We rise by lifting others.

Technology & Innovation


Liwena Youth Development; UKZN Mini-Habitable Planet Workshop

Weliswa Kunene, 26,  is a community development enthusiast and an advocate for more women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She leads the University of KwaZulu-Natal mini-habitat planet workshop, a community engagement program that targets high school pupils in the township communities of KwaDabeka, Durban.

Through this initiative, she raises awareness in township high schools about careers for women and girls in science and provides information about fields of study in the sciences. As a black woman who also grew up in the township of KwaDabeka, her advocacy to see more young women in STEM is one of her ways of not only giving back to her community but also bridging the gender gap.

Weliswa has received many accolades and has been recognised for her impact through the work of her initiative. She is passionate about encouraging more young women to venture into STEM subjects, while her academic ambitions and journey are inspirational to students. Weliswa was awarded first place in University of KwaZulu-Natal’s 2022 Inspiring Impact Challenge which is a testament to her passion for serving and empowering others. Weliswa is set to make major intellectual contributions to the science, technology, and pharmaceutical industries in South Africa and globally.

  • BSc biochemistry and microbiology, University of KwaZulu-Natal 
  • BMediSci Honours in medical microbiology, Nelson Mandela School of Medicine 
  • BPharmacy, University of KwaZulu-Natal

  • University of KwaZulu-Natal merit and dean commendation certificates in pharmacy.  
  • Multiple certificates of recognition in leadership, core lecture delivery, and organising of Access HPW Programmes in South Africa and Zimbabwe (2018–2023).
  • 2020 Dumisani Ndaba Award winner for science education programmes   
  • First in the University of KwaZulu-Natal inspiring impact challenge, recognising individuals making change in their communities   
  • Multiple features, for example, UKZN Phenomenal Female Student in 2021, The Mercury and World University News in 2022.

My late grandmother was my biggest cheerleader and supporter. When I was in primary school our teachers use to write messages for us on our school photo collage. One of my teachers wrote: “You have all it takes to reach the stars. Try for what you want and never settle for less.” At that time I didn’t understand what it mean and my granny obviously could not read, but she said “Kubhalwe ukuth ngelinye ilanga uyo phumelela  ube yinto enkulu” which translates to “One day, you’ll become successful and be a big deal.”

Life isn’t a straight line, it has detours. Forget about how long it has taken you to find your feet and your passions. Dreams delayed are not dreams denied. Age is a number and time is an illusion. All that matters is enjoying the moment and embracing the journey.

More job opportunities especially for graduates. A corruption-free country with equal Opportunities. Better infrastructure in schools (labs and resources). A better healthcare system, in terms of gateway clinics in hospitals, access to emergency and higher levels of healthcare, patients need to be treated rather than be turned away or referred back to CHCs. The employment of more doctors, medics and nurses and increased health resources is also needed.

View previous winners from 2018 to 2022

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