A love of maths and science can make dreams come true

Phakamile (Phaks) Ngqumshe is a Director of JG Afrika, a member of the Executive Committee and the Johannesburg Branch Manager. He is also Chairman of the Board of Specialised Road Technologies, a subsidiary of JG Afrika. Phaks has been with the company from 1994 and celebrates 25 years with the firm.

Njabulo Ntenza is a Technologist in the water division at the Pietermaritzburg branch, andhas been involved in many rural water supply schemes and managed projects for various municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal. Njabulo joined JG Afrika in 2007 and started his career working with the team at Terratest, another JG Afrika subsidiary.

For Phaks and Njabulo, the journey into engineering as a career started with a love of maths and science, a curious mind and the courage to dream beyond the confines of current circumstances.

Phaks was a Gr. 10 student when opportunity knocked. Together with other STEM-competent students at the Comprehensive High School in Kwa Thema, a township near Springs on the East Rand, he was selected to participate in extra English, mathematics and science classes on Saturdays at PROTEC’s branch in Pollark Park, Springs

Njabulo’s chance came in 1996 when he was Gr. 10 student at Edendale Technical High School in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. “At that time, there was a lot of political uncertainty in the country and my high school was one of many that suffered as a result of the high number of experienced maths and science teachers leaving the South African public schooling system. PROTEC supplemented my school curriculum, bridging the gap between schools serving poor communities and those with better resources,” he says.

PROTEC is a non-profit organisation that provides Saturday and holiday schooling for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who show above-average aptitude in maths and science. The organisation has since grown into a national STEM education programme with nine branches and 18 projects since it was launched in Soweto in 1982 by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE).

PROTEC also assists with sourcing bursary applications, and it was through them that Phaks successfully applied for a JG Afrika bursary. The firm paid for his studies and provided him an opportunity to work at its head office during vacations to gain the practical experience he required to graduate. After graduating, Phaks was offered a permanent position with the company.

“I have certainly benefited from this programme and, therefore, always encourage young South Africans from disadvantaged communities to participate. Through sheer hard work, commitment and passion, they too can pursue a successful career in the technical and scientific professions,” he says.

Njabulo also lauds PROTEC’s World of Work programme for exposing him to civil-engineering early on in his life.

Working at an engineering consultancy during his school vacation, he gained first-hand experience of exactly what a career as a Civil Engineering Technologist involved. He was, therefore, very well prepared and certain of his career choice by the time that he enrolled for a Diploma in Civil Engineering in 1999.

Both Phaks and Njabulo have studied further while working at JG Afrika. Phaks completed a BSc in Civil Engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand and, this year, Njabulo graduated with a BTech in Water Engineering from the University of South Africa.