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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

Resource Manual on Trafficking in Persons for Judicial Officers sees the light
2012-03-27

 

Judge Connie Mocumi, President of the South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges (SAC-IAWJ), during the launch of the Resource Manual on Trafficking in Persons for Judicial Officers.
Photo: Leonie Bolleurs
27 March 2012

On Human Rights Day the Department of Criminal and Medical Law in the Faculty of Law at the University of the Free State (UFS) hosted the launch of the Resource Manual on Trafficking in Persons for Judicial Officers compiled by the South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges (SAC-IAWJ).

The manual, which will be used by members of the South African judiciary, will equip officials in adjudicating the multifaceted crime of human trafficking.

“Presiding officers must be sensitised about the complexity of the crime. Human trafficking has many faces and presents itself in different ways. A person may for example be trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour, the removal of body parts, as well as forced marriages. Expert knowledge is needed to handle these cases effectively in court,” said Dr Kruger, also responsible for the human trafficking initiative in the Unit for Children's Rights at the UFS.

Prior to the launch, a total number of 300 judicial officers, including six judges from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) received training on human trafficking. After receiving this training, the officers were sensitised to scrutinise domestic violence cases as well as inter-country adoption cases in order to identify possible human trafficking activities.

As keynote speaker at the launch, Dr Beatri Kruger from the Department of Criminal and Medical Law at the UFS, said that human traffickers were running operations like a well-oiled machine. They have abundant and sophisticated resources and often bribe corrupt officials to further their criminal activities. In South Africa, people combating human trafficking struggle with a lack of resources as well as comprehensive legislation. Most cases are prosecuted under the Children’s Act and the Sexual Offences Amendment Act of 2007. Unfortunately, this legislation still leaves a gap in the prosecuting of perpetrators. Only trafficking cases where where children are trafficked can be prosecuted under the Children’s Act. In terms of the Sexual Offences Amendment Act perpetrators can be prosecuted for trafficking persons for sexual exploitation only, and not for labour of other forms of trafficking. Therefore the comprehensive Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill 2010 needs to be finalised to cover all forms of trafficking.

There are more slaves today than at any time in the history of humankind. “To combat this serious problem, we need to follow a holistic approach,” said Dr Kruger. This includes prevention (raising awareness), effective prosecution and suitable punishment, the protection of victims, and partnering with all relevant stakeholders, including people in the communities. Community members are often whistle blowers of this crime.

The President of the SAC-IAWJ, Judge Connie Mocumi, handed copies of the manual, a three-year project, to judicial officers present at the launch. The manual covers, among others, the definition of trafficking in persons, trafficking in persons in South Africa and the Southern African region, a legislative framework, victims’ rights and criminal proceedings.

“It is critical that judicial officers appreciate the phenomenon of trafficking in persons in its broader socio-economic context. Therein lays the ability to deal competently with the often-nuanced manifestation of this scourge. The incapacity to recognise these nuances can deny victims access to justice. In that regard, the manual, amongst others, is to become an important empowering adjudication tool for judicial officers,” said Judge Mocumi.

More copies will be printed and be ready for distribution by the beginning of May this year.

Judge Belinda van Heerden, who also attended the launch, said: “There is progress on the judicial and legislative front to bring wrongdoers to book. This manual will go a long way in giving judicial officers insight into the problem.”

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