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Browse through the story of Professor Musa Manzi below: his childhood and time at Wits University as student, and his academic excellence as a PhD student, doctor and professor.


Where it began

Challenges and milestones

Wits University

Musa – a student

Challenges and milestones

Academic Life

South Africa’s first black PhD Geophysicist:

Inspirational Life:

South Africa

Challenges and milestones

Chapter 1: NDWEDWE

Where it began:

Professor Musa Manzi was inspired to establish the Dr Musa Manzi Foundation by his journey to overcoming the adversity caused by poverty, fatherlessness and death to realising his being an award-winning scientist.

Professor Musa Manzi grew up in rural  Mayekeni, the poorest village in Ndwedwe district KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He attended Dumezweni Junior Primary School and Bhovungane Senior Primary School and Mabayana Secondary School in Ndwedwe Mission Area, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Musa’s childhood was fraught with great difficulties.  His father, Qhathizwe Bethwel Manzi, died when Musa was only two years old. Musa has no recollection of his father and only discovered a little bit about his father when he was older. He didn’t even have his father’s picture to glare at. At the time of his fathers passing,  Musa’s mother, Jabulile Florence Manzi, was pregnant and left to raise six children alone.

Musa’s mother got married at age 15. She did not go r gone to school and could not write her own name. As a result she worked hard as a domestic worker for an Indian family in Verulam, Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal. She stayed on her employer’s property during weekdays, and would only return home on weekends. Like many domestic workers during apartheid, she was underpaid – earning only R250 per month. She depended on this to care for Musa and his six siblings.

Basic Education

Musa was rejected and bullied within his village and at school for being poor, skinny and dark. Musa struggled to focus on his studies and grew resentful towards  school and dropped out numerous times. Musa’s teachers would search for his whereabouts and when they found him, they would force him to return to school – because he was talented, particularly in mathematics and music. He received  financial and emotional support from some of his teachers, to encourage him to focus on his school work. He found favour with his teachers.

Though Musa’s mother did not have an opportunity to go to school she did a thorough job of instilling discipline and the importance of education in Musa’s life.  A widow with no financial means, she tried her best to support Musa and his siblings with the meagre  earnings, ensuring that they have clothes and food. Musa still remembers his mother’s words when she would shout at him after missing school, “…I brought you into the world, but in the end, I am not responsible for what you become….Uzifundela wena (you are studying for yourself)”.

Unfortunately, all six of his siblings dropped out of School to look for job opportunities in Verulam as domestic workers and gardeners for Indian families. This left Musa as the only school going child in his family. Musa always knew from his mother’s teachings that the pathway out of poverty was through education, and promised himself that, as hard as it was and no matter the costs, he would not give up on school and his dreams. He considers his mother as a woman of tremendous determination, faith and courage, and blessed to have had a mother like her. He also believes that the source of his own determination was her great strength and love.

The hardships Musa’s mother endured caused her s  great emotional and physical strain. There were many instances, when  she fell ill causing her to refrain from and not working for a month or two. This left them dependent on help from friends, family and church members to get by. Musa took up working at his mother’s employer property as a gardener to raise money for his school fees, R70 per annum.  Through great determination coupled with the help of his mothers and teachers, he made it to matric. Musa often told his peers that he aspired to study at Wits University and become a doctor of science. when Musa was in Grade 9, Zodwa Ngcobo, a fellow church member and nurse by profession who offered to look after him and pay for the remainder of his studies., This  included  paying for his transport to attend additional support al Saturday classes in Tongaat, north of Durban. Her assistance blew Musa’s mind away and motivated him to focus all his energy on his education. As a Matric student, he found himself and his classmates without a Mathematics and Physical Science teacher. So he taught himself and others mathematics, physical science and biology. He obtained 100% for maths and 98% for physical science in matric. In doing so he became the first pupil in the history of the province to obtain 100% in maths.


Musa – A Student

After passing Matric, Musa knew he wanted to study at Wits University and become a doctor, so he asked his mother for R100 to pay for the bus to Johannesburg, which was a foreign place for him. The people in the admin department at Wits said they couldn’t help him because he hadn’t applied. Musa, like many kids from rural schools, didn’t know that he had to apply to get into the University. A random guy from the admin office noticed his confusion and a bag of clothes by his side; he asked if he could help him. He then discovered Musa had obtained excellent results for his matric, including distinctions in mathematics and physical science, and persuaded the university to accept his late application and register him for a BSc degree (majoring in maths, physics and computer science). Though he struggled financially, his university studies went well, becoming one of the top students in his undergraduate studies. He also made friends with a wide range of people which opened up his world and thinking.

