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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

But do you forgive yourself, Eugene de Kock? asks Candice Mama
2015-03-16

From the left are: Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Candice Mama and Prof André Keet, Director of the UFS Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice.
Photo: O'Ryan Heideman

 

Candice Mama: Audio

Candice Mama and her family met with her father’s assassin. Eugene de Kock. Prime Evil. Commander of the apartheid government’s covert Vlakplaas police unit. And what followed from this meeting was one of our country’s most poignant gestures of reconciliation. One by one, each family member expressed their forgiveness of De Kock, and soon afterwards, he was granted parole.

Candice recently visited the Bloemfontein Campus to talk about ‘An Unexpected Encounter with Eugene de Kock: A Journey of Transformation’. The event was a collaborative effort between the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice and Trauma, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation Studies.

“What makes it possible to cross the boundary from loss and pain to bond with the person who hurt you?” Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, asked Candice. “I had to educate myself about the when, where, and how, to get a context for Eugene de Kock,” she answered. With the encouragement of her mother, Candice became an avid reader from an early age. She devoured information, so that she could build a picture of this man within a specific historical and political context. What also contributed to this moment of reconciliation for her was De Kock humbling himself and taking full responsibility for his actions.

This meeting was not without inner conflict for Candice, though. “Why am I crying for hím?” she asked herself as she listened to him speak. “Why am I laughing?” she chastised herself as De Kock preened shyly for a group photograph with the family. “Is there something wrong with me to connect with him?” She questioned her values and beliefs. But instead of a monster, Candice saw the true essence of a repentant human being.

But how do you know he didn’t fake it, many people asked. Because it was “one of the most sincere and honest encounters I’ve experienced,” she said. During their meeting, Candice saw a man “crushed by the world”. Everything he believed as a young man, he realised, was a lie.

“Do you forgive yourself?” Candice asked the one question De Kock feared most. And in that moment, he was humanised for her. “When you’ve done the things I’ve done,” De Kock replied, “how do you forgive yourself?”
It remains an open question. But this act of forgiveness gives an entire country hope.

 

For more information or enquiries contact news@ufs.ac.za.

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