Tebello Nyokong is one of Africa’s ten most influential women in science and technology. The recipient of a South African Chemical Institute Gold Medal, a National Research Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, a L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science and the Presidency of South Africa’s Order of Mapungubwe in Bronze. A former Fulbright Scholar who featured in 21 Icons South Africa, she is a distinguished professor of chemistry at Rhodes University, where she has supervised over 80 post graduate research theses. And all Tebello Nyokong dreamt of as a child was owning a pair of shoes.
Growing up with her grandparents in the Lesotho mountains, Nyokong was filled with youthful enthusiasm by the project of deciphering the workings of the natural world around her. But the school system discouraged her pursuit of education. Her peers spoke of science as an ominous, unconquerable giant. They made it sound laughable for a girl to even consider pursuing the subject. But each time Nyokong sat watching over her grandparents’ sheep – a task that overrode every other school day – she couldn’t help but wonder what was behind life’s beauty. One teacher noticed her curiosity, encouraging it as a powerful tool. So Nyokong pressed into her work, and discovered that her mind was as capable as it was inquisitive.
One PhD and a host of awards later, she continues the legacy of the teacher who first saw her potential, mentoring hundreds of aspiring scientific minds. Her fellow scholars marvel at the output rate of her research at Rhodes University. Not only is she shaping the minds of the future, but she is moulding her field today. Her research into photodynamic cancer therapy and nanotechnology is groundbreaking. At 65 years of age, she continues to make strides forward, each one inspiring young women in science to step up and lead South Africa’s quest for knowledge and innovation into the next decade.