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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

UFS presents first Beyers Naudé Memorial lecture
2010-09-16

At the Beyers Naudé   Memorial lecture were, from the left: Prof. Jonathan Jansen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS; Rev. Cedric Mayson; and Mr Kgotso Schoeman, Chief Executive Officer of Kagiso Trust.
Photo: Dries Myburg

The seventh Beyers Naudé Memorial lecture was presented for the first time at the University of the Free State (UFS) this week. This lecture that is presented at a different university each year took place on the Main Campus of the UFS in Bloemfontein this year. Rev. Cedrick Mayson presented the lecture with under the theme: Crafting a legacy.

According to Rev. Mayson more deeply rooted forms of suppression came forward after the democratic elections in 1994. Liberation from apartheid was, according to Mason, very superficial. The poor were still severely suppressed at economic, political, cultural, religious and environmental level. “We have to apply Beyers Naudé’s legacy of liberation in these areas,” Rev. Mayson declared.

“The system according to which the rich become wealthier and the poor become poorer must be replaced by a system where everybody can have enough. This is only possible with the insight of the oppressed.

“The government and the opposition are dominated by people who seek advantage for their own gain. Regardless of democratic slogans and some enlightened individuals’ rules against corruption and violence, we lack the political will to engage in the transformation of the whole world for the good of all earthlings,” said Rev. Mayson.

According to him, consumer culture has become a fine-tuned instrument for keeping people incomplete, shallow and dehumanised.

“Religions are self-centred. Leaders from most of the religious groupings criticised apartheid but they never joined the struggle to assist in demolishing apartheid. It appears as if religious institutions are not able to address the causes of poverty because they themselves are too rich and too powerful,” said Rev. Mayson.

He ended with the following words: “What we need is a leap of faith. Beyers knew that. The world is waiting for people to claim their legacy and to accomplish a post-religious secular spirituality of ubuntu.”

Rev. Mayson is a former Head of Religious Affairs of the ANC. He had also been a former staff member of the Christian Institute before it was banned. Furthermore, he was the Editor of Pro Veritate. Before he retired, he had also been involved in the South African Council of Churches and the World Conference for Peace.

The memorial lecture, a collaborative effort of the UFS and Kagiso Trust, endeavours to involve South Africans in dialogue about issues that affect our nation. This year the lecture was presented at the UFS for the first time and it will take place on the Qwaqwa Campus of the UFS next year.

Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt@ufs.ac.za  
16 September 2010
 

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