Change the world


Be it engineering or entrepreneurial skills, an ability to network, educate or simply to remind us of the positives in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, Nelson Mandela University alumni are doing their bit.

From fast-tracking the urgent need for ventilators in hard-hit New York through to using the gift of telling stories and educating communities in how to prevent the spread of the invisible virus, alma mater around the globe are doing the University proud in the fight against coronavirus.

Marcel Botha

Architect alumnus Marcel Botha, CEO of a product development firm, responded to a call to speed up the supply chain for the manufacture of ventilators to meet demand in helping less critically ill patients breathe.

Armed with a basic ventilator design, he and a friend collaborated with scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, physicians and regulatory experts all over the world to design a “bridge” ventilator, or automatic resuscitator, priced at about 10% of  a typical ventilator.

And all within a month.

News of the new Spiro Wave, whose design they plan to licence for free, has been shared internationally, including the New York Times and Sunday Times


Quinton Uren

Closer to home, Port Elizabeth’s Quinton Uren, Jendamark group managing director and a 2019 Alumni Achiever award winner, is collaborating with industry partners, such as Volkswagen South Africa, as well as with the University’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Technology, to counter the anticipated shortages and challenges of the pandemic in South Africa.

The international award-winning automotive assembly systems manufacturer has been working with VWSA’s engineers to assist in the sourcing of filter material and manufacture of face masks as well components for VWSA’s ventilator project.

Jendamark has also been engaging with eNtsa, an institute of the University specialising in innovation through engineering, to coordinate and sponsor the 3D-printing of face shields as personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline medical personnel.

According to Uren, Nelson Mandela Bay’s businesses have rallied to support this critical PPE project. “For us now, it is not about competition but collaboration on a much bigger issue facing us all, that of Covid-19.”

He said several engineering and component suppliers, such as Plastic Concepts, had provided material assistance and technical advice for the face shield project.

“Acoustex created the stamp press for the shield’s headpiece, while Alurite and Tenneco contributed the plastic and stamping die respectively. Reaching out beyond our industry, local sportswear manufacturer Fain also jumped in to provide elastic for a comfortable fit.”

Currently also in progress is Jendamark’s own oxygenator project, which is focused on the provision of an oxygen-enriched air supply at the correct pressure for continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) ventilators. CPAP machines are used on patients who can breathe on their own but need help in keeping their airways unobstructed.

“Having a local supply will become increasingly important as the number of hospitalised patients increases and we are applying our technologies to finding a solution,” explained Uren.

Allan Knott-Craig

Another alumnus, IT entrepreneur Allan Knott-Craig (BCom Honours Accounting 1998), is focusing on the positives without ignoring, nor making light of the devastating effect of the coronavirus on the economy and the deaths.  He is highlighting the fact could South Africans could dodge the worst of COVID- 19 because of having received the BCG vaccine for TB lowering their risk of death.

While controversial, no one is disagreeing with the Founder of Project Isiwe’s (a non-profit company managing the deployment of the largest public free WiFi network in South Africa), the present positives of less traffic and pollution, and no loadshedding.

Pumza Deti

Pumza Deti, 30, a BCom Alumnus who graduated in 2011, is currently making a name for herself in the community development space. Pumza works on a number of projects associated with community development and recently worked with the Good Work Foundation (GWF), where she did a voice over for a video in IsiXhosa, supplying detailed information about COVID-19.

“The video explains what this new infectious disease is, how to look out for symptoms, how it spreads and how to help stop spreading it,” she said.

She hopes the video will reach many people, especially in places that do not usually have access to this kind of information. “As a person who grew up in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape, I relate so much with being unable to access certain information. Also, being a Xhosa speaker, I hope that this video will be shared with as many isiXhosa-speaking people as possible. Hopefully the video will reach people in villages, townships and all parts of South Africa where information may not be easily accessible,” Pumza added.

She says she would love to work on more COVID-19 awareness projects in the future. “My plan moving forward is to help create more educational content around this pandemic. Specifically content to educate or bust myths and confusion around the virus,” said Pumza.

Pumza Deti continues to work remotely due to the lockdown as a private banker at Investec in Cape Town and does these projects on the side. View the video at:


Vanessa Mhlom

Chartered Accounting Alumnus, Vanessa Mhlom, is a business analyst at the Nybble financial technology company in Johannesburg, and came up with the idea to develop a Lockdown Levels app to give users detailed updated information about their district’s lockdown level, using a smartphone GPS-tracking capability.   

The application is completely free to use and available for Android devices. iOS users can save the webpage on their home screens. It is district-specific and clearly highlights the restrictions applicable to the user.

LockdownLevels, jointly developed by financial technology company Nybble and jobs platform JOBJACK, is working together with state officials to ensure that the application always has the latest and accurate information and that the public is informed in a timely fashion. 

“Now more than ever, it is important for companies to work together and leverage on one anothers strengths. We truly are stronger together,” she said.

The entire application was built by a small team of three working remotely during the national lockdown. Nybble CEO Brandon Roberts, who played a key role in building the app, said that he is so privileged to be able to use his skills in software and technology to hopefully help better the lives of others. 

JOBJACK CEO Christiaan van der Berg said the hope is that the app will bring people together by keeping them informed in a time where social distancing is keeping us apart. 

The app also features a link to the Job-abled Foundation, a non-profit organisation, in a bid to help differently-abled individuals find access to jobs during the crisis. 

To download the app, visit

James Pearce and Charles Stretch 

Bulk SMS provider SMSPortal, run by Mandela University Alumni, have stepped up to the plate and donated 100 000 SMS’s to the university to enable effective communication with students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Adopting our motto of Together We Can – SMSPortal have further strengthened their long-standing relationship with the University showing that we can all make a difference by doing our bit.

SMSPortal, is the brainchild of two entrepreneurs, James Pearce, a BSc Computer Science graduate, and Charles Stretch a BCom graduate, and was started in 2002 in the garage of a PE home. 

The bulk SMS service provider serves as a marketing tool for business owners, and has grown to a R700 million business today.

The market leader in its sector, the company has a global footprint, with just about every major blue chip financial and retail institution as clients, including Anglo American, Pick ‘n Pay, Toyota and Sanlam.  They are now also a 30% Black Female owned business.

In 2013, James and Charles received the prestigious Alumni Rising Star Award from the University in recognition of their outstanding entrepreneurial work. 

This is not the first time that SMSPortal have stepped in during crisis times, in 2016, during Fees Must Fall, they donated half a million SMS’s to the University to assist with communicating to students.

In addition to helping our their Alma Mater, SMSPortal also made a generous donation of R100 000 to the country’s Solidarity Fund.

Garth De Villiers

The ROVD Group in Port Elizabeth, has come up with ground-breaking technology, creating a prototype mechanical ventilator powered by nothing but oxygen. The industrial automation company, with Mechanical Engineering Alumnus Garth de Villiers as its Managing Director, has designed a product which claims to be more practical than other ventilators as it relies entirely on a pressure source for energy rather than on electricity.

Garth, who graduated with a National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering in 1996, a BTech in 2003 and an MBA in 2013, said his design engineers have finalised a working model in the hope that interested medical partners will join them to drive the concept further and ultimately produce 500 ventilators a week.

While labour costs are the biggest challenge, materials were comparatively cheap and readily available said Garth.

“The thinking behind this initiative was not profit-driven but to rather make it easily attainable for those in need.”

The device has been designed for hospitals and clinics with limited resources.