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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

Greyhound racing: Public input needed
2009-02-03

Members of the public have a second opportunity to make submissions regarding the possible legalisation of greyhound racing in South Africa.

A research team from the Faculty of Law at the University of the Free State (UFS), in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry (dti), will hold a second round of public consultations in Gauteng, the Free State, North West, the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal in February and March this year.

During the first round of consultations last year the research team, under the supervision of Prof. Elizabeth Snyman-Van Deventer of the UFS, received written submissions from interested members of the public and various associations.

The purpose of this research project is to give an objective overview of the greyhound racing industry nationally as well as internationally. This includes aspects such as animal welfare, social, economical and political issues and the legal framework pertaining to greyhound racing.

The study focuses on the current situation in South Africa and internationally regarding the jurisdictions where the sport is currently active and the current legal framework.

It will also include a comparative study of the situation in countries such as the United States of America, Ireland, England, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Vietnam.

Greyhound racing was banned in South Africa years ago because gambling was regarded as immoral at that time. Now that gambling has been legalised and is regulated there are debates on the legislation of greyhound racing.

The animal welfare and protection groups are against the legalisation of greyhound racing, while other role players have been calling for the racing to be legalised and regulated.

The public consultations will take place as follows:

• 6 February 2009, 09:00-12:30, Protea Edward Hotel, Durban
• 13 February 2009, 09:00-12:30, Protea Sea Point Hotel, Cape Town
• 20 February 2009, 09:00-12:30, Protea Marine Hotel, Port Elizabeth
26 February 2009, 09:00-12:30, Garden Court Hotel, Bloemfontein
• 27 February 2009, 09:00-12:30, Protea Manor Hotel, Hatfield, Pretoria
• 6 March 2009, 09:00-12:30, Garden Court East London, Esplanade, East London
• 13 March 2009, 09:00-12:30, Willows Garden Hotel, Potchefstroom

For further information, members of the public who are interested in attending these consultations should contact Mpho Mosing of the dti at 012 394 1504/083 436 5534 or Prof. Snyman-Van Deventer at 051 401 2698 or e-mail it to snymane.rd@ufs.ac.za  
 

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