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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

Lecture by Judge Albie Sachs: ‘Sites of memory, sites of conscience’
2015-03-23

Judge Albie Sachs

Human rights activist and former Constitutional Court Judge, Albie Sachs, will deliver a public lecture on the Bloemfontein Campus. The topic of his discussion will be ‘Sites of memory, sites of conscience’. This lecture will form part of a series that focuses on how the creative arts represent trauma and memory – and how these representations may ultimately pave the way to healing historical wounds.

The details of the event are:
Date: Thursday 26 March 2015
Time: 12:30
Venue: Albert Wessels Auditorium, Bloemfontein Campus
RSVP: Jo-Anne Naidoo at Naidooja@ufs.ac.za
A South African Sign Language interpreter will be present at the event.

Joining Judge Sachs on stage as respondent will be Dr Buhle Zuma, a young scholar and lecturer at the University of Cape Town's Psychology Department.

Expressing experiences of trauma
Judge Sachs is no stranger to the use of the arts as a way of expressing the inarticulable and overwhelming experiences of trauma. Targeted as an anti-apartheid freedom fighter, he lost his right arm and was blinded in one eye in a car bomb attack in 1988. As a judge of the Constitutional Court, he spearheaded conversations about the role of the arts in our constitutional democracy. This has led to the installation of some of the best artworks by South African artists at the Constitutional Court.

Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture Series on Trauma, Memory, and Representations of the Past
This lecture will launch of the Vice Chancellor’s Lecture Series on Trauma, Memory and Representations of the Past. It forms part of a five-year research project led by Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, funded by the Mellon Foundation. The event is hosted by the UFS Trauma, Forgiveness and Reconciliation Studies.

“One of the most remarkable aspects of trauma,” Prof Gobodo-Madikizela says, “is the loss of language, a moment of rupture that produces what some scholars have referred to as ‘speechless terror’. The arts, in all its forms – literary, performance, and visual – are a viable mechanism through which the unspeakable, traumatic past may be represented.”

These artistic forms of representing trauma are at the heart of this Vice-Chancellor’s Lecture Series. “We are interested not only in how experiences that transcend language are represented through the arts,” Prof Gobodo-Madikizela explains, “but also in probing the limits of trauma theory, and how the creative arts might be employed to bear witness in a way that may open up the possibility of healing.”

Dr Buhle Zuma
Former Mandela Rhodes scholar and one of the 2011 Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans, Dr Zuma is particularly interested in issues at the heart of our rainbow nation. His current research revolves around the question of freedom: what it means to be human for black people after centuries of dehumanisation, and the role of desire and fantasy in the political imagination of post-apartheid South Africa.

 

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