The first in a series of articles celebrating women in science during Women's Month, and forming part of the national commemoration of the Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke, a female trailblazer and icon of South Africa's past. 


Passionate about astrophysics and mathematics, Tebogo Bestina Mashile is making her presence felt in realms long dominated by men. At 33, she has a long list of qualifications in subjects that cause high stress levels in most students.


Mashile is the proud holder of a BSc (Physics, Chemistry and Applied Mathematics) and BSc Honours in Applied Mathematics, both from the University of Limpopo, a BSc Honours in Astrophysics and Space Science from the University of Cape Town, and a recently completed MSc in Astrophysics from the University of the Witwatersrand.


Currently employed as an Astronomy Policy Researcher by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory/Square Kilometre Array (SKA) through the Department of Science and Innovation, Mashile is not stopping at four degrees, but is currently registering for her PhD in Astrophysics with the University of the Witwatersrand.


Mashile recalls that when studying for her Honours in Astrophysics and Space Science, not only was she the only black student, but also the only woman in a group of 17 students. A recipient of a National Astronomy and Space Science Programme bursary, Mashile pressed on undeterred and graduated successfully. Her talent did not go unnoticed, and she was awarded a SKA bursary as part of the SKA Young Professionals Development Programme for her MSc studies.


Mashile grew up in Flora Park outside Polokwane in Limpopo, and is passionate not only about her field, but equally about ensuring that the next generation improves its performance in maths and physical science and produces quality matric pass rates.


"I am a co-founder of the Thuto Boswa Foundation, which aims to enhance the matric pass rate in the Sekhukhune District in Limpopo. The organisation will serve as a thriving tutoring hub for high school learners from disadvantaged backgrounds in the remote rural areas of Sekhukhune," said Mashile.


The organisation is made of dedicated people with a science background who hold honours and PhD qualifications.


"Thuto Boswa, which simply means to empower through education, was conceptualised to motivate and improve learners' grades in the district, in order to meet the requirements of institutions of higher learning across the country and abroad," Mashile explained.


"We also donate stationary to learners. Our mission is to assist learners in identified subjects by offering extra lessons, motivational talks and career guidance."


Being among a handful of black women in the field of astronomy, Mashile aims to use her platform to make sure that Africa enhances its position in the global science and development arena.