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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

Moshoeshoe film screened at UFS as part of transformation programme
2004-10-14

A ground-breaking documentary film on the life and legacy of King Moshoeshoe I, the founder of the Basotho nation, will be screened at the University of the Free State (UFS) tonight (Wednesday 13 October 2004) at 19:00.

Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, prof. Frederick Fourie, said the UFS commissioned the documentary as a practical demonstration of the university’s commitment to the continued transformation of the campus and the creation of a new inclusive institutional culture for all staff and students.

It is part of a larger UFS project to honour the Moshoeshoe legacy of nation-building and reconciliation and to explore his role as a model of African leadership.

The documentary tells the life story of the legendary king, with emphasis on his remarkable leadership skills, his extraordinary talent for diplomacy and conflict resolution and his visionary commitment to creating a new nation from a fragmented society.

Almost all the filming was done on or around Moshoeshoe’s mountain stronghold, Thaba Bosiu.

The last part of the documentary explores the lessons for African leadership to be learnt from Moshoeshoe. The hour-long documentary film was produced by the well-known journalist Mr Max du Preez and was commissioned by the UFS as part of its centenary celebrations.

“Through this documentary film about King Moshoeshoe, the UFS commits itself to developing a shared appreciation of the history of this country,” said prof. Fourie.

“King Moshoeshoe was a great African statesman and leader. He was born in this region of the country, but his influence and legacy extends way beyond the borders of the Free State, Lesotho and even way beyond the borders of South Africa,” said prof. Fourie.

As part of the larger project, the UFS is investigating a possible annual Moshoeshoe memorial lecture that will focus on African leadership, nation-building and reconciliation, possible PhD-level research into the life and legacy of King Moshoeshoe and a literary anthology including prose and poetry.

“We must gain a deeper understanding of what really happened during his reign as king. Therefore the University of the Free State will encourage and support further research into the history, politics and sociology of the Moshoeshoe period, including his leadership style,” said prof. Fourie.

According to prof. Fourie the Moshoeshoe project will enable the UFS to give real meaning to respect for the diversity of our languages and cultures, and the unity South Africans seek to build as a democratic nation through such diversity.

According to the producer of the documentary, journalist Mr Max du Preez, the UFS deserves credit for recognising this extraordinary man and for financing this important documentary.

Du Preez said: “It was about time that South Africa rediscovered Moshoeshoe. Colonialist and Afrikaner Nationalist historians have painted him as a sly, untrustworthy and weak leader. Most historians have preferred to glorify leaders in South Africa’s past who were aggressors and conquerors. In the process most present-day South Africans came to regard Moshoeshoe as a minor tribal figure.”

“Yet this was the man who broke the cycle of violence, famine and suffering during the traumatic time in central South Africa in the early 1800s. During the entire 19th century, Moshoeshoe was virtually the only leader in South Africa who did not answer violence with violence, who did not set forth to conquer other groups and expand his land,” said Mr du Preez.

“I have no doubt that the stability that the Free State region has enjoyed over more than a century was largely due to Moshoeshoe’s leadership and vision. He can quite rightly be called “The Nelson Mandela of the 19th Century,” Mr du Preez added.

Explaining the title of the documentary film, Mr du Preez said: “We decided to call the documentary “The Reniassance King” because whichever way one looks at it, Moshoeshoe symbolised everything behind the concept of an African Renaissance.”

“He was progressive, just and fair; he deeply respected human life and dignity (we would nowadays call it human rights); he embraced modernity and technology without ever undermining his own people’s culture or natural wisdom; he never allowed European or Western influence to overwhelm him, make him insecure or take away his pride as an African,” said Mr du Preez.

“Moshoeshoe was the best of Africa. If only contemporary African leaders would follow his example of what African leadership should be,” Mr du Preez said.

Among the interviewees in the film were Lesotho’s most prominent historian, Dr LBBJ Machobane, the head of the UFS’s Department of History, prof. Leo Barnard, Moshoeshoe expert and Gauteng educationist Dr Peter Seboni, Lesotho author and historian Martin Lelimo and Chief Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, Principal Chief of Matsieng and direct descendant of the first King of the Basotho.

The documentary film on King Moshoeshoe will be screened on SABC 2 on Thursday 4 November 2004.
 

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