Latest News Archive

Please select Category, Year, and then Month to display items
Years
2017 2018 2019 2020
Previous Archive
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

In her inaugural lecture, Prof Helene Strauss explores symbols that reflect our history
2014-02-18

 

Prof Helene Strauss
The burning tyre – image of promise and disappointment
Photo: Stephen Collett

Prof Helene Strauss did not disappoint in her highly-anticipated inaugural lecture “The Spectacles of Promise and Disappointment: Political Emotion and Quotidian Aesthetics in Post-transitional South Africa”. She posed some very challenging ideas on the promises and disappointments that arouse from apartheid. Prof Strauss pointed to the fact that “… a promise must promise to be kept; that is, not to remain spiritual or abstract, but to produce events, new effective forms of action, practice, organisation, and so forth.”

She underscored the message of her lecture by making use of the image of a burning tyre – a symbol commonly associated with apartheid. This act of ‘necklacing’ is closely connected to the violence and protests of that era. Prof Strauss used this image to represent an array of social concerns: global mass protest, modernity and mobility, waste economies and waste management, environmental destruction, as well as poverty and resistance in varied formats.

Some of South Africa’s greatest artists have used the burning tyre in their work, particularlyBerni Searle and Zanele Muhloi. Not only does it trigger the shadow of the damaging past, but “more recently, it has come to figure also in the spectacles of promise and disappointment that have marked the country’s transitional and post-transitional periods,” Prof Strauss remarked.

Prof Strauss focuses her research on these symbolisms in our history because of “the questions that they raise about the emotional cultures produced in the aftermath of apartheid and for the unique contribution that they make to current debates on political and aesthetic activism.”Her passion for this subject comes from the “affective or emotional legacies of various forms of structural inequality, an interest that owes a sizeable debt to postcolonial, queer and feminist critical theory and creative work of the past hundred or so years.”

Prof Strauss accepted a position at the University of the Free Sate in 2011 and currently works in the Department of English. She is part of the Vice-Chancellor’s Prestige Scholars Programme and holds a PhD from the University of Western Ontario. Previously, she held the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada, where she resided for 11 years.

Among the guests were Prof Jonathan Jansen, Profs Botes and Witthuhn, lecturers in the Department of English, members of the Faculty of the Humanities, students and some of Prof Strauss’ colleagues from Canada.

 

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.

Accept