UFS students triumphant during SDG Challenge

Members of the UFS team that won the SDG South Africa Challenge. PHOTO: UFS

A group of students from the University of the Free State (UFS) has emerged victorious in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Challenge South Africa, a global competition that unites students and organisations in tackling the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). These students, representing various disciplines within the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, showcased an interdisciplinary and forward-thinking approach that contributed to their win.


The UFS team, Pieter Bruwer, Dr Anathi Makamane, Dr Brandon van Rooyen, Daniel Naudé, and Dr Yolandi Schoeman, each brought their unique expertise to the challenge.

Under the mentorship of Prof. Jan Willem Swanepoel, an Associate Professor in the Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development within the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, the students were guided throughout their journey. Additionally, Robyn Mellett from OMI Solutions, an Environmental and Agricultural Engineering consultancy, provided essential support to the team.


The SDG Challenge initiative aims to achieve the UNSDGs, tackling crucial issues such as climate change and the reduction of global inequalities.  Several South African university teams partnered with prominent companies to address specific challenges aligned with their corporate missions.


The UFS team collaborated with Ivanhoe Mines, a mining company operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to devise a waste management strategy for the Kamoa-Kakula Copper Complex. This endeavour was especially challenging due to the limited waste management options available in the region. The team’s task extended beyond managing various waste streams from the mining complex; it also involved addressing socio-economic and biodiversity challenges arising from the region’s growing population.


“In response, the UFS team innovatively conceived ÉcoFlotille, a solution that not only tackled essential waste management issues but also promoted biodiversity net gain,” explained Dr Schoeman. “The plan extended its reach to support local agribusinesses and small and micro-enterprises through the repurposing and reuse of waste materials, while presenting a unique bio-financing opportunity. The EcoFlotille solution represents a distinctive aspect of their triumphant journey,” she said.Dr Schoeman affirms that the UFS team’s triumph in the SDG Challenge showcases their steadfast dedication to forging a more sustainable and just global society.


“I am immensely proud of the students’ achievement in the prestigious Soapbox SDG Challenge South Africa,” Prof. Swanepoel said.  He also added, “I am confident that the skills and experience gained through the SDG Challenge will help the students to make a positive impact on the world. They are the next generation of leaders who will be responsible for addressing the complex social and environmental challenges Africa face. I also believe that coming out as victors in this competition would open more doors for them and the university in the private sector.”


Compiled by Warren Hawkins