Challenges and milestones 

In 2004, Musa’s mother and sister (who had two children at the time) became critically ill and were both admitted into the same ward at Osindisweni Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal. They both needed constant supervision and visits, and Musa was the only one to provide it since all his siblings had moved out of his mother’s house to look for opportunities elsewhere. This was a difficult period for Musa. He would travel from Johannesburg to Durban every Friday to help them through the pain and trauma. In some cases, Musa missed classes and stayed in Durban to care for his mother and sister using his bursary money. He was often concerned about supporting himself and those dependent upon him with the little he had, but he knew that he owed whatever he had become and would become to his mother. Around November 2004, a week before his final undergraduate exams, his mother’s and sister’s illness worsened and they both died within a day of each other. After hearing this shocking news, Musa’s dreams were shuttered and he felt like there was nothing left for him to live for. In 2005, Musa brought his sister’s two young daughters back to Johannesburg to live with him. He had no plan and resources. The three of them lived on and off in University libraries and classrooms for years. One day, a fellow student, Celeste Johnson, took him home for a meal with her family. Her parents, Ed and Rose Thomas, invited him and his nieces to stay with them full time, and they became his parents. Despite the pain of his mother’s and sister’s death and the responsibility of raising her sister’s daughters, he also experienced great love and blessing through people that surrounded him. Despite all the trauma and hardships that Musa went through in his childhood and at University level, he continued to excel in his studies achieving high grades. In 2007 and 2008 Musa graduated with BSc degree (majoring in maths, physics and computer science) and BSc honours degree in Geophysics, becoming the first one in his family to do.


South Africa’s first black PhD Geophysicist:

After completing his undergraduate degree, Musa had to make a difficult personal decision to continue with postgraduate studies. With two nieces to parent and support, he felt the pressure to start earning money. However, his newfound passion for geophysics made up his mind when he was offered an opportunity by a mining company (Gold Fields) to work on their fully sponsored 3D seismic data project. In 2009, Musa went on to register for his MSc, which was excellent and later converted to PhD in 2010 – achieving all this while raising his sister’s daughters.

In 2013 Musa graduated with a PhD in Geophysics from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (WITS), becoming the first black South African ever to be bestowed the qualification. In the same year, one of his research papers from his PhD work was awarded the ‘Best Paper Award’ for the research paper published in ‘Geophysics’ in 2012; which was presented in Houston, Texas, USA. Shortly after finishing his PhD, he joined Wits University as a lecturer in the School of Geosciences. Since then, Musa has continued to win a host of local and global awards for his internationally groundbreaking work on 3D seismic reflection technique, which is central to South African gold and platinum mining. His research is published in leading international science journals. Musa has supervised and graduated many MSc and PhD students in geophysics. He has also published more than 30 international (peer-reviewed) research papers and more than 80 peer-reviewed international conference abstracts.

The first black South African Geoscience professor:

In 2019, Musa was promoted to Reader or associate professor owing to his academic excellence mainly research and postgraduate students supervision, becoming, once again, the first black South African professor in Geosciences. Musa is also a director of the Wits Seismic Research Centre which he established himself in 2015. The Centre specializes in providing world-class geophysical training to undergraduate and postgraduate students from across Africa (and beyond) who plan to pursue careers in oil and gas exploration, mineral industry, and academia. He is currently based at the University of the Witwatersrand where he teaches undergraduate students and supervises postgraduate students. During his spare time, Musa teaches maths and physical science in township schools and also works through various organisations to help young people enhance their understanding of science.

Chapter 4: Inspirational Life

South Africa

Musa’s life story, seemingly insurmountable obstacles overcome and subsequent achievements, made him effectively peerless as an African scientist. Although his rise from student to a lecturer to a an associate professor and director of the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand has been meteoric, Musa continues to find time for teaching science and mentoring: undergraduates and graduates, disadvantaged youth, pre-college students (on Saturdays), and the beneficiaries of several charities that he founded and in which he maintains an active involvement. Over the years, he has travelled extensively, providing inspirational talks across South Africa in schools, universities and cooperate companies. He has also presented as a guest at workshops and keynote lectures at international conferences and universities in countries such as Mozambique, Zambia, Sweden, USA, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Germany, Estonia, Australia, and others. Musa is a respected media personality and has appeared on Radio 702; SABC 1; Carte Blanche; YFM; Power FM; Khozi FM and a host of other media platforms and business publications like Star Newspaper and Mining Weekly.

Motivation behind the Dr Musa Manzi Foundation:

Musa wanted to establish a foundation as one of the vehicles he would use to demonstrate why education is so terribly important to invest in, both financially and by simply taking an interest in a young person’s future. Musa believes that South Africa is blessed with a great wealth of human young talent, however sometimes their difficult past childhood events, as demonstrated by his difficult life-journey, may hinder their ability to discover their own talent and achieve great goals. His life’s story demonstrates that we all need to draw positivity in any difficult situation: there are many hidden gems like Musa in this country with the potential to rise to greatness if given a little help and compassion. There has never been a better time to be more open to helping young people reach their dreams, whether it’s financially or through mentoring a learner or university student. And Dr Musa Manzi Foundation provides such a platform to change and transform South Africa. For in the words of the American philosopher John Dewey: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

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