School of Chemistry & Physics

Environmental Champion Masters Chemistry

Environmental chemist Mr Lindokuhle Simelane has been making waves in the scientific community with his ground-breaking work.

His academic journey at UKZN was fuelled by a deep passion for environmental conservation.

Simelane chose to pursue his master’s degree through UKZN owing to its commitment to innovative research and to addressing real-world challenges, which resonate with his personal vision.

His dissertation, which was supervised by Dr Precious Mahlambi, was titled: Removal of Antiretrovirals using Low-cost Adsorbents: Adsorption Kinetics, Adsorption Isotherms and Thermodynamic Studies.

The research centred on the simple yet revolutionary concept of harnessing the power of natural, abundant and cost-effective plant residues to purify wastewater. He explained that this has great potential in a country like South Africa. In the fight against HIV, the human body is unable to break down antiretrovirals (ARVs) completely and these substances often find their way into wastewater through urine and faecal waste. Traditional water treatment methods such as Reverse Osmosis (RO) are effective but complex and expensive, particularly for developing nations. His research offers an efficient alternative that utilises waste products from macadamia nutshells (MCN) and Platanus acerifolia leaves (London plane leaves).

‘South Africa is the third-largest producer of macadamia nuts globally,’ said Simelane. ‘It also houses the Platanus acerifolia tree. My research not only addresses water contamination but also contributes to reducing pollution. It is a crucial step towards providing clean water to communities, especially in regions like Durban, where sewage leakages have threatened the availability of clean, quality water.’

For this young conservationist, research is about making a lasting, positive impact on our planet. ‘As urbanisation and industrialisation continue to increase, demand for recycled water also grows and the need to combat water scarcity becomes more pressing,’ he explained. ‘My research offers a way to access clean water and prevent the development of resistance of HIV to the existing medication through consumption of contaminated water unintentionally.’

Simelane’s introduction to the Environmental Chemistry group on the Pietermaritzburg campus was a turning point in his life as he was exposed to a team that constantly monitored and reported on various practices of water remediation methods against various water pollutants.

He said he was inspired by his mentor, Mr Ntokozo Zwane, a chemical engineer at uMgungundlovu Municipality, whose vivid description of water purification ignited his passion for this area of research. He also credits his family for their unwavering support and encouragement. ‘My brother and sister in-law, Themba and Precious Ndlangamandla, have been a huge source of support through all the obstacles I encountered in my studies.’

Simelane is currently pursuing a PhD in Environmental Chemistry at UKZN. He aims to continue to develop eco-friendly purification methods that protect the environment while eliminating water pollutants and ensuring access to clean water, particularly in regions with ailing water infrastructure.

In his spare time, he enjoys bonding with family, playing uplifting gospel music and giving back to the community as a part-time tutor for high school learners.

Simelane shared his personal motto: ‘The difference between a goal and achievement is discipline. That is what has pushed me to be where I am today. However talented you are, if you are not disciplined you will not get meaningful results.’

Words: Cikizwa Gwambe

Photograph: Supplied