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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

Ms Beatrice Marshoff praise documentary on the life and legacy of King Moshoeshoe
2004-10-14

The Premier of the Free State , Ms Beatrice Marshoff, has praised the University of the Free State for the initiative to produce a documentary on the life and legacy of King Moshoeshoe, the founder of the Basotho nation.

“The University of the Free State could not have chosen a better subject to celebrate its centenary. The life and legacy of King Moshoeshoe is indeed a befitting demonstration that this is Africa ’s century,” Ms Marshoff said in a statement.

The documentary called “The Renaissance King” was shown last night ( Wednesday 13 October 2004 ) for the first time at the UFS. It was commissioned by the UFS as part if its Centenary year and was produced by journalist Max du Preez.

“We wish to congratulate the producers and the university, for such a brilliant idea,” the premier said.

She called on other institutions to also get involved in nation-building projects such as this one.

“Your desire and intention as an institution to take up a new but deserved role in our social transformation agenda, is highly commendable,” Ms Marshoff said in her statement.

Because the premier had to attend to urgent government business she could not attend the function,but her statement was read on her behalf by the MEC for Arts, Sport and Culture, Mr Joe Mafereka.

Dignitaries in the appreciative audience included the Lesotho Minister for Communications, Science and Technology, Dr Mamphono Khaketla, Queen Mopeli, the MEC for Education, Ouma Tsopo, the MEC for Safety and Liaison, Tate Makgoe, the Director General of the Free State, Dr Khotso de Wee, the Senior Private Secretary to King Letsie III, Mr Mabotse Lerotholi, the Vice-chancellor of the National University of Lesotho, Dr Mothibe, Acting Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture, Mr Jobo Molapo, Chairman of the Council of the University of the Free State, Judge Faan Hancke, Rector and Vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, prof. Frederick Fourie.

The documentary on the life and legacy of King Moshoeshoe will be screened on SABC 2 on Thursday 4 November 2004 .

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