The problem solver

Mamokgethi Setati, a leading figure academically and professionally in international mathematics, is a professor and executive dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology at Unisa.

Setati holds a PhD in maths education from Wits. She is a C1 National Research Foundation-rated researcher and obtained this rating within five years of obtaining her PhD. She has published 45 reviewed articles and four edited volumes.
While she is an executive dean at Unisa, Setati continues to do research (with publications) and development work in mathematics education.

Affectionately known as “Kgethi”, she is the first and only black South African woman so far to have sole-authored a paper published in the prestigious Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. Her first monograph is due to be published at the end of 2010.

Setati has been invited to give a personal plenary lecture at the 12th International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME) to be held in Seoul, South Korea, in July 2012. She will be the first South African to do this.

Setati is chairperson of Lilitha Strategic Investment Limited; non-executive director of the Shanduka Group, a trustee of the FirstRand Foundations and vice-chairperson of the South African Board for the International Council for Science. She is the past-national president of the Association for Mathematics Education of South Africa; past chairperson of the Board of The South African Mathematics Foundation and the South African representative to the International Commission for Mathematical Instruction.

Her first job was at a college of education in which she taught mathematics to students who were training to teach secondary school maths. There, she developed a deep interest in mathematics education. Thereafter, she attended Wits University to study towards an honours degree in mathematics education.

She says her career was inspired by her love for mathematics and the fact that it was the only subject that made her feel “safe”, as she could check her answers even before she got her exam script back. In mathematics, she could also exercise her skills and creativity in problem-solving.

Her work as an academic brings together her love for mathematics, its teaching and learning as well as her curiosity. “Being an academic gives me the freedom and luxury to explore questions that are of interest to me and of importance to society,” says Setati.

Setati says she believes that as a black woman, “one has to work 100 times harder than men or white women to get recognition as there is always suspicion about one’s success and so pressure to continuously prove that one is capable.”

Setati believes that in her field of work more could be done to support women in their careers. She has initiatives at Unisa in which she supports the participation and success of women in science, engineering and technology.

Her advice to women in senior positions is to “learn to understand the economy of time. Use your time wisely; do not waste time on unimportant things. Also love what you do; in that way, nobody will have to force you to do it.”

Besides being a focused person, she works from 6am to 7.30pm. “I love what I do and cannot wait to get up to do it every day,” she says.

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