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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

Game farming a lens to analyse challenges facing democratic SA – Dr Kamuti
2017-05-30

 Description: Dr Kamuti Tags: Dr Kamuti

Dr Tariro Kamuti, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre
for Africa Studies at the University of the Free State.
Photo: Rulanzen Martin

One of the challenges facing South Africa’s developing game farming policy is the fractured state in the governance of the private game farming sector, says Dr Tariro Kamuti.

Dr Kamuti, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Africa Studies (CAS) at the University of the Free State (UFS), was presenting a seminar on Wednesday 17 May 2017 under the topic, Private Wildlife Governance in a Context of Radical Uncertainty: Challenges of South Africa’s Developing Game Farming Policy, which takes material from his PhD. He received his PhD from both the Vrije University in Amsterdam and the UFS in 2016.

His presentation explored how the private game industry positions itself in accordance with existing agricultural and environmental regulations. It also investigated the state’s response to the challenge of competing needs over land and wildlife resources which is posed by the gaming sector. “The transformation of the institutional processes mediating governance of the private game farming sector has been a long and enduring arrangement emerging organically over time,” Dr Kamuti said.

Game farming links wildlife and agricultural sectors
“I decided on this topic to highlight that game farming links the wildlife sector (associated with conservation and tourism) and the agricultural sector. Both make use of land whose resources need to be sustainably utilised to meet a broad spectrum of needs for the diverse South African population.

“The continuous skewed ownership of land post-1994 justifies questioning of the role of the state in confronting challenges of social justice and transformation within the economy.”

“Game farming can thus be viewed as a lens through which to study the broad challenges facing a democratic South Africa, and to interrogate the regulatory and policy framework in the agricultural and wildlife sectors at their interface,” Dr Kamuti said.

Challenges facing game farming policies

The state alone does not apply itself to the regulation of private gaming as a sector. “There is no clear direction on the position of private game farming at the interface of environmental and agricultural regulations, hence game farmers take advantage of loopholes in these institutional arrangements to forge ahead,” Dr Kamuti said.

He further went on to say that the state lacked a coherent plan for the South African countryside, “as shown by the outstanding land restitution and labour tenant claims on privately owned land earmarked for wildlife production”.

The South African government was confronted with a context in which the status quo of the prosperity of the middle classes under neoliberal policies was pitted against the urgent need to improve the material well-being of the majority poor.  Unless such issues were addressed, this necessarily undermined democracy as a participatory social force, Dr Kamuti said.

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