20 June 2018


Young Bokone Bophirima scientist off to space


Obakeng Maje


23 September 2016

Meet Bokone Bophirima's own scientist, who one day wants to settle on planet Mars, permanently. His name is Sir Stuart Ntlathi and he's only 29.

In two weeks' time Ntlathi will be jetting off to space for a four-day trip. And up there, the young man will fly South Africa's flag and proudly represent Bokone Bophirima.

Born in Taung in the Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati District Municipality, Ntlathi has proven that while money can make the world go round, determination can take one from one planet to the next.

His family moved to Jouberton outside Matlosana, where Ntlathi did most of his schooling. By the time he turned 14, he had already formed a science club with a group of friends, with the sole aim of sharing their passion for science and technology. Through this club, the young friends also sought to spread this enthusiasm among their peers.

An award-winning sci-entrepreneur, Ntlathi is the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Stuart Ntlathi Science, Engineering & Technology Institute (SNSET) in Klerksdorp, an organization that has for the past 16 years been working to encourage school learners to take an interest in Mathematics and Science.

Ntlathi spoke to Semphete on the sidelines of the Lilizela Tourism Awards over the weekend.

He applauded South Africa's democratic government for creating an environment for previously disadvantaged citizens to get opportunities to succeed.
"The dawn of democracy opened many doors for technology in South Africa. I was always impressed and interested in the sector so the passion forced me to start an after-school science club program," he told Semphete.

"More than 33 000 children are currently benefiting from our programmes. We train them on how to excel in science and technology. We have developed an application to help students to master mathematics and science," he said.

When Ntlathi read Sir Richard Branson's book Losing My Virginity many years ago, he developed a strong connection that saw him writing to the British businessperson and philanthropist.

"Branson talked about his interest in taking people to space. I was impressed and moved by that. I wrote a letter to Branson and pitched a few ideas to make that possible. I wanted to assist him on how to execute his vision of taking people to space," Ntlathi said.

"Eight years later I received a response from him. Now we will be taking first tourists to space. Five hundred and fourty people have already booked and paid for the trip... 200 000 US Dollars per seat," he said.

Ntlathi's excitement with the space trip is also due to the fact that he believes people will be able to see the world from a different perspective once they have experienced the unknowns of another planet. This would encourage more South African schoolchildren to take Science and Mathematics subjects.

"I will spend four days in space while our tourists will spend two hours and come back to mother earth. I also believe that we need to encourage more black children to embark on the sector to unleash more knowledge," he said.

His SNSET Institute already owns patents to some interesting innovations: a microwave that provides 15 services, a battery-operated shoe polisher with changeable colour cartridges, an auto-cooling umbrella and the only electric vuvuzela in the world.

He said about the microwave: "It is easy to cook with it and it basically replaces all your kitchen appliances except the washing machine. I call it a 15-in-1 and you can bake, cook, grill and do many things with it. It also has radio on it to listen to while cooking. The microwave can also be operated with batteries for people in far-flung areas like Taung".

The idea of an electric vuvuzela came about because of health reasons.
"I am asthmatic and I could not blow the ordinary vuvuzela. The electric vuvuzela is also pre-loaded with South African anthem 'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika'," he said.

Ntlathi has won 49 awards for his science work so far, including the Community Developer of the Year Award, which has not been won by anyone from Bokone Bophirima province in 39 years.

Even though Ntlathi only studied up to Grade 12, he managed to reach some of his dreams. He quit university only three weeks after enrolment.
"It is very knotty to embark on science and technology as a black person. There are many hindrances in the sector. Some believe that science and technology is only for selective people. They believe that the industry is for other races and that is why we have a high rate of failures within our black community," he said.

"I also feel that there is no one protecting the needs of those who are interested in the field. I am the first black child from North West to represent the province in various science and technology competitions across the world. We need to continue to encourage black people to embark on science and technology," said Ntlathi.

He plans to retire at 33 and become a full-time student in space science and tourism.
"I also want to elope to go to Mars planet permanently. I want to be in the next list of intake," he said. And we wait for the year 2022, when Ntlathi is likely to take citizenship of the planet many of us will never get to know.