STEM history of South Africa

Make A Plan

How many times have you heard: “Just make a plan!” – is that innovation in South Africa?  This seems to be the answer for anything that seems even remotely impossible.  Innovation in South Africa is drilled into our everyday lives – it is something we take for granted, but that is not the point of this post.

In this post, I’d like to take a look and remind you AND ME, about the great inventions and STEM achievements that have come out of South Africa in the past.

First heart transplant by Dr Chris Barnard

Dr Chris Barnard is famous world wide for performing the first human-to-human heart transplant in 1967.

The CAT Scan

The CAT (Computed Axial Tomography) scan was invented in 1972 by Cape Town physicist Allan Cormack of Tufts University, Massachusetts and by British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI Laboratories, England.  Cormack developed the mathematical computation needed.  This innovation resulted in a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

pocket point of sale and smart phone


POS (Point Of Sale) in your pocket!  The PocketPOS is a truly mobile point of sale for the business that does transactions outside, like a plumber or an electrician.  Read more on the PocketPOS by going to this review by The Techie Guy

Oil from Coal (Sasol)

Sasol is the first and the largest oil-from-coal refinery in the world!  Sasol produces as much as 40% of South Africa’s oil.

Kreepy Krauly

The automatic pool cleaner was invented in 1974 by a man who got tired of cleaning the pool manually – naturally!  This man’s name is Ferdinand Chauvier, from Springs.  Today, you aren’t likely to find a pool without some sort of a pool vacuum in it.

Pratley Putty

George Pratley invented Pratley’s putty while trying to develop a glue that would hold electrical components in a box.  Later, in 1969, Pratley Putty played a part in landing the Appolo XI on the moon.  Don’t believe me?  Read more on SA History

Dolosse (Harbour Water Break)

dolos with south african flag painted onThis (up to 20 Ton) piece of weirdly shaped concrete block, gets used to protect harbor walls from the constant battering of the waves.  The creator, Eric Merrifield, studied Civil Engineering at WITS University.

His family moved to South Africa in 1917 from Southern Rhodesia (Known as Zimbabwe today).  As East London Systems Harbor Engineer, Eric had to come up with a solution for the damaged harbor wall in 1961.

Q20 water displacement spray


Kwazulu-Natal, Pinetown – 1950: Mr Robertson was constantly having problems with the distributor cap of VW beetles.  These cars were notorious for stalling in wet weather!  His answer to the problem was Q20 – an oily liquid that has a higher specific gravity (SG) than water.


Retinal Cryoprobe

Selig Percy Amoils, a Johannesburg born biomedical engineering inventor (Yes that is quite a mouthful), developed a new method for cataract surgery in 1975.  This happened at the Baragwanath hospital in Soweto.

Electric Street Lights

Although this is not a Innovation of South Africa, I think it is worth mentioning that in 1882, Kimberley became the first town in the Southern Hemisphere and Africa, to switch on electric street lamps.

Nuclear in South Africa

nuclear symbol with earth at the centerTwo notable facts about South Africa’s nuclear history are:

As of 2011 the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station is the only commercial nuclear energy station on the African continent.

South Africa dismantled its nuclear weapons program in 1989, the first nation in the world to do so, and became a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991.

Wikipedia – Timeline for South African Innovations/discoveries:

TEDx Johannesburg 2017 – Abundance of innovation and creativity

Gideon Potgieter joined the Resolution Circle in 2014 after working abroad for 14 years and refers to himself of a home comer.  He is a electrical engineer by training and speaks in this video about some awesome stats about South Africa.  He points out that there is a abundance of innovation in South Africa.

Here are two of the sources I used to find some of this information:



It is highly likely that I have not covered everything that was invented or developed in South Africa.  The Lodox machine, Rooivalk attack helicopter are two that come to mind.  Please comment below if you know of some I have not mentioned.

the Lodox machine

Also read A Pioneering Past and Present; Facing an Uncertain Future on

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