“Understanding and leading on matters related to water is of vital importance in the human life. In most communities it is exclusively the responsibility of women to ensure that there is adequate and safe water at their homes for family livelihood.”
Engineering technologist, Unathi Jack, has dedicated her career to develop tools to help municipalities deliver better services to their constituents.
Born in Butterworth, in the Eastern Cape, Unathi grew up as the third child of five from her parents who were both teachers. She matriculated at Colosa Secondary School in 1994.
She explains how she only went to university a year after completing her schooling. “I had an unplanned study break and stayed at home with my university entry exemption certificate because I did not timeously apply for admission to any tertiary education institution. Stupid as it sounds, that was how lacking or insufficient our exposure and guidance were in our home and school environment at the time.”
She did eventually enroll with Peninsula Technikon (today known as Cape Peninsula University of Technology) to study Chemical Engineering. She traces her current career path to Dr Ed Jacobs of the University of Stellenbosch whom she joined for her experiential training in the last year of her engineering diploma in 1999. “This was the beginning of my exposure to membrane water treatment technology development and the water treatment field in general.”
It was during this time that Unathi was inspired to undertake a B-Tech Degree in membrane technology. “With some influence from Dr Jacobs and my supervisor, Bruce Hendry, I continued to complete an M-Tech Degree, undertaking research focusing on the development of externally unskinned ultrafiltration membranes for water treatment. My love for the water field grew more as I was exposed to different fields in the sector.”
She joined private firm, Emanti Management, during the last months of her M-Tech and has worked there ever since. The team involved her actively in their water and wastewater projects from the start. For example, she was team leader for a WRC project that investigated the status of wastewater ponding systems in the Free State and North West. “I got exposed to and involved in a number of projects afterwards where I had to work mainly with municipalities, the DWS, the WRC, and the South African Local Government Association, among others.”
Today, she is not only an employee of Emanti, but also a shareholder. She has a host of key responsibilities, including the development of risk assessment tools and water services-related guidelines; assessment of drinking water and wastewater systems; and analysis and interpretation of water quality data and wastewater effluent quality. She also assists in conducting environment impact assessments and assisting clients to understand and implement the relevant policies, regulations and strategies.
In addition, she is a certified Green Drop Lead Inspector, and assists municipalities with Blue and Green Drop compliance. She also assists municipalities with the development of water safety plans and wastewater risk abatement plans.
Having such a diverse portfolio has made Unathi realise that you cannot be an expert on everything. She has learnt to consult, ask and tap into others’ expertise and so learn more. “I talk to people who may have the expertise when I need assistance and I am honest when I do not know something.”
She has had various mentors in her life, but singles out former WRC Executive Manager, Dr Heidi Snyman. “She was the research manager on my first WRC project in my first year of employment. She taught me to always focus on what I want to achieve. In her gentle, yet firm approach, she taught me never to limit myself but to feel free to go wide, deep and high. Her guidance through that project has enabled me to go forward and do more.”
When asked about her career highlights she says: “Every time I am involved in development of a guideline document through the WRC projects, the latest developed guideline document becomes my greatest achievement,” says Unathi. “The piece of work I, however, consider the greatest is the involvement and development of an Emergency Response Plan guideline document. This guideline was developed for small, rural communities to be able to plan for anticipated water systems failures and develop response plans to water services related emergencies.”
Making a living in the water sector is not work, or a job but life, Unathi believes. This is especially important for women to realise. “Therefore they should behave in their natural way as they do in other aspects of life (i.e. willingness to advise, share experiences, lend a hand, listen, etc.). Women should make it their responsibility to talk and bring about awareness at their social clubs, churches, etc. Women have a responsibility of caring for their families and more importantly are closer to children than men. Understanding and leading on matters related to water is of vital importance in the human life. In most communities it is exclusively the responsibility of women to ensure that there is adequate and safe water at their homes for family livelihood.”
What advice would she give young woman looking to have a career in the water sector? “Do you want to be a step ahead of a doctor? Then prevent while the doctor provides a cure. This is a field meant for young women who are life carriers, life nurturers, and life supporters. It is their natural given trait, they must just realise and practice the role.”
Visit our Knowledge Hub www.wrc.org.za to download a free copy of our special publication entitled “Amakhosazana Amanzi”, WRC Report No. SP 89/15.