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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 adopts advanced institutional approach to disability, launches CUADS
2015-07-14

Lize Botha, Louzanne Coetzee and her guide-dog Oakley, and David Nkwenkwezi.

Photo: Eye Poetry Photograpy

The approach to support for students with disabilities at South African universities has remained largely one-dimensional, focusing on the support and accommodation of individual students. Implementing the Universal Access (UA) and Universal Design (UD) approach has aligned the University of the Free State (UFS) with international standards. Such an approach addresses challenges arising as a result of the interaction between functional limitations and the social, attitudinal and physical environment of students with disabilities. The Unit for Students with Disabilities (USD) has evolved into the Center for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS) in support of the social model of disability. 

Hetsie Veitch, Head of CUADS and her team, have dedicated the past four years to the center’s physical revamping and systematic reconstruction to be officially launched in an Open Day event on the Bloemfontein Campus.


Details of the event:

Date: Friday 24 July 2015
Time:10:00-16:00
Venue: CUADS and Sasol Library foyer
Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Exploring the dimensions of UA and UD


UA and UD facilitate holistic support for students with visual, mobility, hearing, learning, and other impairments. With the former providing a paradigm shift in disability management and support, the latter warrants the formation of a universally accessible environment.

According to Veitch, the focus moves away from the person with the disability, someone who ‘needs to be helped’, to the environment in which that person needs to function.

Since the center was founded in 2001, structural and systematic developments have occurred in order to create a welcoming and accessible learning environment that grants students opportunities to be successful in their academic endeavours.

UA endorses the UFS Mission Statement of human togetherness, advancing social justice by creating multiple opportunities for students to access the university, and promoting innovation, distinctiveness, and leadership in both academic and human pursuits.The UFS is committed to be a welcoming, accessible, and inclusive learning institution, an environment where optimal learning for a diverse student community thrives.

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