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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's legacy lives on in university's project: City Press - 2 May 2004
2004-10-14

 CITY PRESS                           2 MAY 2004   P8  

NEWS
JOHANNESBURG FINAL 

Moshoeshoe's legacy lives on in university's project

MATEFU MOKOENA


 

DRUMS were beaten and the sounds of traditional songs reverberated through corridors of the University of the Free State (UFS) as Basotho students gathered at the campus over the weekend to launch a project honouring their late great king, Moshoeshoe.

The launch was organised by the Lesotho Students Association and UFS management and was blessed by King Letsie III of Lesotho.

According to UFS rector and vicechancellor, Professor Frederick Fourie, the aim of the project is to make the legacy of Moshoeshoe a living part of the university.

He said the Moshoeshoe project will include a television documentary on his life as well as an anthology of creative writings, including prose and poetry, about him.

A television documentary is already being filmed and will be screened during an international conference at UFS in October.

Fourie said the university, as part of the project, is looking at the possibility of starting an annual Moshoeshoe memorial lecture that will focus on African leadership, nationbuilding and reconciliation.

He said the university would introduce a PhD-level research course into the life and legacy of Moshoeshoe.

The university management has also taken a decision to erect a statue of Moshoeshoe on the campus.

Fourie said the project was launched after the UFS delegation, led by him, met Letsie III.

"He wanted us to ensure the legacy of Moshoeshoe is honoured and treated with the respect he deserves."

His legacy "must live on -- not only for the Basotho, but for all South Africans, black and white, and for the entire African continent", he said.

"Living out such a legacy is indeed a fitting contribution to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and to the maturing democracy that is being built here in South Africa," said Fourie.

He emphasised Moshoeshoe was and remains a model of African leadership.

Fourie said Moshoeshoe's diplomacy and commitment to peace put him on a par with former president Nelson Mandela as a statesman.

It is Fourie's dream that, through this project, the UFS will be able to give real meaning to words such as reconciliation, respect for the diversity of languages and cultures and the unity that is needed to build a democratic nation.

The Lesotho Students Association secretary, Sofonea Shale, said for an institution like the UFS to honour Moshoeshoe demonstrates that he was a great leader. "For Basotho students, the project is very significant as it clearly defines who we are and what we stand for.

"We believe the research into the legacy of our great king Moshoeshoe will open doors for more research into the life of Basotho in general.

"Africa as a whole can learn from his leadership style," he said.


 

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