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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

UFS in joint venture with Empowerdex
2006-11-17

The University of the Free State (UFS) today became the first tertiary institution in the country to sign a joint venture agreement with Empowerdex, South Africa’s foremost black economic empowerment (BEE) ratings agency, to train BEE practitioners that will implement BEE across all sectors of the economy.
 
The agreement was signed by Mr Vuyo Jack, Executive Chairman of Empowerdex and Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS.
 
Mr Jack and Mr Chia-Chao Wu, Managing Director of Empowerdex, will be appointed as visiting professors in the UFS School of Management as part of the joint venture.
 
“The joint venture entails the establishment of a transformation office within the Centre for Business Dynamics at the UFS which will administer training programmes and conduct contract research on BEE as well as the establishment of a verification agency within the UFS School of Management,” said Mr Danie Jacobs, Head of the Centre for Business Dynamics at the UFS.
 
“The verification agency within the UFS School of Management will be able to verify the BEE compliance of businesses in the Free State and Northern Cape,” said Mr Jacobs.
 
According to Mr Jacobs, the venture originates from the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) directive to draft codes of good practice for businesses as stated in the Broad Based Black Empowerment Act 53 of 2003. The final codes will be announced shortly and will act as a standard framework for the measurement of broad based BEE across all sectors of the economy.
 
The codes comprise seven elements on which basis points are allocated to a business to determine its level of compliance to BEE. 
 
“The UFS is the only tertiary institution in the country which offers a formal certificate whereby BEE practitioners can be trained in order to ensure that they are competent to measure BEE,” said Mr Jacobs.
 
“Being able to utilise the UFS’ experience and expertise in the field of transformation is of great benefit to us and it will assist us in driving BEE in the country,” said Mr Jack. 
 
According to Mr Jack, the UFS is centrally situated, which will make it easy for BEE practitioners to access the appropriate training course to suit their needs. “The venture will have an impact not only on this region, but on the whole country as the extensive networks of both Empowerdex and the UFS will contribute to us reaching and training BEE practitioners,” said Mr Jack. 
 
The training programmes that will be offered by the transformation office within the UFS Centre for Business Dynamics are the Management Development Programme for BEE and Transformation, the Executive Credit Bearing Short Learning Programme and an online Non-Credit Bearing Short Learning Programme for BEE Specialists. 
 
“The expertise and knowledge that Empowerdex brings to the joint venture is invaluable. Empowerdex pioneered the empowerment methodology and has been actively involved in the drafting of broad based BEE legislation, regulations and transformation charters,” said Mr Jacobs.
 
Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel:   (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
17 November 2006
 

Being empowered: Mr Vuyo Jack, Executive Chairman of BEE ratings agency Empowerdex, and Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS). Empowerdex and the UFS signed an agreement to train practitioners that will implement BEE across all sectors of the economy.

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