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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

'Structures of Dominion and Democracy' by David Goldblatt at the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery
2015-08-03

Photograph by David Goldblatt, On August 16 2012 South African Police shot striking mineworkers of the Lonmin platinum mines, killing 34 and wounding 78 within a radius of 350 metres of this koppie, where the men used to meet. Seventeen of the men, seeking shelter among boulders from police fire, were shot with seemingly lethal intent, some with their hands up in surrender, none were given medical assistance for their wounds. Beyond is the Lonmin smelter, which stood idle during the strike. Marikana, North-West Province, 11 May 2014.

The University of the Free State, in partnership with the Goodman Gallery, presents the exhibition, 'Structures of Dominion and Democracy', by renowned South African photographer David Goldblatt.  

This exhibition, which runs from 13 July to 7 August 2015 on the Bloemfontein Campus, is dedicated to the series, “Structures”, one of the major bodies of works by Goldblatt.  For over three decades, Goldblatt has travelled South Africa, photographing sites and structures weighted with historical narrative: monuments, private, religious and secular, which reveal something about the people who built them.  These sites allow us a glimpse into the everyday. Each place is a repository, a landscape containing an epic story that has involved whole communities: the experience sometimes told through the memorialising of remarkable individuals.

The exhibition, Structures of Dominion and Democracy, traverses two distinct eras in South Africa history. As Goldblatt explains: "Over the years, I have photographed South African structures, which I found eloquent, of the dominion which Whites gradually came to exert over all of South Africa and its peoples.  That time of domination began in 1660 when Jan van Riebeeck ordered a cordon to be erected of blockhouses and barriers that would exclude the indigenous population from access to the first European settlement in South Africa and its herds, lands, water, and grazing.  The time of domination ended on the 2nd of February 1990, when, on behalf of the government and the Whites of South Africa, President FW de Klerk effectively abdicated from power.  Beginning in 1999 and continuing to the present, I have photographed some structures that are eloquent of our still nascent democracy.  In the belief that, in what we build we express much about what we value, I have looked at South African structures as declarations of our value systems, our ethos.”

Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery, UFS Sasol Library
University of the Free State
206 Nelson Mandela Ave
Bloemfontein

Gallery hours:  
Monday to Friday 08:30 – 16:30

Entrance: Free
Enquiries: 051 401 2706, dejesusav@ufs.ac.za

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