promised yourself’.

“I’m enjoying it at Altron very much and while settling into the corporate environment I have such good support from everyone and I’m learning a lot.”

He adds that his move from Gqeberha to Johannesburg was not daunting because for the first two weeks he stayed with a Nelson Mandela University alumnus friend, Lunga Ngcabashe, who is a director of his entertainment company, Lubra Pictures, who then helped him find accommodation close to his work.

Magaya’s love of data science, maths and statistics was first inspired by his maths teacher at Motherwell High School in Gqeberha.

“Mr Dyani saw potential in me and pushed me to do well in maths,” he explains. “Before that I wasn’t interested in the subject and my family could not help me with my maths homework. From Grade 10, I started loving maths and participating in an after-school maths and science programme called Kutlwanong Centre for Mathematics and Science, and I landed up getting 78% for maths in matric in 2015.”

In 2016, he enrolled for the BSc in Computing Sciences at Nelson Mandela University and received a BANKSETA and SITA bursary to major in mathematics and statistics. His Honours in Mathematical Statistics followed, graduating in 2021, and he is now graduating with his MSc in mathematical statistics.

“What I love about maths is I see it as art because you can visualise maths problems in so many ways to find the solution. It comes naturally to me.”

Magaya’s journey is an inspiration as it has been full of difficulty and heartbreak.

“I’m originally from the village of Esigundwaneni in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape. We moved to Motherwell in Gqeberha when I was 10 years old and it was a big adjustment coming from the rural areas to the township.

“I also had to learn to speak English and isiXhosa as I am a member of the AmaBhaca people and we speak a mixture of isiZulu, isiXhosa and siSwati which is very different to isiXhosa.”

In 2019, when he was at university his parents divorced, and Magaya and his brother moved in with their father. A year later his brother died in a motor accident and in 2022 his father died “from some unknown sickness”. His uncle then sold their home. “I was doing my Master’s at the time and I facing so much darkness that I felt like quitting, actually I was suicidal,” says Magaya.

“When I was hitting rock bottom, I would talk to a friend, Sinesipho Ntshangase, and he said to me "never forget the life you once promised yourself." He said it is the first thing he tells himself every morning when he awakens and he encouraged me to do the same, which I did.

“It meant a lot to me and I even wrote it on my vision board. I also told myself that my current situation was not my conclusion and I now encourage other people facing terrible situations to do the same.”

With support from friends, family members and his MSc supervisors, and his belief in God, he came through and graduated.  “The impossible has become ‘I am possible’,” he says. “My Dad would be super proud of me right now because he was the first person I told when I was accepted for my Master’s.”

“I’m so grateful to my supervisors and the people in the Department of Statistics who were so approachable when I needed to discuss my research and issues, and with whom I formed friendships. Along the way I also learnt the power of networking and during my Master’s I made strong connections at the conferences I attended in George and Durban.”

Magaya is planning to start his PhD soon. “I would do it part-time while working as I want to achieve a balance between academia and corporate life,” he says. “As for the life I once promised myself, I’m definitely on track. I am growing and learning, I am career-focused and enjoying life.

“Maybe in about two years’ time I’ll look at traveling a bit outside the country. I want to go to Italy or Paris as they are renowned as culinary countries and I love to cook. My family and friends can confirm this,” he smiles. “I am renowned for my beef stews!”

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Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057