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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

Address by the first Inaugural President of the Central SRC
2005-08-03


 

The UFS Central SRC

Address by the first Inaugural President of the Central SRC of the University of the Free State, Mr Tello Motloung on Wednesday 3 August 2003

The Chairperson of the UFS Council, Judge Faan Hancke,
The Vice-chancellor and Rector of the UFS, Prof Frederick Fourie
The Vice-Rector Student Affairs of the UFS, Dr Ezekiel Moraka
The Presidents of the main campus SRC and the Vista campus SRC
Colleagues in the Central SRC, campus SRCs, students and fellow South Africans

Please receive my heartfelt revolutionary greetings

Vice-chancellor and rector what I bring here with me assisted by facts, is just the work of my imagination. Like a love letter addressed to a sweetheart miles away, even though you do not know how she feels, what she wants to hear, and do not even know what she looks like.

I value speech as just an honest intimation, that’s why I got into a habit of establishing a dialogue with people, looking at each other’s face, and persuading one another of what we are saying.

Vice-chancellor, today marks an important milestone in the history of the existence of the UFS. Today reflects the confidence and trust that students of the UFS have placed in us. They are confident that the Central SRC has both the will and the capacity to take our university forward as we confront the challenge of transformation.

Students are confident that they are correct to trust the Central SRC as the principal agent of change in our university that is genuinely committed to the objective of building a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic university. We need to frankly ask ourselves, as CSRC members, whether are we up to all these challenges?

All Central SRC members have to understand this fully, internalize it, and ensure that everything we do, does not betray the confidence and trust of students, or disappoint their expectations. I say this knowing that all Central SRC members have committed themselves to serve the students of the UFS, black and white, and no one among us (CSRC) needs any special lectures about this central commitment.

The UFS should be an omnibus, welcoming everybody on board. But we should be a bus with a clear direction. We will certainly lose our way if we, as an institution, don’t have a clear road map spelling out where we are heading to.

There should be clear guidelines on the role of students in the transformation process. Students should also be viewed as role players in transformation along with the University management, and not just opposing forces. There is no right time, other than this one, to move away from the politics of opposition to politics of transformation.

However, we need the support of management to do so. The University should value the role and contribution of student leaders, hear our legitimate claims and consider them as part of political and policy decision making.
     
Vice-chancellor and Rector, it remains our task to ensure that the UFS is transformed into an institution that is seen to be playing a vigilant role in developing students academically, intellectually, socially, culturally, politically and otherwise. The process of transformation is not ending tonight, it is just beginning tonight.

Judge Hancke, Prof Fourie, Dr Moraka, fellow students and fellow South Africans, I lead students at this university with a sense of pride and duty, and I know very well that I lead men and women, students who are all determined that we reach our destination safely and on time.

A navy divided within its ranks will be destroyed and vanquished by the enemy, but the navy united in purpose and action, loyalty and commitment will not sink but sail on to victory.

It is befitting to mention that every drop of my blood is telling me that the UFS is my home. I firstly became a student here, I became the SRC treasurer in my first year here, I became the deputy president here, and I became the first president of the Central SRC of the UFS.

Therefore you should never doubt my commitment towards the transformation of this university. To paraphrase what was said by students at another institution, “If there is no UFS in heaven, then I am not going.”

Let me conclude by thanking my ancestors for teaching me that even if I wined and dined with kings and queens, I am not a king myself, so I should not turn my back on people who made me what I am today.

Most importantly, I would like to thank the Almighty God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for giving me time and power to lead this university.

It will be theoretically irresponsible if I ended my speech without indicating that “Only a Kovsie knows the feeling”.

I thank you.

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