Move over Elon Musk, Mark Shuttleworth and Ludwick Marishane.

South Africa’s exclusive club of science and technology celebrities has another bright star.

His name is Siya(bulela) Xuza, he’s all the way from Mthatha, and he’s (literally) a celebrated rocket scientist. It’s also not a stretch to call him a rock star, since the guy has a planet named after him.

In 1994, at age 6, Siya chased the epochal roar of a Cessna plane dropping election posters in his home town. The sight ignited in him a curiosity about science and an enduring passion for using technology to solve problems and bring about change.

What, he wondered, propelled the plane across the sky?

10 years on, he started experimenting with making rocket fuels. 6 months and 77 failed outings later, he found the winning recipe and shot a home-made rocket more than a kilometre into the sky, a stunt that earned him the junior South African amateur high-powered altitude record.

Then an amazing run of success followed. Siya’s science project won gold at the Eskom National Science Expo in 2006, along with the Dr Derek Gray Memorial award for the most prestigious project in the country. An invitation followed to the International Youth Science Fair in Sweden in 2006, where he presented his project to the King and Queen of Sweden and attended the Nobel prize ceremony in Stockholm.

He then entered his project in the world’s biggest student science event, the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in the US, and proceeded to win the two grand awards – and more importantly, a scholarship to Harvard University. There, he combined an engineering degree and liberal arts, and began conducting research into making cheaper solar cells and the viability of solar technologies.

And while all this was happening, the Nasa-affiliated MIT Lincoln Laboratory was so impressed with his achievement that it named a minor planet after him. Planet 23182, discovered in 2000, is now known as Siyaxuza, and can found in the main asteroid belt near Jupiter.


So, what’s next? Having gone around the world and stopped over on a distant planet, this son of Africa has returned to his home country, where he is furthering a career in sustainable energy management.

Which makes him perhaps our brightest star yet. “People don’t realise that all my work with the rocket fuel was done in South Africa. There are opportunities here, as long as you are bold and brave enough to take them,” he says.

Siya Xuza is the youngest member of the Africa 2.0 Energy Advisory Panel. In 2010, he was elected a fellow of the African Leadership Network, consisting of the most dynamic, influential and successful leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa and her diaspora. In 2011, he became a fellow of the Kairos Society, a global network of top student and global leaders using entrepreneurship and innovation to solve the world’s greatest challenges. He was invited to the United Nations and the New York Stock Exchange in recognition for being one of the world’s emerging business leaders and to offer strategies for solving the world’s energy crisis.