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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

Mathatha Tsedu to deliver King Moshoeshoe lecture
2009-06-29

Mathatha Tsedu 
The former Editor of City Press, Mathatha Tsedu, will deliver the Second King Moshoeshoe Memorial Lecture at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein on Wednesday, 9 September 2009.

The King Moshoeshoe Memorial Lecture series are an initiative of the University of the Free State to honour the leadership legacy of King Moshoeshoe I, founder of the Basotho nation. The lecture series aim to provide a platform for debate about the key challenges of nation-building, reconciliation and leadership facing our country and the African continent.

In 2004 the UFS produced a documentary on the life of King Moshoeshoe I as part of the project to pay tribute to this great African leader. The documentary was screened numerous times on SABC TV.

Later in 2006, the inaugural King Moshoeshoe Memorial Lecture was delivered by Prof Njabulo Ndebele, former vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

Mr Tsedu is one of South Africa’s foremost journalists and social commentators. He will speak on the topic, “When globalisation ties the fate of the Maluti to that of the ice caps on the Alps, what does Morena Moshoeshoe teach us about leadership today?”

Mr Tsedu has received several awards, including the Nat Nakasa Award for Courageous Journalism in 2000 as well as the Shanduka Lifetime Achievers Award in 2007.

A graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand, he started his career in journalism as a bureau reporter for the Sowetan in 1978 responsible for the then Northern Transvaal. Later Mr Tsedu became Political Editor of the Sowetan, the Deputy Editor of The Star as well as the Deputy Editor of the Sunday Independent and Deputy Chief Executive of SABC News.

He has also been the Editor of two major Sunday newspapers, the Sunday Times and City Press and is currently the Head of the Journalism Academy at the Media24 group.

Mr Tsedu is the Chairperson of The African Editors Forum and a Council Member of the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF). He has addressed various organisations on journalism in South Africa, including the International Federation of Journalists; the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; the Botswana Journalist Association; the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists; the Kenya Union of Journalists; and the Union of African Journalists.

He was an active trade unionist and national executive member of the Media Workers’ Association of South Africa. He was detained several times, banned and restricted to Seshego in the Northern Province from 1981 to 1986.

Mr Tsedu is also a short story writer with several of his stories published in various magazines. He was awarded a prestigious Nieman Fellowship in 1996/97 to study at Harvard University in the United States of America.

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  
29 June 2009

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