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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

Judge Albie Sachs and Candice Mama discuss traumas of the past and forgiveness in the present
2015-08-05

 

Judge Albie Sachs embraces Candice Mama for her courage in confronting Eugene de Kock, who killed her father.

Two generations. Two stories of triumph. Two South Africans who have displayed immense courage.

Public Dialogue on Trauma, Memory, and Representations of the Past

Judge Albie Sachs and Candice Mama exchanged their experiences of past trauma and subsequent transformation in a public conversation. The event was co-hosted by Prof Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in Cape Town on Thursday 30 July 2015.

The event was the first instalment in a series entitled Public Dialogue on Trauma, Memory, and Representations of the Past. The theme of the discussion was ‘Intergenerational Dialogue on Trauma and Healing’.

"The aim of these public dialogue events we are co-hosting with IJR is to place the issues of trauma and memory, and the strategies that individuals and communities use to heal, in the public sphere," Prof Gobodo-Madikizela, Senior Research Professor in Trauma, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation Studies at the University of the Free State (UFS) said.

Judge Albie Sachs and Candice Mama in conversation

Former Constitutional Court Judge, Albie Sachs, talked about his participation in South Africa’s liberation struggle, the loss of his right arm in an assassination attempt, and meeting the man responsible – Henri van der Westhuizen. Despite years of exile and extended periods of solitary confinement, Judge Sachs maintains that “we need to acknowledge our history, not be trapped by it.” Judge Sachs also remarked, though, that “we’re seeing too much lamentation, not enough activation.” In a heartrending gesture, Judge Sachs embraced Candice Mama in a hug for her courage in confronting Eugene de Kock, who killed her father.

How poignant then, when Mama said, “I wanted to embrace the brokenness within him,” when she spoke about her meeting with De Kock. By the time I met with Eugene, I could meet him as a human being, not as a villain.” Mama believes that forgiving someone translates into an investment in the person you are forgiving and in your own sanity. She also emphasised the importance of dialogue to move our country forward: “When we share our stories with each other authentically, walls break down.”

This is a stance that Prof Gobodo-Madikizela supports strongly: “When we listen to one another, something unexpected emerges; we encounter the human in each other,” she said. “When we listen with open hearts to each other, we see and experience each other’s humanity.”

Building a bridge between research and society

Referring to the research aspect of the event, Prof Gobodo-Madikizela said that, "in establishing the series of public dialogue events, our vision is to create a bridge between scholarly research and the community at large, on the one hand, and a visual conscience of society, on the other." The UFS is collaborating with the IJR on this research project, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The endeavour is led by Prof Gobodo-Madikizela, who also serves as Board Member of the IJR.

 

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