Mabatho Hashatsi – helping to develop CSIR’s backbone

Johannesburg, 03 Sep 2021
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Mabatho Hashatsi.
Mabatho Hashatsi.

Technology plays a major role in the type of work that is done at the CSIR, and graduate-in-training Mabatho Hashatsi is part of the team using this technology to explore new frontiers in medical and scientific research.

As a child, Hashatsi was always curious as to how things work and why, and from an early age was obviously cut out for a career in engineering.

Working at the CSIR has given Hashatsi a major opportunity and she has benefited from working at different departments. “For the first year of the programme, I worked at the Defence and Security cluster with the Digital Electronic Warfare (DEW) group. The technologies that I was involved in developing played two major roles, which were educating people about the electronic warfare and, secondly, allowing people to run a simulation of an environment before going into the field, which was good for preparations and safety."

Hashatsi is now part of the Centre of High-Performance Computing (CHPC) and she says technology is the backbone of what the CHPC does at the CSIR. Advancements in compute technology are what enable us to provide the service we do to the research community of South Africa.

Fast compute resources – high-performance computing – allow researchers within South Africa to run the simulations and programs needed in their various fields, to do their research, to make discoveries, etc.

“We in the ACE lab are responsible for investigating new technologies that we might include in our production environment one day. We get to play with technology as our day job.”

And this determination to experiment with technology is helping Hashatsi and her peers with their contribution towards South Africa’s efforts to combat COVID-19.

“Firstly, I think we have come a long way as a country when it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, both from an economic and social standpoint. When the pandemic first started and we all had to go into lockdown, a lot of people lost their jobs, businesses had to close or downsize; this led to a decrease in economic activity and affected people and businesses in ways that they were not fully prepared for. People were required to be indoors and, as social creatures, being able to interact with other people is a major part of the human condition. So, South Africa’s ability to vaccinate and combat the virus will allow the return of economic activity, which would likely lead to people getting employment. People will be able to interact in social settings again and simply be able to go see their loved ones. So, vaccinations now being opened for people from the ages of 18 to 35, we stand in a good position to return to what we consider normal. I don’t think we can fully return to the state we were in before, but I am confident we can get close.”

And being at the coalface of this research places Hashatsi in a great position to achieve one of her career goals.

“One of my long-term career goals is to be able to say I was one of the first, or rather the first, to do something. I'm not sure what that thing is yet, but as soon as I find out, I will make it happen. And I strongly believe that the solution should be able to help people in ways that they never thought were possible. Problems like solving the energy crisis that we have in South Africa, especially for township areas, is something that is very close to my heart, but I do believe that technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, to name a few, are the gateway to solving problems such as these,” she explains.

As a female professional that is leading from the front in championing the role of graduate academics in research, Hashatsi is also passionate about the role that women play in the economy and also recognition of the value of their skills.

“I do feel that as a country we have come a long way in the recognition of women’s contributions to the economy. Women are now able to occupy spaces that were previously reserved for males. But I do believe that we still have a long way to go, especially in STEM fields. I have seen an increase in females, but this is still a very male-dominated industry. There are efforts that are made to support female representation in STEM-focused careers, but I strongly believe that more can be done. In fact, more should be done. I have noticed that many female students that are studying in STEM fields end up not working in STEM-focused careers. I don't know if this is due to a lack of jobs or simply the misconception that certain jobs are more tailored for a specific gender. For example, I know colleagues who have studied STEM-related fields, but chose to work corporate jobs, and I noted that most of them were females. I think it's very important to create an environment where women are comfortable and free to contribute and have a voice. These fields are not perceived to be feminine, and this is a misconception that is causing young females to shy away from such jobs; this can be rectified by showing them that women exist in these spaces and are not seen as less feminine.” 

In the meantime, as she holds on to the example set by her role model, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Hashatsi shares advice that had been passed on to her. “This industry is still male-dominated, and the only way it will change is if women take the initiative and stand up to be heard. Never doubt your own value, we can contribute more than we think. I have not been treated any differently as a black woman. I think it depends on how you approach people. Once people see you play your part, they are receptive to new input.”

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