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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

SA must appoint competent judges
2009-05-08

 

At the inaugural lecture are, from the left: Prof. Teuns Verschoor, Acting Rector of the UFS, Judge Farlam and Prof. Johan Henning, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the UFS.

Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Ian Farlam has called on the South African government to appoint and continue to appoint competent, fair and experienced judicial officers to sit in the country’s courts.

He also emphasised the need to have an efficient and highly respected appellate division, which rightly enjoys the confidence of all.

Judge Farlam was speaking at the University of the Free State (UFS) where he delivered his inaugural lecture as Extraordinary Professor in Roman Law, Legal History and Comparative Law in the Faculty of Law.

He said there were important lessons that emanated from the study of legal history in the Free State, particularly including the lesson that there were courageous jurists who spoke up for what they believed to be right, and a legislature who listened and did the right thing when required.

“This is part of our South African heritage which is largely forgotten – even by those whose predecessors were directly responsible for it. It is something which they and the rest of us can remember with pride,” Judge Farlam said.

Addressing the topic, Cox and Constitutionalism: Aspects of Free State Legal History, Judge Farlam used the murder trial of Charles Cox, who was accused of killing his wife and both daughters, to illustrate several key points of legal history.

Cox was eventually found guilty and executed, however, the trial caused a deep rift between the Afrikaans and English speaking communities in the Free State.

Judge Farlam also emphasised that the Free State Constitution embodied the principle of constitutionalism, with the result that the Free State was a state where the Constitution and not the legislature was sovereign. He said it was unfortunate that this valuable principle was eliminated in the Free State after the Boer War and said that it took 94 years before it was reinstated.

Judge Farlam added, “Who knows what suffering and tragedy might not have been avoided if, instead of the Westminster system, which was patently unsuited to South African conditions, we had gone into Union in 1910 with what one can describe as the better Trekker tradition, the tradition of constitutionalism that the wise burghers of the Free State chose in 1854 to take over into their Constitution from what we would call today the constitutional best practice of their time?”

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
8 May 2009
             

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