Meet Dr Tozama Qwebani-Ogunleye, Project Director at Vaal University of Technology – Research (ITKTM-Dihlare)

January 14, 2020


Dr Tozama Qwebani-Ogunleye’s Bio

Dr Tozama Qwebani-Ogunleye is a Project Manager of the Institute of Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Medicine – Dihlare, at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) in the Faculty of Applied and Computer Sciences. She collaborates with Traditional Health Practitioners (THP), other scientists and different stakeholders as this is a trans-disciplinary project. Dr Qwebani-Ogunleye also heads a research group which she supervises the next generation of scientists, initially funded through her National Research Foundation (NRF) Thuthuka Post-PhD track research grant from 2016 to 2018. She has 11 manuscripts, 7 prototypes of traditional medicine and one patent filed thus far. She also serves as a member of the South African Bureau of Standards Technical Committee 1097, a National Committee for the Development and Maintenance of Standards in African Traditional Medicine. 

Prior to coming to VUT she was a lecturer and researcher at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). Her teaching career began before that, while completing her final year at the University of Cape Town (UCT), she was a laboratory demonstrator as well as a tutor for chemistry students. After completing her masters at UCT, she embarked on a PhD studentship at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and registered for a PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in 2010. Dr Qwebani-Ogunleye has volunteered her time as one of the judges and convenor for Eskom Young Exhibition Expo, to judge science projects in 2016, as well as part of the team that organised the Science Week at Tshwane TUT in 2016 and VUT in 2018. This was done in collaboration with the South African Agency for Science Technology Advancement (SAASTA)-the business unit of the NRF.

Dr Qwebani-Ogunleye pushes boundaries and this has resulted in a number of accolades. These include, being nominated by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)  to represent South African early to mid career researchers and scholars (3-7 years after a PhD) at the Global Young Leadership Workshop and the World Science Forum (WSF) in Budapest, Hungary in November 2019. In the same year, she was one of the winners of Inspiring Fifty South Africa. In 2018, she was the recipient of the TechWomen Fellowship. TechWomen is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is a platform for emerging women leaders in STEMI and the award encompasses a one month working visit to the San Francisco’s Silicon Valley. The same year, she was nominated to be the South African Young Academy of Science member. Through the Aurum Fellowship, she worked for three months at the International Centre for Public Health, New Jersey Medical School (USA), as a visiting researcher and was fortunate to work with renowned scientists, the likes of Prof Dorothy Fallows (Mentor), Prof Kaplan and Prof Arkardy. She has also written a book called, “20 Fantastic Life Lessons: Insights From My Journey”. Her webpage: is 

Why did you get in STEMI?

I have always loved maths at school. My adolescent afternoons were spent preparing for the Maths 24 School Challenge. My parents bought the Maths 24 kit and each Sunday my parents, brother, sister and I would play. My passion for maths, along with my family’s support, culminated in me representing my school at a national level at the Maths 24 School Challenge. Mr Mthithala, my maths teacher at Bizana village primary school was excellent in maths and added to my interest in it. My passion for science began after reading about penicillin and how it was discovered by chance. I started to imagine myself in the lab and wearing safety glasses and in search of a cure for something. Soon after, I won an opportunity at the age of 14 to represent South Africa at a youth science event in Vienna, Austria. I met young scientists from all over the world and rubbed shoulders with South African and Austrian dignitaries. This set me on my life’s path.

What do you consider as your greatest achievement?

Finding myself and connecting with who I am. I believe we are introduced to God/ having a relationship with God is a gateway to finding oneself. Because if you do not find yourself you will never be authentic, content or happy and all your life, you will be living at the ends of the strings that someone else pulls and you be a plaything of chance. Each day I work on being the best version of who I am – authentic and striving to thrive.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM and how did you overcome them? 

My experience has been great, I am enjoying learning, unlearning, relearning and teaching while on this journey. I am an African woman in an African country where modern ideas fight with the traditional for space in an ever-changing society. Many see this juxtaposition as problematic; I choose to see it as an opportunity. I have looked for opportunities within my challenges.

The stereotypes, social norms and pull-her-down syndrome are a reality. Sometimes I have observed that these are not out of intent but rather ignorance. Also, women emancipation is an ongoing process. The challenge is that gender equality is seen as a nice to have than a human right or a fundamental need. To drink fresh water, to breath in clean air, to go to school or to apply for a job without prejudice are all fundamental rights. I had an opportunity to talk more about this and suggest solutions in my blog. You can access more information about them here: on Education and awareness as vital tools towards gender equality and on Women Emancipation: An ongoing process.

What is your advice to budding women in STEM? 

Embrace Self-Leadership: this is the ability to lead yourself from one point, to personal growth and to excellence. In the challenges that you might be faced with, look for opportunities within and move from being a victim to be a victor- you have greatness in you.

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