The University of Mpumalanga (UMP) has appointed a new geology lecturer, Dr Xolane Mhlanga. He brings with him vast academic and research experience, which will empower students to become skilled geological scientists capable of solving fundamental research questions through innovative approaches.
The province of Mpumalanga, and South Africa more broadly, is characterised by competing and often conflicting demands for land for agriculture and forestry, for conservation and tourism, for mining, and for human settlement.
Thus, the new generation of natural and Earth scientists must be able to work in this contested space and understand the genuine demands from all the players. This is a key aim of the Bachelor of Science (BSc) qualification.
Perfectly positioned to assist students with mapping this path, is University of Mpumalanga’s newly appointed lecturer in geology, Dr Xolane Mhlanga.
With a PhD in Geology from Rhodes University, and a BSc degree in Geology and Environmental Sciences, the Mpumalanga born academic brings with him a field of knowledge and expertise that will benefit students, staff and the faculty at large.
“The fact that the University of Mpumalanga is a young institution, coupled with its location in our province, presents me with a huge opportunity to be part of an evolving and innovative academic space – both for learning and research purposes. I bring the skills I learned throughout my academic career to make this institution the number one choice for students wanting to pursue a career in geology,” he says.
As an early career geoscientist in South Africa, Dr Mhlanga's plans include contributing to world class, high impact research in his field to advance the understanding of ore genesis in iron and manganese deposits in the world.
“To curb the impact of climate change on our livelihoods, the world is shifting towards renewable energy resources. Primary resources like manganese (used in battery technology) will play a significant role in pushing us towards reaching goals such as the storage of solar or wind produced electricity and the inevitable takeover of electric vehicles.”
Dr Mhlanga believes that academics and institutions should produce research that is relevant to the ever-changing times that we are facing, not only as a country but globally as well.
“We need to find ways to share our research across our various fields with all the different stakeholders - not just within the scientific community. This is important to create policies that may result in the creation of sustainable jobs and future-proofing our infrastructure against the effects of climate change."
Budding young geologist
Growing up, Dr Mhlanga always had a keen interest in and curiosity about the Earth and the processes that controlled and governed natural phenomena.
“In high school my interests shifted towards Earth Sciences, when we were taught geomorphology in geography classes. During this time, I was always glued to the National Geographic channel as surfing the internet was somewhat of a luxury at home."
Dr Mhlanga during the graduation ceremony for his PhD at Rhodes University.
His love and interest for geography saw him head to the Eastern Cape, where he registered for and completed his BSc with majors in Geology and Environmental Sciences at Rhodes University in 2012.
“In 2013, I enrolled for BSc Honours in Geology and the following year pursued an MSc in Geology at Rhodes University under PRIMOR (Postgraduate Research in Iron and Manganese Ore Resources) headed by my former PhD advisor, Professor Harilaos Tsikos. This MSc was subsequently upgraded to a PhD in September 2015 as the project had the potential to have a significant impact at PhD level.”
The PhD project was essentially a continuation of his earlier work, with emphasis on understanding the interplay between primary and diagenetic cycling of carbon in the Hotazel formation, through the combined use of mineral chemistry, stable isotope geochemistry and iron speciation techniques.
He started working as a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Rhodes University from January 2020 to January 2023 after completing his PhD in Geology. He was also employed as a temporary lecturer in the geology department at Rhodes University from September 2019 to December 2022.
“During my doctoral studies, I got to spend time at the University of California in Riverside, learning wet chemical techniques (Sequential Fe extraction) under my PhD co-advisor, Professor Timothy Lyons, as part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). I finally graduated for my PhD at Rhodes University in 2020 in absentia due to the pandemic, but we then had a celebratory ceremony in October 2022.”
Research, teaching and learning
Dr Mhlanga lectured in Economic Geology at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and Low Temperature Geochemistry at undergraduate level. His research focus is on iron and manganese ore deposits in the Northern Cape of South Africa, with an emphasis on ore genesis.
“After completing my PhD in 2020, I was a postdoctoral research fellow at Rhodes University until I joined the University of Mpumalanga. During the last year of my doctoral studies and my postdoctoral fellowship, I was also employed as a temporary lecturer at Rhodes University where I taught first-year to honours courses,” he says.
Dr Mhlanga further notes that the next few years will be pivotal to his career as intends applying the skills he acquired during his postgraduate studies practically in a laboratory setting.
“I will be carrying out research relevant to the needs of stakeholders such as mining companies, government agencies, renewable energy firms, and so forth. I also want to support and work with the upcoming generation of geoscientists.”
He adds: “As a country, we find ourselves facing various challenges affecting our livelihoods. From natural disasters such as the recent heavy rains, to economic hardships and uncertainties in our future.”
@ Story by Lisa Thabethe. Pictures supplied.