Is He Truly The Youngest Applied Maths PHD Holder In SA?


Lehlohonolo Phali, a lecture at the North West University bagged a PHD in applied mathematics. He’s said to be the youngest NWU graduate to hold a PHD in applied maths. Phali is only 28-year old.

Huge feat huh? I know, Phali is an inspiration to South African youth.

He’s regarded as the youngest applied maths PHD holder in the country, many even said he’s the youngest PHD holder the country has ever produced.

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Feel free to debunk those assertions if you’ve the records of the young PHD holders the country has ever produced. This piece is more interested in sharing Phali’s message to South Africans.

Phali said whoever, anybody willing to be useful to South Africa, can do what he did. “Anything I did, you can do better,” is his message for our youths.

The young man grew up in Sebokong, Gauteng. He enrolled as a student at NWU in 2005 to study mathematics.

Phali wouldn’t brag that he wisely combated the financial challenges he encountered to see himself through school. He humbly inferred that his passion for what he’s studying kept him going.

“…I wasn’t planning to go this far, I knew I wanted to go the extra mile and I think I was lucky to get the kind of bursaries I got.

But ultimately I’d say it’s because of the fact that we do not have enough researchers in South Africa and applied mathematics is a scarce skill, but I have always had a love for it since primary school,” Phali commented.

He related that he received funding for his postgraduate studies from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa).

The funding according to him, helped. But he thinks more money should be invested on students to assist them actualize their dreams.

“Let’s give them enough to make them want to study… (you’ll) find that they offer you a bursary that pays a R5,000 stipend to a Masters student.

And then, (you’ll) find that the student already has responsibilities at home, because you know we come from homes where they’re going to have to depend on you.

So the reason you want to leave school and go to work is because you want to cover some of the responsibilities,” Phali explained.

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He also commented on the teaching method of South Africa’s educational sector.

The young PHD holder said: “I think learners are taught how to answer question papers and that doesn’t help them to think independently.

So I help learners understand concepts so that they could answer question papers on their own.”