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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

ANC Centenary Seminar looks at the role of women in the liberation struggle
2012-03-22

 

At the ANC Centenary Seminar were, from the left: Nadine Lake, ProgrammeDirector: Gender Studies, at the UFS; Prof. Hassim; Zubeida Jaffer, Writer-in-Residence at the UFS; and Senovia Welman from the UFS-Sasol Library.
Photo: Amanda Tongha
22 March 2012


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Looking back at the history of South African politics you will always find women involved in that history.”

This is according to Prof. Shireen Hassim, a professor in Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, who recently spoke at an ANC Centenary Seminar, held on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS). The seminar is part of a series of dialogues hosted by the Centre for Africa Studies about the ruling party’s 100 years of existence. It was the first one to be held following the 100 year celebrations of the ANC in January 2012 and was dedicated to the ANC Women’s League. Prof. Hassim told the audience that from early roles as wives who provided catering and entertainment, women have always been politically active in the African National Congress (ANC).

Women took the lead in the defiance campaign, going beyond the role of tea lady of the 1910s. When the ANC went into exile, the women’s section, as it was called then, played an important role.” Prof. Hassim also praised independent women’s organisations for the role they had played during the struggle and added that they were part of the collective history.

Talking about today’s Women’s League, Prof. Hassim said there had been debate about its current role with some critics labelling the league conservative. “In recent years, they have become very allied to internal battles.”

According to Prof. Hassim, a new language was needed that could give voice to the policies that needed to be developed.She drew attention to the plight of rural women, saying that thus far urban women have been taking the lead in defining issues. She warned that legislation like the Traditional Courts Bill would put rural women at a disadvantage. Prof. Hassim said the Bill was not rigorously debated, despite the high number of women in Parliament.

 

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