Ms Nomfundo Gabuza graduated cum laude with her MSc degree in Applied Mathematics despite confronting numerous obstacles.
Gabuza matriculated at Wembezi Secondary School near Escourt, a disadvantaged school with a low pass rate. During her matric year she was accused of cheating as she achieved excellent results in Mathematics whilst her classmates did not. After further investigation, Gabuza was cleared and her results were released with her earning a B symbol. It was, however, too late to register at any university, which led her to take a gap year.
Initially, Gabuza enrolled at UKZN to study Applied Chemistry as her experiences deterred her from pursuing Mathematics. After a year, however, she realised that her passion still lay with Mathematics, prompting her to change to Applied Mathematics.
After completing her undergraduate studies Gabuza registered for an honours degree, but illness caused her to withdraw. Spurred on by her siblings’ belief in her, she returned the following year and completed the degree. Gabuza lost her parents at a very young age and depended on her siblings for emotional support. She realised very early that there was no room for failure.
During her honours studies, Gabuza was inspired by Professor Sudan Hansraj to investigate the area of General Relativity. While her family expected that she would start working, she registered for an MSc.
Her research study investigated exact solutions to the odd and even dimensional pure Lovelock field equations in order to generate astrophysical models. It analysed models of perfect fluids that arise in the modified Lovelock theory of gravity. Lovelock theory generalises General Relativity and opens the door to answer important phenomenological questions including the late time accelerated expansion of the universe through geometry.
‘Very few women pursue research in General Relativity but my supervisor, Professor Sudan Hansraj believed that I could achieve the MSc degree, which truly motivated me,’ said Gabuza.
Hansraj said: ‘Nomfundo has applied herself diligently and has produced an excellent piece of work that is publishable in high end international calibre scientific journals. She succeeded in generating viable models of relativistic stars in the higher curvature gravity theory. As she comes from a humble background she had to undertake tutorial work in order to maintain herself during the master’s degree. Despite this she showed determination and was able to complete the work in very good time. I congratulate her on her success and wish her well in her future endeavours to realise her dream of completing a doctoral degree in Applied Mathematics.’
Gabuza relaxes by watching and playing sport and is a former member of the UKZN ladies’ soccer team.
Her advice to other students is: ‘Do not be afraid to pursue your dreams irrespective of your background and experience. Black women can succeed in Applied Mathematics.’
Sisters Nomonde and Nokwanda Gabuza said they are proud of their sibling: ‘We have faith that our sister will continue to rise despite all the hardships and will one day be in a position to take care of our family. Thank you, UKZN, for helping our Nomfundo to reach for her dreams.’
Words: Leena Rajpal
Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan