College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Top performing Bachelor of Science in Engineering graduate, Mr Bukani Ndebele.

Water Engineer Offers Constructive Solutions for Bulk Water Supply

To score 94% for one’s final-year Civil Engineering dissertation is no mean feat! Yet this is the rabbit that Mr Bukani Ndebele managed to pull out of the hat.

The high achiever has now graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Engineering. Moreover, Ndebele won first prize at the annual South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) National IP Showdown event, impressing the judges with his innovation, uniqueness and presentation skills. He is continuing with master’s studies at UKZN.

Hailing from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, Ndebele expressed some unique views on why he chose to study at UKZN. Not only did the rich food and culture of Durban attract him, but the city also ‘exposed me to characters that comedian Trevor Noah always spoke about in his shows!’

He was drawn to Civil Engineering in particular because of its mathematical foundation. ‘I have always loved and still love mathematics to the moon and back,’ he said.

Sports obsessed, he initially dreamt of using his mathematical and engineering skills to design a sports stadium. As his degree progressed, however, he learnt about the fascinating discipline of water engineering, which caught his attention.

For his final-year design project Ndebele worked on a design for a bulk water supply pipeline for the Umkomaas area. ‘Projected water demand in the area was very high and new water supply infrastructure was required,’ he explained. The area required water to be pumped from a river to a raw water reservoir and Ndebele was responsible for designing the pipe that carried the water between the two structures.

‘I greatly enjoyed the process of figuring out not only the calculations but the social and political ways of designing as a civil engineer,’ he said. ‘My design stood out as I was the only one who decided to use two mains instead of one, which would cut costs by up to 10%.’

The design tied into his final-year dissertation topic, which focused on biofilm control in water supply pipes. This research aimed to improve water quality by reducing bacteria in bulk pipelines and increase energy efficiency – ‘which is very important as the majority of South Africa has a passionate relationship with Eskom!’ he quipped.

Ndebele noted that besides technical ability, soft skills are equally important for a competent engineer, including good communication skills and problem-solving.

He said his degree was not all plain sailing. ‘My lows were the failures that did come from a lot of tests, especially in Engineering, which required emotional discipline to overcome. Registration periods were also always super stressful, but staff members such as Professor Muthukrishnavellaisamy Kumarasamy were a fantastic help.’

The highlights were receiving three Dean’s Commendations, winning the SAICE IP Showdown Competition and ‘of course being a top performer for one of the toughest modules in Civil Engineering history at UKZN and nationwide!’

Ndebele offered a number of tips to fellow students: ‘Pray about your struggles and appreciate all your small achievements. Be assertive – ask seniors and annoy lecturers for information. You have made it this far – don’t stop, you’re a champion and always will be. Do what you love and know why you came to university. And choose a friend group that aligns with your goals.’

He thanked his parents Mr Moffat and Mrs Sitshengisiwe Ndebele for providing a solid support foundation, his siblings Mr Bulelani and Ms Bumnene Ndebele for their emotional and financial contributions, and Ms Tivana Moonsamy and Ms Samista Jugwanth for their academic encouragement.

In his limited spare time, Ndebele loves to play soccer, jam on his bass guitar, sharpen his mind with Sudoku and relax with a good stand-up comedy.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan