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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

New violinist for Odeion String Quartet
2013-02-06

Samson Diamond
06 February 2013



The Odeion String Quartet has a new member, a young accomplished violinist with a string of awards to his name. Samson Diamond, who won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music in 2010, has joined the quartet. He is the first male member the quartet has had for about five years. The Soweto-born violinist replaced Denise Sutton, former leader and first violinist. He will lead the quartet, a flagship of the university and the only resident string quartet at a South African university. The other three members are Sharon de Kock (violin), Jeanne-Louise Moolman (viola) and Anmari van der Westhuizen (cello).

Twenty-eight year old Diamond, a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK, says he is looking forward to working with students from the Odeion School of Music. “I am sure there are many talented students here.”

The musician, who obtained both his Bachelor of Music Honours degree and his Masters of Music Performance degree with distinction, will be based in Bloemfontein on a full time basis. As a member of the quartet, he will be giving concerts, coaching chamber music for the various chamber ensembles and will also give individual lessons to some of the violin students at the School.

Diamond, who started playing the violin at age ten, boast a long list of achievements. At age 12, he was leader of the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble, one of the country's prominent youth projects. He was a founding member of the jazz classical band Quattro Fusion and former leader of the Diamond quartet. He has performed before many distinguished guests, including Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

Diamond says being the first male member in years will not bring about a change in the quartet He says it is about the standard of playing and the calibre of music.

“Music is music whether you work with men or women.”

Diamond’s first performance as member of the quartet will be on 21 February 2013. Details about the performance will be communicated later.

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