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Musa Manzi: The Wits researcher saving lives in the depths of SA’s mines

10 June 2020 4:14 PM

Wits Originator, Musa Manzi has unearthed the seismic impact of mining and, discovered what lies beneath the earth.

As humanity is faced with increasing global emergencies, now more than ever, we must all contribute to solutions: for good, and for the good of all people. In the Wits Impacts For Good podcast series, Eusebius McKaiser engages in conversation with Wits Originators, forward-thinking researchers from Wits University, interrogating problems and seeking robust and impactful solutions, backed by leading research.

Meet Musa Manzi – the Wits professor whose ground-breaking mathematical algorithm has the potential to save the lives of mineworkers down in the darkest depths of South Africa’s deepest mines.

In the face of tragedies and hardships, Musa Manzi remains a man of many notable firsts.

Growing up in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal, the odds were stacked against Musa. At the tender age of two years old, his father passed away, leaving his mother as a single parent to raise their six small children on a domestic worker wage.

Despite not being formally educated, Musa’s mother understood the value of education. So, when all of his siblings dropped out of school to find low-paying jobs to survive, Musa’s mother motivated him to persevere in the pathway out of poverty: education.

Over the years, Musa’s love for science grew stronger and stronger. He decided to take up mathematics and physical science but because the school was under-resourced, Musa and his classmates were forced to teach themselves. Despite this hurdle, Musa matriculated with distinctions in all of his subjects – including 100% in mathematics and 98% in physical science – completing his schooling at the age of 15.

Not only did he become the first person in his family to matriculate, he also became the first learner to achieve 100% for mathematics in the whole of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Tragic events threaten Musa's academic career at Wits University

With just the clothes on his back, Musa borrowed R95 from his mother, bought a bus ticket and travelled 500 kilometres to apply to Wits University.

When he arrived, he was refused acceptance because he hadn't applied for admission ahead of time. However, his excellent matric results were enough to convince the admin officer to complete a late application in order for him to become a Wits student.

As expected, Musa excelled in his academic studies but, just one week before his final undergraduate exams, his mother and my sister passed away within one day of one other – leaving Musa to become the guardian of his late sister’s two daughters.

Forced to juggle parenthood and student life, Musa took the girls to live with him, on campus. For the next two years, the trio slept in Musa’s office, classrooms, and the Wits library until the parents of a close friend took them in.

The first black South African to obtain a doctorate in Geophysics!

After completing his PhD in Geophysics, specialising in reflection seismology – Musa was awarded the ‘Best Paper Award’ for the research paper published in ‘Geophysics.' He later joined Wits as a lecturer in the School of Geosciences and became the first black South African associate professor in Geosciences before being promoted to senior researcher.

Innovative research that saves lives in SA mines

South Africa has some of the deepest mines in the world. Mining at those depths can trigger rock bursts, methane explosions, and earthquakes – endangering the lives of miners and, affecting the stability of mines.

As part of his doctorate, the Wits Originator researched reflection seismology with the aim of discovering what lies beneath the earth. Through his technology, Musa was able to detect mineral resources at ground level, mapping the flow of methane gas and, structuring a mine before it is built.

Not only does his research assist in the discovery of new deposits of deep-seated mineral ore, it also expands the knowledge of how they are formed and mitigates the geohazards faced by miners in deep underground gold and platinum mines – preventing mining tragedies and helping mining companies improve their mining methodologies.

Mining is the backbone of our economy. So, we want to make sure that we extract the ore safely but also, at the same time, mitigate the risks that are associated with various hazards that are happening in the mines.

Musa Manzi, Professor — University of the Witwatersrand

Paying it forward

In 2015, Musa established the Wits Seismic Research Centre in the School of Geosciences to address the significant skills shortage in geophysics and petroleum engineering fields, and other key sectors that drive development on the continent.

In addition to his work at the centre, Musa teaches mathematics and physical science in township schools and, has remained actively involved in his community and, in the lives of talented young South Africans who would ordinarily have been overlooked

If a young South African is sitting in the valleys of Limpopo, Kwa-Zulu Natal, in the rural areas, their talent is not discovered, it is not of value. So, my idea is that we have to get out there and try to discover this young talent in South Africa and try to nurture them, inspire them, empower them, so that they become the Musa’s of tomorrow.

Musa Manzi, Professor — University of the Witwatersrand

10 June 2020 4:14 PM

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