Ms Thandeka Mbanjwa’s Masters in Plant Pathology sought environmentally friendly solutions to a significant potato disease to reduce yield losses of the staple crop and motivated her to consider furthering her studies at PhD level.
Originally from Ixopo in KwaZulu-Natal, Mbanjwa completed her Bachelor of Science (BSc) and BSc Honours degrees on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus. Her positive experience and the excellent quality of the education she received led her to pursue her master’s at the University.
Her postgraduate research focused on a major potato disease, potato brown leaf spot caused by the Alternaria alternata fungus that results in yield reduction in South Africa’s third most produced crop after maize and sugarcane.
Mbanjwa aimed to contribute to research on convenient disease control measures for crop protection and yield optimisation. Supervised by Professor Kwasi Yobo, she employed biological control agents and plant activators under laboratory and greenhouse conditions in a quest to identify measures that promise fewer negative environmental consequences and greater affordability than chemical control.
Mbanjwa initially planned to utilise plant extracts as an alternative to disease control on potatoes, but when laboratory trials did not return the anticipated results, she switched to biological control agents and plant defence activators. Her progress was also hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which slowed the delivery of research materials and consumables.
While a student, Mbanjwa worked as a residence assistant on the Pietermaritzburg campus, a role she successfully juggled with the demands of her research and the times she needed to be in the laboratory or greenhouse thanks to the assistance of colleagues.
After completing her studies, Mbanjwa worked for a short time as an assistant agricultural practitioner at the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and spent time at home working on her publications. Contingent on receiving funding, she hopes to continue her studies in plant pathology to PhD level.
Mbanjwa thanked her supervisor for making her master’s research possible and her parents, family, siblings Mr Lungelo Mbanjwa and Ms Nqobile Mbanjwa and friends for their support, which motivated her to make progress even when it was tempting to give up. An invitation to join the Golden Key International Honour Society was a welcomed recognition of Mbanjwa’s efforts, and she described her joy at her hard work having paid off as she celebrated graduating with her master’s degree.
Words: Christine Cuenod
Photograph: Sethu Dlamini