Tebello Nyokong

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Tebello Nyokong
Born (1951-10-20) October 20, 1951 (age 68)
NationalitySouth African
Alma materUniversity of Lesotho, McMaster University, University of Western Ontario
AwardsOrder of Mapungubwe in Bronze, South African Chemical Institute Gold Medal, L'Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science
Scientific career
InstitutionsRhodes University

Tebello Nyokong (born October 20, 1951) is a South African chemist and professor at Rhodes University, and a recipient of the Presidency of South Africa's Order of Mapungubwe in Bronze.[1] She was awarded the South African Chemical Institute Gold Medal in 2012, and named one of the top 10 most influential women in science and technology in Africa by IT News Africa. She is currently researching photo-dynamic therapy, an alternative cancer treatment method to chemotherapy.[2] In 2007, she was one of the top three publishing scientists in South Africa, and in 2013 she was awarded the National Research Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award.[3]


"You believe you can be a wife and a mother and still be a bread winner and contribute to society. And you will" – Tebello Nyokong


In high school, she chose arts subjects, but just two years before her matric year she changed to the sciences. She managed to overhaul the backlog of work, developing an enduring love for chemistry as she worked. She received her Cambridge Overseas School Certificate in 1972.[5]

Nyokong came from a poor background. She had to wear second-hand clothes and was barefoot. As a young girl she was sent to live with her grandparents in the mountains of Lesotho. She learnt about science by observing the wildlife whilst she worked as an eight-year-old[6] child caring for sheep.[7] Nyokong says that she would spend one day at school and then one day with the sheep as someone had to care for them.[8] Nyokong says that one of her childhood ambitions was to own her own pair of shoes.[7] When she started school she was steered away from science as she was told that it was too hard. It was only with two years to go that she changed direction and with perseverance completed the science course.[6]

Nyokong earned her bachelor's degree in both chemistry and biology from the University of Lesotho in 1977. She went on to earn her master's in chemistry from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. In 1987, she received her Ph.D in chemistry from the University of Western Ontario.[3] After earning her PhD, she received a Fulbright fellowship to continue her post-doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame in the United States.[1]


After finishing her Fulbright fellowship in the United States, Nyokong returned to Lesotho, briefly as it turned out, to take a position at the University of Lesotho. In 1992, she took a position as a lecturer at Rhodes University. The National Research Foundation gave her a high rating and helped Nyokong obtain a research laboratory at the university.[1] Soon, she moved from lecturer to professor, and then distinguished professor.[1] She is known for her research in nanotechnology, as well as her work on photo-dynamic therapy. Her pioneering research in the latter is paving the way for a safer cancer detection and treatment, without the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy.[2]

Nyokong published an open letter that she wrote nominally aimed at her 18-year-old self[6] (who would have been working hard to complete a three-year science course in just two years). The letter reassured her younger self to have courage as her family may not realise the opportunities ahead. It finishes with "You believe you can be a wife and a mother and still be a bread winner and contribute to society. And you will."[9]

In 2014 she was a professor at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. She was the subject for a photographic portrait for Adrian Steirn's "21 icons".[10] which imagined her returned to her childhood role as a shepherd but now the shepherd is an adult and she is wearing her chemist's white coat. Copies of the picture were sold for charity.[7]

Academic Qualifications[edit]

PhD Chemistry, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada, 1987.

MSc Chemistry, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 1981.

MSc and PhD studies funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). BSc funded by the Lesotho Government

Appointments and Experience[edit]

  • Distinguished Professor of Chemistry
  • Director of the DST/Mintek Nanotechnology Innovation Centre – Sensors
  • Holder of Research Chair Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology- awarded by DST/NRF
  • Adjunct professor of chemistry at University of Tromsø in Norway- from 2008
  • Professor of Physical-Inorganic Chemistry, Rhodes University, 2001-2006
  • Associate Professor of Physical-Inorganic Chemistry, Rhodes University, 1998 -2000
  • Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, Rhodes University, 1992 - 1997.
  • Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Physical-Inorganic Chemistry, University of Lesotho, 1981, 1987-1991.
  • Teaching Assistant, McMaster University, 1979-1980, and The University of Western Ontario, 1982-1986.


Recognition and Awards[edit]

1. National Research Foundation "Lifetime Achievement Award" - 2013

2. National Research Foundation Rating: A

3. ISE Electrochemistry Excellence Award: Teaching & Research - 2013

4. South African Chemical Institute (SACI) Gold Medal award - 2012

5. Included in the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH), located in Burgos, Spain to be one of their "13 NAMES TO CHANGE THE WORLD” - 2012

6. Awarded the Distinguished professorship at Rhodes University 2012

7. RSC (Royal Society in Chemistry)/ PACN (Pan African Chemistry Network) Distinguished Women in Chemistry: 2011

8. Invited by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, to be a member of the UNESCO High-level panel on Science, Technology and Innovation for sustainable Development, June 2011 9. International Conference on Frontiers of Polymers and Advanced Materiel (ICFPAM) award in memory of the centenary of the first Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to a woman: Marie Curie. And also this is the year of Chemistry, 26th May 2011.

10. Inducted by Vodacom Lesotho into the Lesotho Hall of Fame, 2010

11. Awarded Doctor of Science Honoris Causa by Walter Sizulu University, 3rd May, 2010

12. Awarded Doctor of Science Honoris Causa by University of South Africa, 11th May, 2010

13. Elected Fellow of Third World Academy of Science -2009.

14. Awarded NRF President’s award as Champion for the transformation in research – 2009.

15. Awarded 2009/2010 CEO (Celebrating excellence in organizations) Most Influential Women in Business and Government (MIW) – Education and Teaching Sector.

