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17 April 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Science ambassadors
Friends Tekano Mbonani and Chaka Mofokeng are pursuing graduate degrees in respectively Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS) and Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape. The two got together and decided to reach out to the high school, Leseding Technical Secondary School, where they came from.

It was a full house as more than 120 learners packed the hall at the Leseding Technical Secondary School in the Free State, where two young Astronomy researchers had come home to tell their younger peers about their studies and career prospects across South Africa.

Chaka Mofokeng and Tekano Mbonani are both former learners at the high school. Currently pursuing graduate degrees – for Mbonani in Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS), and for Mofokeng in Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape – the two friends got together and decided to reach out to the high school where they came from.

The event took place in January before schoolwork, tests, and exam preparations are occupying learners’ minds, inviting them to think about the big picture – the future, and how to be part of it. This is timely, because in July last year, the MeerKAT radio telescope was inaugurated in the Karoo. The MeerKAT is the first step to the international SKA telescope project, but it is already one of the best radio telescopes in the world and has placed South Africa firmly on the world map of radio astronomy and engineering.

Building a bridge
“This project enables us to build a bridge between secondary and tertiary institutions. Currently focused on senior secondary students, we aim to promote science through outreach events and activities. Using science and technology-based activities and events, such as stargazing at an observatory or exploring the universe in a planetarium, we want to attract these future secondary graduates. We also provide mentorship, hoping to help them improve their academic performance in matric,” said Mbonani.

For a whole morning, they spoke about their journeys, about science, about the skills that scientists acquire during their studies and all the opportunities such studies open up in an era where the 4th Industrial Revolution is predicted to reduce the number of jobs in many traditional professions. They addressed their peers in both English and Sesotho.

Astronomy in South Africa contributes to critical-skills development. Investing in the MeerKAT, for example, meant that over a thousand bursaries were made available through the SKA South Africa Human Capacity Development programme. Young scientists like Mofokeng and Mbonani have the opportunity to be part of MeerKAT science projects through their studies, using machine learning and other skills that are high in demand in today’s world. This was one of the messages they brought home.

Gaining new skills

“As an Astronomy research student, I have gained skills such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, communication and writing, programming, and teamwork, among others. These are requirements for most companies and institutions. With the unfolding of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such skills sets make young and aspiring scientists the perfect candidates for making the most of future opportunities,” reflected Mofokeng.

Most of the learners said they have never attended a science-outreach event. They were inspired by the young scientists’ stories and nearly half of them said they could see themselves pursuing a career in science. The learners also expressed a strong interest in more events of this kind, as well as mentorship during Grades 11 and 12 from peers at university. They asked about the salaries earned by astronomers, how long the studies take, and where astronomers are working in South Africa.

This initiative, started by two bright young scientists, hopefully marks the beginning of many more events of this kind. Mofokeng and Mbonani are already planning what to do on their next trip home.

News Archive

Historians must place African history on world stage – Dr Zeleza
2017-05-30

 Description: Historians must place African history on world stage Tags: Historians must place African history on world stage

From the left: Panellists Rev Henry Jackson,
Prof Irikidzayi Manase and Arno Van Niekerk at a book
launch and panel discussion on Africa Day hosted by the
UFS Sasol Library.
Photo: Mamosa Makaya

“African historians must take seriously the challenge of placing African history in world history, and in the history of our species, Homo sapiens.”

With these words, Dr Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Vice Chancellor of the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, stressed the continent’s challenge.

According to him the contest should continue to recover and reconstruct Africa’s long history. Liberating African knowledges can be done by: “Provincialising Europe that has monopolised universality, universalising Africa beyond its Eurocentric provincialisation, and engaging histories of other continents on their own terms.”

University celebrates Africa Month in various ways  
Dr Zeleza delivered the ninth Africa Day Memorial Lecture, titled The Decolonisation of African Knowledges, at the University of the Free State (UFS). The lecture, hosted by the Centre for Africa Studies (CAS), took place on 24 May 2017 in the Equitas Auditorium on the Bloemfontein Campus and was one of the ways in which the UFS celebrated Africa Month.

Scholars should immerse themselves in these thoughts

Dr Zeleza focused on two issues, which he said were interconnected. They were the unfinished project of decolonising African knowledges and the continent's positioning in global knowledge production.

He said Africa’s scholars and students should “immerse themselves in the rich traditions of African social thought going back millennia”. According to him the continent’s research profile still remains weak in global terms.

“It is imperative that the various key stakeholders in African higher education from governments to the general public to parents, and to students, faculty, staff, and administrators in the academic institutions themselves, raise the value proposition of African higher education for 21st century African societies, economies, and polities.”

“Colonialism is associated with injustice
and inequality, but what happens when
our liberators become our oppressors?”

Library celebrates with panel discussion and book launch
The UFS Sasol Library celebrated Africa Day by presenting a book launch and panel discussion on 25 May 2017, on the pertinent and current political theme of land redistribution with a comparative basis of land invasions in Zimbabwe.

Prof Irikidzayi Manase discussed his book White Narratives: The Depiction of Post-2000 Land Invasions in Zimbabwe, accompanied by Rev Henry Jackson who wrote Another Farm in Africa. A perspective of the economic implications of land redistribution in South Africa was discussed by panellist Arno Van Niekerk: Senior Lecturer of Economics at the UFS Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences.

Inequality still an African problem
The content of the books are a stark reminder of the burning issues of inequality and loss of identity of those who lost their farms in Zimbabwe, a collection of memoirs by white farmers and their families. Rev Jackson gave a religious perspective on reconciliation, forgiveness and the question of land ownership, saying that healing of injustice begins with forgiveness of past transgressions.

Van Niekerk highlighted that while land issues were important, “social cohesion is affected by the economic decisions that will be made”. In closing, Prof Manase called for serious consideration of what the future may hold. “Colonialism is associated with injustice and inequality, but what happens when our liberators become our oppressors?” 

The panel discussion was attended by staff and students of the university, and was lit up by robust discussions on possible historical and future solutions to the question of land, decolonisation and political power struggles in Southern Africa and lessons to be learned from Zimbabwe.

UFS celebrates Africa Month (24 May 2017)

 

 

 

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