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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

Premiere of the documentary on King Moshoeshoe - Address by the Rector
2004-10-14

Address by the rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State, prof Frederick Fourie, at the premiere of the documentary on King Moshoeshoe, Wednesday 13 October 2004

It is indeed a privilege to welcome you at this key event in the Centenary celebrations of the University of the Free State.

We are simultaneously celebrating 100 years of scholarship with 10 years of democracy

Today is a very important day with great significance for the University. This Centenary is not merely a celebration of an institution of a certain age. It is a key event in this particular phase of our history, in our transformation as an institution of higher learning, in taking the creation of a high-quality, equitable, non-racial, non-sexist, multicultural and multilingual university seriously.

This is about building something new out of the old, of creating new institutional cultures and values from diverse traditions.

It is about learning together - as an higher education institution - about who we are where we come from – to decide where we are going.

It is about merging the age-old tradition of the university, of the academic gown, with the Basotho blanket, the symbol of community engagement.

Then why is it important that we remember Moshoeshoe, where does he fit into our history?

In the Free State province, where large numbers of Basotho and Afrikaners (and others) now live together, a new post-apartheid society is being built in the 21st century.

The challenge is similar to that faced by Moshoeshoe 150 years ago. As you will see tonight, he did a remarkable thing in forging a new nation out of a fragmented society. He also created a remarkable spirit of reconciliation and a remarkable style of leadership.

Not all people in South Africa know the history of Moshoeshoe. Many Basotho – but not all – are well versed in the history of Moshoeshoe, and his name is honoured in many a street, town and township. Many white people know very little of him, or have a very constrained or even biased view of his role and legacy. In Africa and the world, he his much less known than, for instance, Shaka. (In Lesotho, obviously, he is widely recognised and praised.)

We already benefit from his legacy: the people of the Free State share a tradition of moderation and reconciliation rather than one of aggression and domination.

With Moshoeshoe, together with Afrikaner leaders and reconciliators such as President MT Steyn and Christiaan de Wet, we have much to be thankful for.

Our challenge is take this legacy further: to forge a new society in which different cultural, language and racial groups – Basotho, Afrikaners and others – will all feel truly at home.

Bit by bit, on school grounds, on university campuses, in each town and city, people must shape the values and principles that will mould this new non-racial, multicultural and multilingual society.

A shared sense of history, shared stories and shared heroes are important elements in such a process.

Through this documentary film about King Moshoeshoe, the UFS commits itself to developing a shared appreciation of the history of this country and to the establishment of the Free State Province as a model of reconciliation and nation-building.

Moshoeshoe is also a strong common element, and binding factor, in the relationship between South Africa / the Free State, and its neighbour, Lesotho.

For the University of the Free State this also is an integral part of real transformation – of creating a new unity amidst our diversity.

Transformation has so many aspects: whilst the composition of our student and staff populations have been changing, many other things change at the same time: new curricula, new research, new community service learning projects.

In also includes creation of new values, new (shared) histories, new (shared) heroes.

It includes the incorporation of the Qwaqwa campus, which serves a region where so many of the children of Moshoeshoe live, including her majesty Queen Mopeli.

We see in Moshoeshoe a model of African leadership – of reconciliation and nation-building – that can have a significant impact in South Africa and Africa as a whole.

We also find in the legacy of King Moshoeshoe the possibility of an “founding philosophy”, or “defining philosophy”, for the African renaissance.

To develop this philosophy, we must gain a deeper understanding of what really happened there, of his role, of his leadership.

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.

We hope to do this in partnership with National University of Lesotho.

The Moshoeshoe documentary is one element of a long-term project of the UFS. The other elements of the project that we are investigating are possible PhD-level research; a possible annual Moshoeshoe memorial lecture on African leadership; and then possible schools projects and other ways and symbols of honouring him.

It is my sincere wish that all communities of the Free State and of South Africa will be able to identify with the central themes of this documentary, and develop a shared appreciation for leaders such as King Moshoeshoe and the legacy of peace, reconciliation and nation-building that they have left us.

Prof. Frederick Fourie
Rector and Vice-Chancellor
University of the Free State
13 October 2004.

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