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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

Legal elite tackle thorny issue of corruption
2013-01-24

 

Our Faculty of Law brought together top experts and judges for a Symposium on Corruption, to investigate one of the most pressing concerns of South Africans.
Photo: Stephen Collett
24 January 2013



   YouTube Video

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng yesterday (24 January 2013) concluded the proceedings of the first day of the International Symposium on Corruption, hosted by the Faculty of Law of the University of the Free State (UFS). In his address Justice Mogoeng made no excuses as to the magnitude of the threat corruption presents to South African citizens.

“Urgent action and efficient measures are called for to arrest this scourge, for the sake of our constitutional democracy,” he warned. “Our vibrant constitutional democracy will not and cannot survive in the face of rampant corruption.”

Justice Mogoeng said the spate of civil and labour unrest erupting throughout the country can be attributed to corruption. According to him the scope and far-reaching implications of corruption drives South Africans to “boiling point” and evokes “anger, frustration and a don’t-care-attitude that often manifests in widespread protest actions” and disrespect for the rule of law.

“South Africans, irrespective of race or creed, must identify and focus on their common enemies and find a conciliatory and unifying way of dealing with what divides them, including the lingering prejudices of the past,” Justice Mogoeng urged.

Despite the threat corruption poses, he stressed that all South Africans have a role to play in the fight against corruption and that there are different role players that can become involved in the process. Especially important is the media and faith-based agencies which, according to Justice Mogoeng, can regenerate morals and secure a “national moral code.” The State must further ensure enforcement of anti-corruption measures and preside over the selection of individuals of “solid character” to reside in agencies meant to fight corruption.

He highlighted the need for an unbiased and independent judiciary, one immune to outside influences controlled by powerful forces, as well as personal agendas.

Although Justice Mogoeng believes that the private sector is most guilty of transgressions based on corruption, he stated that a “well-coordinated war” against it must be waged in all sectors in order to stamp it out.

Justice Mogoeng presided over the unveiling of the redesigned foyer of the CR Swart Building and praised the Faculty of Law for its innovation with regard to the symposium.

“I look forward with great optimism to more well-organised symposiums that strike at the nerve-centre of the well-being of our constitutional democracy,” he concluded.

Symposium seeks answers and solutions

The Faculty of Law at the University of the Free State (UFS) concluded its International Symposium on Corruption on Friday 25 January 2013. The event featured a stellar cast of speakers, including the Chief Justice of South Africa, three current Supreme Court of Appeal judges, high-court judges, advocates, prosecutors, journalists, as well as local and international legal academics.

Throughout the two-day symposium, corruption was dissected as a severe problem in the South African socio-economic landscape and solutions were sought to alleviate the pressing concern.

The main attractions of the symposium were undoubtedly the attendance and presentations delivered by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, as well as Prof. Leon Wessels. Prof. Wessels was described as “one of the founding fathers of the constitution of South Africa” by Judge Fritz Brand, a current Appeal Court judge and the third-longest serving judge in the country.

“Corruption is stealing the constitutional dream of this country. Corrupt leaders are fearless, those who expose corruption, are fearful,” Prof. Wessels warned.

Judge Brand closely trails the second longest serving judge in the country in former Kovsie, as well as former UFS Council Chairman, Judge Faan Hancke. Both judges addressed the symposium and chaired sessions, along with Prof. Johan Henning, Dean of the Faculty of Law, and Judge Ian van der Merwe, Chairman of the UFS Council.

It was, however, not all doom and gloom, as several of the speakers offered tangible ideas in what was often termed the “war on corruption”. Celebrated Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika who has been arrested following the police leasing scandal which he exposed, urged South Africans to stand together in their fight against corruption, before it is too late.

People on the front lines in the day to day fight against corruption also spoke at the symposium, giving the audience a better understanding of the intricacies and challenges involved in the process. The Head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Asset Forfeiture Unit, Mr Willie Hofmeyer, as well as Advocate Xolisile Khanyile, who is the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Free State, elucidated this struggle.

The symposium also hosted Prof. Chizu Makajima, a celebrated academic from the United Kingdom.

The two-day symposium ended in style as the delegates gathered in the Centenary Hall on the Bloemfontein Campus for lunch, with a further address by Prof. Leon Wessels


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