16. Received L’Oreal-UNESCO award for “Women in Science” as a Laureate representing Africa and the Arab States in 2009. Committee chaired by Prof A Zawail (Recipient of Nobel prize in Chemistry, 1999). Also in the committee C. de Duve, recipient of Nobel prize in Medicine, 1974).

17. September, 2009, a motion was passed in the National Assembly acknowledging her role in transformation of science in South Africa. Subsequently she addressed the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Science. 18. Recognized as one of the top three publishing scientists in South Africa for 2007.

19. Awarded City Press / Rapport Prestige Awards for Inspirational Women Achievers – 2008.

20. Awarded Research chair for Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology by the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation, starting 2007.

21. Bestowed with the Order of Mapungubwe: Bronze by the State President Mbeki -2005.

22. Awarded a Grant-Holder medal for 2005 from CSIR for being the best NLC grant holder of the year 2005.

23. Chosen as Rhodes University Rhodes Women of the Year in the Senior Research category, 2006.

24. Winner of SABC2/Shorprite-Checkers Woman of the year 2004 in Science and Technology.

25. Runner-up- DST Women in Science, 2004 and 2008.

26. Selected by Department of Science and Technology to present the Frances Ames Lecture, 2004.

27. Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Senior Research award - 2003.

28. Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa (FRSSA).

29. Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

30. Fulbright Award, 1990. Visited the Radiation Laboratory, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. 31. Financial Mail little black book list for two years (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009) for top 100 influential people in South Africa. [11]

Editorship/Membership to Editorial Boards[edit]

  • Editor: African Journal of Pure and Applied Chemistry.
  • South African Representative: Society of Porphyrins and Phthalocyanines based in France.
  • Global Journal of Physical Chemistry – Editorial Board member
  • Journal of Spectroscopy& Dynamics – Editorial Board member
  • International Journal of Electrochemical Science – Editorial Board member
  • Advanced Materials Letters – Editorial Board member
  • Guest editor: Special Issue for International Journal of Photoenergy (2011) Special Issue on Photomedicine and Photo Nanosystems
  • Guest Editor: International Journal of Electrochemistry: Special Issue "Surface Electrochemistry: Structured Electrode, Synthesis, and Characterization
  • Evaluation of French projects : Agence Nationale de la Recherche
  • Evaluation of Belgian projects : Research Foundation Flanders
  • Evaluation of Czech Republic research foundation projects



Mentoring: Dr Ceril Jones, of Savannah State University, Project Title: Thermodynamic Characterization of Phthalocyanines for Photodynamic Therapy. National Institute of Health (NIH) funding.


Advisory Roles[edit]

1. Invited to assist in the selection of the Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of Venda, Feb., 1997.

2. A member of the Water Research Commission Steering Committee reviewing the University of the Western Cape Project on Desalination and Disinfection of Water, 1998-2001

3. A member of the Foundation for Research Development (FRD) panel for monitoring FRD/Industry programs at Port Elizabeth Technikon, 1998.

4. A member of the advisory board: International Conference and exhibition on Integrated Environmental Management in South Africa, held Feb. 1998. This conference was a joint effort between Germany and South Africa.

5. A member of the Advisory Board: Southern and Eastern Africa Network of Analytical Chemists (SEANAC) conference. Gaborone, Botswana, 7 – 10 July 2003 and 15-18th July, 2007.

6. A member of the South SOUTH AFRICAN REFERENCE GROUP ON WOMEN IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, a group under the Department of Science and Technology –2003. 7. Appointed by the Minister of Science and Technology to be a member of the panel to select members of council for the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (April, 2004).

8. A member of the advisory Board for the XVIII International Symposium on Bioelectrochemistry and Bioenergetics, 19-24 June 2005, Coimbra, Portugal.

9. A member of the advisory Board: The World Association of Laser Therapy 2008 Conference, 19–22 October 2008, Sun City, South Africa.

10. Invited to review candidates for 2010 Reaxys PhD Prize- Post-doctoral fellows from UK, Belgium, Spain, France and the UK.

11. Advisory board of South African Chemical Institute (SACI) 2011 CONVENTION, 16– 21 January 2011, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. [11]


  1. ^ a b c d "Tebello Nyokong". The Presidency, Republic of South Africa. Archived from the original on November 21, 2015. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "NYOKONG, Tebello (Prof. MS)". African Academy of Sciences. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Prof Tebello Nyokong". Rhodes University. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  4. ^ Tebello Nyokong’s Letter to her 18-year-old Self March 8, 2011
  5. ^ Sefala, Ntshephe. "The Presidency Republic of South Africa".
  6. ^ a b c Distinguished South African Professor Tebello Nyokong on science, education and innovation, Scrapbook science, Nature, 13 October 2014, Retrieved 9 November 2015
  7. ^ a b c Behind the Icon – Tebello Nyokong: The compassionate scientist, 10 May 2014, News24, Retrieved 9 November 2015
  8. ^ Video interview with Tebello Nyokong, 21 icons, Retrieved 9 November 2015
  9. ^ Tebello Nyokong’s Letter to her 18-year-old Self, tebello Nyokong, Science Club for Girls, 2011, Retrieved 9 November 2015
  10. ^ Promise of Freedom, 21 icons, Retrieved 9 November 2015
  11. ^ a b c d e Sefala, Ntshephe. "Prof Tebello Nyokong". Retrieved 30 October 2018.