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Water and sanitation problem-solvers win

- Wits University

Wits students among top teams at the Sustainathon 2023, bringing home great prizes.

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Students from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) have emerged as frontrunners at the Tata Consulting Services (TCS) Sustainathon, a competition focused on harnessing innovation to tackle water and sanitation challenges, hosted in Johannesburg, on 02 October 2023.

Out of 200 teams, three teams comprising a total of 11 Wits students secured coveted spots among the top 10 finalists. Of the three Wits teams, the team called Waterwise Professionals walked away with a R10 000 cash prize for the third position, while all the other finalist teams received R5 000 each. All participants were presented with gift vouchers, goodie bags and potential TCS internships. Their innovative solutions hold the promise of revolutionising water management and access, addressing pressing issues facing not only South Africa but the world.

“The idea behind the second TCS Sustainathon South Africa was to inspire our youth to advocate for a more sustainable world. By allowing students to tap into the power of technology, communities, and our partner ecosystem, I can confidently say that the work they have presented here today could have a real impact on South Africa’s critical water and sanitation challenges,” says TCS South Africa country manager Langa Dube.

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Team Waterwise Professionals (Nelly Khoza, Tumelo Ngoepe, Totodi Senyolo, Siyanda Pikwa, and Goitseona Taukobong), clinched a top-three position with their practical water-saving system. Redefining traditional toilets, their innovation reduces water consumption per flush to 1.5 litres, compared to the usual 11 litres. Using hydrogen peroxide to treat urine and a vacuum system to flush out solid waste, their eco-friendly solution holds the promise of reshaping sanitation practices. The team is currently redefining their solutions and preparing to register their IP with the Wits Innovation Centre.

Another Wits team, One-More-Thing (Isaiah Chiraira, Steven Makoni, and Kagiso Koenaite) introduced a cutting-edge Drop-wise hydro tech solution that empowers households to take control of their water consumption. Leveraging smart sensors, this innovative approach conserves water in showers, taps, and geysers while offering users real-time insights into their usage patterns via a user-friendly web app.

The third Wits team, Aquaconnect (Phenyetso leboho, Nomusa khambule and Lea Radebe) focused on ensuring safe and pure drinking water. Their solution combines UV purification with intelligent monitoring and reporting systems. The technology not only removes harmful substances but also maintains essential mineral content. Moreover, the inclusion of a USSD component extends its accessibility to those without smartphones, ensuring equitable access to clean water.

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These Wits teams weren't alone in their journey; they were supported by the Office Dean of Student Affairs under the leadership of Jerome September, Dean of Student Affairs, and Tshegofatso Mogaladi, Deputy Dean of Student Affairs. This support played a crucial role in nurturing and guiding the students' innovative ideas.

Mogaladi, says “This is a monumental accomplishment by Wits students which is indicative of growing culture of entrepreneurship and innovation amongst our students. I am particularly elated that this group of students has now claimed a prize at a national competition, was recently involved in the recent AFRETEC workshop where they also produced one of the top ideas intended to address some of the world's most pressing challenges”.

“How our students showed up at the TSC Sustainathon is testament to a collection of institutional efforts aimed at stimulating student entrepreneurial mindset. With their dedication to practical and sustainable solutions, these students are surely poised to make a lasting impact for the benefit of humanity and the environment and thereby addressing critical water and sanitation issues,’’ says Mogaladi.

Their winning ideas may be further developed into full-fledged solutions at the TCS Innovation Lab, ultimately benefiting the community and addressing critical water and sanitation issues.