Dr Rachiel Gumbo came to South Africa from Zimbabwe in search of a better life but ended up achieving extraordinary academic excellence

40-year-old Dr Rachiel Gumbo was raised in a small rural village of Nemangwe in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

But she always knew that she was destined for bigger things.

“I always knew that I wanted to achieve great things and make a difference in the world,” she said.

Gumbo’s journey to academic success was not without its challenges.

After obtaining a BSc honours degree in biological sciences from Midlands State University in Zimbabwe in 2005, her studies came to a halt due to a lack of funding.

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Undeterred, she found work as a laboratory assistant at Hwange Colliery Hospital Laboratory and also began teaching mathematics, physical science, and biology to high school students.

“Teaching was an incredibly worthwhile experience as it boosted my confidence, taught me to be patient with students, and gave me a good sense of humour,” said Gumbo.

In 2007, Gumbo, a single mother of two, made the decision to move to South Africa to further her studies.

However, she faced difficulties in securing funding as a non-citizen.

Determined to make ends meet, Gumbo offered private after-school lessons and worked part-time as a tutor with Education Matters in Cape Town.

Eventually, she took a job as a secretary at Forest Creations, a woodwork company in the city.

Gumbo’s fortunes took a turn for the better in 2018 when she responded to a posting by Professor Michele Miller from Stellenbosch University’s Department of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics.

Miller was looking for a new student to join the animal TB research group.

“When I joined the group in 2019, my dream of continuing my studies became a reality,” Gumbo recalled.

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Under the supervision of Miller and Dr Tanya Kerr, Gumbo pursued a MSc in molecular biology, which was later upgraded to a PhD due to the exceptional quality of her research.

This achievement is rare and remarkable in academia.

Throughout her doctoral studies, Gumbo published seven articles in international academic journals and received a prestigious scholarship from the Germany Academic Exchange Service.

However, she faced a significant challenge as an older, international student studying at a South African university – scholarship eligibility.

This obstacle threatened to derail her studies, but Gumbo remained determined to overcome it.

Gumbo’s PhD research focused on developing immunological tests to improve the detection of animal tuberculosis in lions, leopards, and cheetahs in South Africa.

Her work in this field has the potential to make a significant impact on wildlife conservation and public health.

Reflecting on her journey, Gumbo said, “I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have had and for the support I have received along the way. It has been a challenging road, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I am proud of what I have accomplished and excited to continue making a difference in the field of molecular biology.”


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