In celebration of Women’s Month 2018, we are featuring female researchers who receive funding from the NRF. We thank the ladies for volunteering to share their stories with us.
Retang Anna Mokua is currently a PhD candidate in the field of hydrogeology at the University of the Western Cape.
I was born in Limpopo in a small village called Ga-Masemola. I’m the third of five children raised by a single mother, a former primary school teacher. When I was 10 years old my family relocated to Rustenburg, North West.
What made you decide to choose your field of study?
The small laboratory experiments in high school ignited my love for science. I grew up surrounded by mines in Rustenburg and my curiosity in trying to figure out why and how they chose that particular area for mining is what led me to geology. Geology is a very broad field – it’s challenging at times but also fun. The great part is being able to travel and discovering the mineral wealth of our continent.
I worked on exploration projects across most African countries and the state of living I witnessed wasn’t pleasant. It was very heartbreaking to watch people go for days without clean water and no proper sanitation whatsoever. That is when I started to grow an interest in water resource management. Having a great foundation in geological sciences enabled me to branch into my current field of study, hydrogeology. I never envisioned myself as a hydrologist, however, I had always known that science is a field with many opportunities and I’m always open to exploring.
I am currently enjoying the processes – it is fulfilling to be involved in something you are passionate about. The ability to be able to contribute to science, as well as directly improve the welfare of my community, gives me a huge source of fulfilment.
What does your current research focus on?
My current research focuses on surface water resources. I am more interested in understanding the processes of streamflow generation. This includes characterisation of flow paths, i.e. how water moves within catchment from the surface through the ground until it reaches the stream; catchments using stable isotopes of water; and geochemical tracers.
I am studying under the Professional Development Program (PDP) initiated by NRF and have been under this program for almost one year.
My role is to conduct PhD research which involves collection, analysis and interpretation of data that can be used to develop a catchment conceptual flow model and aid in improving the development of numerical hydrological models.
How do you think your work/research can benefit/impact South Africans and/or the world?
We live in a semi-arid country with a risk of facing water shortages in the near future. The Western Cape Province, in particular, is currently experiencing drought. Research projects like this are necessary for water resources management and to allow proper water allocations in the region. It will also help in building models that can help to predict the impacts of global change on water resources and flood risk management.
These models can also aid in implementing/designing strategies for sustainable water resource management and drought adaptation.
The methodology or approach used in my research hasn’t been explored much under the Mediterranean climate and fractured rock geology – this research aims to test its applicability under such climatic and geological conditions.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to get to where you are today?
The competitiveness of the job market in our country led me to further my studies as I faced tough competition having only an Honours degree. However, I am grateful and happy where I am at the moment with my career. I believe this qualification and experience will increase my career prospects and I also hope that I can inspire someone out there.
Who has been your greatest inspiration? Who saw your potential/encouraged you when the going got tough?
My greatest inspiration has always been my family and friends – they are my greatest support. I am also a Christian, therefore, I mostly look to God for guidance in all I do. I have friends who have pursued postgraduate degrees and had always told me never to undermine or limit myself.
I also had great mentors during my studies in Germany and I am happy they saw my potential and encouraged me to pursue a PhD. I still go to them for advice, which I very much appreciate. I currently have great academic and financial support from NRF.
What is your vision for the future – what do you hope to achieve in the next ten years?
I would like to be among the leading authorities in research on water resource management. I believe there is a need for new skills and there is room for development of new projects. I believe this is where my research skills and experiences can contribute tremendously.
I would also like to contribute to science by publishing meaningful articles in hydrological studies and establish collaborations with international institutions. Collaborations can help bring funding to our projects as well as develop lasting relationships.
What other interests do you have outside of your chosen career?
I love travelling, photography and outdoor activities. I am very passionate about hiking and exploring nature. I also love being involved in environmental management projects such as the preservation of our natural vegetation and creating water awareness programmes for people in rural areas.