Wandile Mabanga grew up in Kwa Thema, a township located on the outskirts of Springs, Ekurhuleni in Gauteng. Wandile’s mother left school in Grade 11 and gave birth to him a few weeks before her 19th birthday. Although his parents split when he was only five years old, Wandile had a wonderful childhood as the youngest member of a large, close-knit family.
Wandile began his schooling at Umsobomvu Primary in 1997, where his natural ability enabled him to complete Grades 1 and 2 in the same year. In 1998, Wandile’s younger brother Neo was born to his mother and her new partner. Whilst Wandile was completing his schooling, his stepfather, brother and mother moved to a Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) house in Tswane, and Wandile would visit them on weekends, returning to stay with his grandmother during the school week.
Wandile enrolled at Tlakula High School in 2003, and joined the debating team the following year. An active member of the community, Wandile was also a member of the Youth Connection, a Kwa Thema-based non-profit organisation that focused on developing the underprivileged youth’s soft skills, thereby empowering them to reach their full potential.
In 2006, Youth Connection’s Director Mzwandile Jongwe recommended that Wandile become a member of a youth club within the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund called Efeng Bacha. Efeng Bacha was responsible for organising the festivities for Nelson Mandela’s 88th birthday celebration, which is where Wandile first had the honour of meeting Madiba. It was also during Wandile’s time with Efeng Bacha that he formed the concept of his 5-cent Foundation.
In 2008, Efeng Bacha undertook to organise the first Youth Parliament in history – a massive project that Wandile was involved in organising and subsequently implementing. The organisation is currently building the first world-class Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg – a project brought about in memory of CEO Sibongile Mkhabela’s child, who died as a result of inadequate facilities.
Wandile did exceptionally well in his studies. In his final year at high school, there was a six-week teachers’ strike at his school, during which he took it upon himself to teach his fellow classmates Mathematics and Science – subjects at which he excelled. He emerged as one of the top five Matriculants in Gauteng, scoring an impressive 100% for Mathematics and 93% for Physical Sciences. Wandile’s love for science meant that during one school vacation period, he even took on a holiday job investigating hydrogen fuel cells as a potential green energy substitute for coal-based energy.
Wandile never believed he would have the financing available for tertiary education as his family could not afford it, but his hard work paid off and he became the first member of his extended family to receive a bursary, enabling him to attend the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Wandile decided to study Chemistry with Chemical Engineering (a five year, two degree programme limited to only 30 students) as it was a field he was passionate about.
In 2009, Wandile came to a crossroads where he had to choose between two fields of study. Although his bursary provider at that time would not continue to sponsor him if he did not study Process Engineering, Wandile decided to follow his passion and study Physics. Wandile’s deep-rooted fascination with Physics began many years prior, when in Grade 6 he studied the intricate workings of a flower in Natural Sciences and was intrigued by the complexity as well as simplicity of its workings. Wandile was awarded a Fellowship with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and subsequently was able to follow his intended career path – something which he claims to be his proudest achievement.
Wandile is currently completing his MSc. (by dissertation) in Theoretical Physics at Wits and hopes to qualify as a Theoretical Physicist, whilst also being a social entrepreneur. Wandile lists becoming a member of the Golden Key Society in 2009 and being the first South African to enter the International Maths Competition in Bulgaria in 2011 as other significant achievements of which he is extremely proud. However, his primary ambition remains steadfast – to ultimately make a meaningful contribution to mankind someday.
In his free time Wandile can be found indulging his passion for adventure sports such as scuba diving and sky diving, and he is also a keen chess player.