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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

White Horse to bring enchantment to Free State Arts Festival
2015-07-09

White Horse Project: Concept, Jess Oliveiri & Parachutes for Ladies; Project Manager, Mandi Bezuidenhout; Video, Louis Kruger; Costume, Lesiba Mabitsela; Performers, Gali Malebo, Chris Kleynhans, Busisiwe Matutu, Johandi du Plessis, Elrie du Toit.

A University of the Free State (UFS) and Free State Arts Festival initiative, the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD/PIKO) has worked together with Australian artist, Jess Olivieri (Parachutes for Ladies), to bring visitors and spectators the fantastical and mythical White Horse. The UFS has served as home for the festival for a number of years, and is pleased to take part in bringing this communal project to the arts community that will gather at the annual festival.

The White Horse project begins Sunday 12 July 2015 at 15:00 at the Tweetoringkerk in Bloemfontein, launching the arts festival, while capturing the interest of many members of the Bloemfontein community as well as that of the UFS. The project itself will consist of about 200 members of the local community coming together for workshops in which they will be “reimagining” the White Horse. Olivieri will lead the workshops, which she also developed, assisted by Gali Malebo.

“The White Horse project sits within the contested nature of the White Horse - it is in this in-between space that new mythologies and narratives will be told. The project addresses, celebrates, reconfigures, and allows space for multiple narratives.  Given the debate on statues and symbols, the White Horse offers an opportunity to re-purpose and re-imagine symbols in Bloemfontein,” said Olivieri.

Photograph by David Goldblatt, Sculpted by Kagiso Pat Mautloa, a memorial to those who died while in the detention of the Security Police in this building formerly known as John Vorster Square, now Johannesburg Central Police Station. 27 February 2012, Silver gelatin print on fibre based paper, 98 x 120cm

The White Horse project is supported by the Australia Council for the Arts, Free State Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, SituateART in Festivals, Salamanca Arts Centre, Arts NSW, NAVA, Creative Partnerships Australia and the University of Sydney.

Spectators can also look forward to the work of major artists including David Goldblatt’s photographic exhibition titled Structures of Dominion and Democracy at 20:00 on Monday 13 July 2015 at the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery. In this exhibition, he has photographed everyday sites that contain historical narratives.

Work from other artists at the Arts Festival include Blowing in the Wind (19:00 on Monday 13 July 2015 in the Centenary Gallery), curated by Carol Brown, which is an exhibition that delves into issues of environmental and human exploitation. Angela de Jesus, curator of the UFS Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery, will be curating, [my] PLEK | PLACE (18:30 on Monday 13 July 2015 in the Scaena foyer), in which the artists explore location, space, site, and/or ownership.

The Free State Arts festival begins on 13 July 2015.

 

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