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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

SRC Inauguration speech: 22 January 2005
2005-01-22

Campus Head (Prof Peter Mbati). Dean of Students (Dr Natie Luyt). Deputy Director: Student Affairs and my boss (Mr. Teboho Manchu), Members of the University executive and Academic staff members, SRC members, Leaders of trade Unions and Student organizations, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen, most importantly first entering students and Parents receive my heartfelt revolutionary greetings.

Let me extend my word of appreciation to our distinguished guests for adding value and dignity to this event. Your presence here means a lot to us. Program Director what I bring here with me, assisted by facts, and is therefore 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 how her face looks like.

To me a speech is just an honest and intimate conversation. That is why I got into the habit of establishing a dialogue, or a debate, with my acquaintances looking at their faces and trying to persuade them of what I am telling them.

Mr. Speaker and Madam Deputy Speaker of the Student Parliament we are gathering at this ceremony, significantly few weeks after the release of grade 12 results, with the exception of those from Mpumalanga because of fraud. The Grade 12 results also show that only 18% of Black learners matriculated with exemptions, as compared to 53, 6% of white learners. This is an indication that our education system needs an overhaul.

We are also gathered here significantly a day after the management retreat held in Bloemfontein, Masselspoort. The retreat discussed, among other things, the transformation agenda, and some possible solutions to challenges we are facing now.

Most regrettably, we are gathered here when the whole world morns the victims of Tsunami tragedy. Let me therefore tore the line and convey our deepest condolences, from the last robot of my heart, to the affected families. Our hearts and thoughts will always be occupied by this horrified tragedy.

Creating a new Institution

I would submit, for purposes of debate and discussions that this Institution should strive to specialize and excel in regional rural development studies. Since our higher education, institutions in South Africa are generally weak in rural development studies. Instead, most of them tend to have an urban orientation to their programmes. Training everybody for the cities, big business and the private sector. This is a big weakness in a country with such large rural areas and population trapped in poverty, disease and ignorance.

Women’s studies

Program Director, it is only a moron who can argue against the fact that for us to reposition the institution around the regional development challenge, we need to start first with women empowerment. It is a fact that in most of our poor communities and families, it is women who withstand the worst of poverty. They are the ones who daily have to wipe tears from children who are hungry. It is women who look after the sick, the elderly, those dying from AIDS and the jobless. They are the one who have to fetch water, make fire and cook. There can therefore be no rural development studies without women studies, in particular on how to empower them and assist in the provision of basic services, so that they are relieved from some of the burdensome task of the society.

Registration Process

Mr. Speaker and Madam Deputy Speaker of the Student Parliament let me indicate that the registration is a process and not an event, so it cannot be concluded overnight. This huge process demands for people to stay calm, as there is no crisis. People should stop being excited. At the same time, no organization should use its cheap popularity and unilaterally disrupt the continuous and smooth running of the registration process at hand.

Let me strongly indicate, madam deputy speaker, that I am on record for stating that I have forgiven all those who have wronged us. I harbour no bitterness towards the protagonists of our painful and unfortunate events of the past week. And we will overcome this process not by our own devices but by the help of Almighty God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Concerning registration of first years, we have programs, concerning that of senior students, we have programs, regarding graduations we have programs, and concerning HIV\AIDS we have programs. So, there is no need for people to press panicking buttons.

Mr. Speaker and Madam Deputy Speaker of the Student Parliament let me be opportunistic and welcome the entire student body on Campus for the academic year 2005. May our lovely first entering students have a happy and momentous year as part of Qwaqwa Campus of University of the Free State. May your studies be fruitful and enjoyable.

Student years are generally the happiest years of your life, so please make the most of them. While you are doing, all your preparations bear in mind that University is not an opportunity, it is just creating opportunities for a person.

On behalf of SRC members, our people, our students and management members I would like to welcome you all. Even though your parents are far away, here at Uniqwa you have more brothers, more sisters and more parents. Since we will love you with the same love as if we are from one family, and I have no doubts that management members will love and care for you as if you are their own children. Should you encounter any problem while studying at the Qwaqwa Campus of University of the Free State do not hesitate to contact us at the SRC offices because we need to ameliorate any factor influencing you negatively while on campus. I wish you well in the attainment of your academic pursuit.

Senior Students: We are not faced with just a new year but another academic year where we all have to work together to achieve our common goal of building our Institution through the development of human power. I urge you to invest your whole selves in this SRC.

For quite some time now, a debate has been ranging as to, whether has there been any progress in this incorporation process, or we are just moving with no direction. This debate is important, but I hasten to add not essential. The SRC is also involved in this debate, but with definite shift in emphasis. For us it is not important to participate in the debate than it is in finding solutions for the challenges of this new chapter in the history of humankind.

To my colleagues: Comrades, we are leading this Institution with a sense of pride and duty, and I know very well that we lead men and women, students who are determined to ensure that we all reach our destination safely and on time.

I said in one of our meetings that there are more enemies on our way, more than we can imagine. I think you witnessed that during the course of this week. The excitement and unnecessary confusions caused by some confused and loosed charlatans bear testimony to my statements. We should not reveal our game plans unless we are ready to slam.

Let me also borrow from the words of the late Albert Lethuli when he said and I quote: “There remains before us the building of the new land, from the ruins of the old narrow groups, a synthesis of the rich cultural strains which we have inherited. The task is immense”. Lastly, a navy divided within its ranks will be vanquished and destroyed by the enemy, but a navy united in purpose and action, loyalty and commitment will not drawn but sail on to victory.

In conclusion, let me call upon all political structures, church denominations, developmental structures, clubs, societies and forums to put aside all their differences, ideological insinuations and forge unity towards transforming Qwaqwa Campus of University of the Free State into an institution that is seen playing vigilant role in developing students academically, politically, socially, spiritually, religiously, culturally and otherwise.

Program Director, let me end my speech by indicating that every drop of my blood is telling me that Uniqwa is my home. I firstly became a student here, I became an activist here, I became a leader here, I became a president here, I will become a graduant here and hopefully I will become an employee here. So never, doubt my commitment towards the community of this campus.

Please be informed, in a central University of Technology’s way, that if there is no UNIQWA in HEAVEN, then I am not GOING.

Let us broaden the social base.

Tello Titus Wa-Motloung President General

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