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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

Successful conviction on edible oil adulteration
2009-03-28

A successful conviction in the South African food industry for selling diluted olive oil under the guise of virgin olive oil was handed down in the Special Commercial Crimes Court in Durban this week.

Salvatore Pollizi, owner of the company Ital Distributors, pleaded guilty in terms of Section 105A of the Crime Prosecuting Act to selling fake virgin olive oil under the names of Antico Frantoio and Ulivo.

He was sentenced to a fine of R250 000 or three years’ imprisonment, of which R130 000 or 18 months imprisonment is suspended for five years, on condition that he is not found guilty of fraud or theft or an attempt to commit such crimes during the period of suspension.

The offence was committed in 2001 when the scandal involving olive oil being mixed with a cheaper edible oil and being sold as the more expensive virgin olive oil was uncovered by scientists from the University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein, in collaboration with Mr Guido Costas, The Olive Growers’ Association, AgriInspec and the South African Police Services.

According to Prof. Lodewyk Kock, Head of the South African Fryer Oil Initiative (SAFOI) that is based at the UFS, the conviction is to his knowledge the first successful conviction of this kind in the South African food industry.

Prof. Kock said, “The court’s decision on Monday, 23 March 2009 is good news to our country and sends out a dire warning to all fraudsters in the food industry.”

He attributed the successful conviction to the active and enthusiastic participation by Advocate Joanna Bromley-Gans from the Special Commercial Crime Unit (SCCU) in Durban, Captain Pragasen Govender from the Serious Economic Offences Unit (SEOU) in Pretoria and the team from SAFOI.

Prof. Kock said that in 2003 some of the prominent members of the edible oil industry took responsibility for the authenticity of their own oils by appointing outside laboratories for routine monitoring.

In some cases a seal of approval from such laboratories is displayed on the monitored oil containers. This is an attempt to inform oil distributors, shop buyers and consumers that these oils have been monitored by an outside laboratory for authenticity.

This “policing” has been supported by major role players in the fast-food sector like Nando’s, Spur, Captain Dorego’s, King Pie Holdings, etc. and various oil distributors like Felda Bridge Africa, Willowton Oil & Cake Mills, Refill Oils, etc.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel:  051 401 2584
Cell:  083 645 2454
E-mail:  loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za
27 March 2009




 

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